For many stay-at-home moms, bickering, tattling, and whining are the sounds of summer, especially with more than one child at home. It’s so irritating that a recent study described whining as “one of life’s most distracting sounds.”
As a stay-at-home mom with a background in education, I have tried what feels like every tip, trick, and strategy out there. Here are the four positive parenting tips that keep me sane:
1. Look for patterns and adjust to de-escalate problematic situations.
When I notice increased tension between my children, I look for a theme or pattern and try to shake things up.
For example, I’ve noticed that they fight less when they are outside. As an experiment, I started sending them outside immediately after breakfast. They ride scooters, jump on the trampoline, pick weeds, climb trees, draw with chalk, etc. And when they come inside, they aren’t at each other’s throats.
I’ve also noticed that my children fight a lot in the car. A few weeks ago, I simply turned on the radio when they were getting riled up in the backseat. The arguing stopped immediately, and I didn’t have to say a word.
Sometimes taking a breath, noticing a pattern, and disrupting that pattern is all it takes to sidestep yet another argument.
2. Explicitly teach conflict-resolution skills.
We don’t expect our children to be born knowing the ABCs, but when it comes to conflict resolution, it’s easy to expect them to know how to solve their own problems.
In their wildly popular book The Whole Brain Child, Dr. Daniel J. Siegel and Dr. Tina Payne Bryson remind parents,“Too often we forget that discipline really means to teach, not to punish.”
Whining, tattling, and arguing are all signs that your child’s conflict-resolution skills may need a tune-up or even a complete overhaul. There are several different ways you can do this. Here are some of my favorites:
Read a story about conflict: Head to the library or search through your books at home. Discuss how the conflict started and escalated and what the characters did well and could have done better.
Have a family meeting: In a calm, non-accusatory tone, say you’ve noticed that the family is having trouble with arguing, whining, etc. Ask your children if they know what that behavior looks like. Come up with alternative behaviors. Role-playing can be helpful and may help lighten the mood.
Model desired behavior: When you are having a disagreement with someone, allow your child to see you handle it calmly and maturely. Talk about it afterward.
Above all else, avoid shaming your child. You may be frustrated with your child’s behavior, but it’s important to remember that your child is not bad. They simply need more instruction and practice handling conflict.
3. Set boundaries and follow through.
Rules and boundaries are a part of life. No running in the hallways at school. Drive the speed limit. No shirt, no shoes, no service. Homes and families need rules, too.
Boundaries and rules can be discussed in a family meeting and are usually more effective when children help come up with them and parents guide the conversation.
For example, a child might suggest, “No hitting,” as a rule. You could say: “That’s a great rule. What are some things we can do instead of hitting?” You and your children can brainstorm effective alternatives.
“And what should happen if someone does hit?” Discuss and come up with a strategy that you feel is most appropriate for your family. Have these meetings as often as you see fit.
Then, the next time someone hits, take a breath. “Engage. Don’t enrage,” say Dr. Siegel and Dr. Bryson. “Instead, appeal to your children’s higher-order thinking skills. Ask questions, ask for alternatives.”
4. Consistently offer praise and love.
Sometimes, no matter how hard we try to walk the gentle-yet-straightforward parenting tightrope, we still come across as blaming, or there is a miscommunication. That’s why looking for opportunities to praise your child and offer love as often as possible is essential.
Praise them for using the strategies discussed in your family meetings and for their good choices–no matter how small. This will reinforce good behavior and discourage bad behavior.
Don’t forget to offer love any time and for no reason. Over time, this will help your child know that your love is unconditional.