Every morning you wake up early and leap straight into the usual routine – fighting with children to get them out of bed, dressed in school uniform, hair brushed, lunches made, homework in school bags, vitamins taken (and so on and so on). Of course this is all done at break neck speed or else you’ll all be late for school and work. After a hard day at the office, you’re greeted by your energetic bundle of joy who has more energy than you can even remember having. Although you’d love to spend some quality time with your child, you’re tired and would far prefer to put your feet up with a nice hot cup of tea. Within half an hour of walking through the door, youthful exuberance has turned into exhausting hyperactivity, and you’re in a power struggle with your child to get homework done, baths completed, teeth brushed, stories read and everyone into bed at a reasonable hour. You finally win the battle and manage to put your feet up for a short while before collapsing into bed yourself – only to start the cycle all over again the following morning with a brief respite over the weekend. By this time of year, most parents are even more burnout and frazzled than normal and are usually exceptionally tired of this routine. If this sounds vaguely familiar, then read on to find out five top tips for creating peace and order in your home – enabling you to play with your child AND have some time out for yourself.
The Importance of Routine and Planning: No Surprises
You might feel as though your life is mundane and boring and that you do the same activities day in and day out. However, it is possible that your life and that of your children may lack a structured routine. When people get very busy they tend to confront tasks as they arise, rather than planning ahead and sticking to a schedule. One very easy way of adding some peace and order to your family’s life is to start structuring your family’s days in a more regular way. In this manner, both you and your child will know ahead of time what is expected of you, and there will be less room for surprises – and therefore less room for crises.
Consistency is Key: Mean What You Say
We’ve all heard parents making threats that they have no intention of keeping. Children are very insightful and can usually tell when an adult is making an idle threat. The consequence of this is that your child may not take you as seriously as you would like them to, and they might quickly learn that they can get away with a fair amount of undesirable behaviour. It is therefore important that if you give your child a consequence for undesirable behaviour (for example, “if you don’t do your homework, you may not watch your favourite TV program tonight”), that you follow through with this. This teaches your child that there are consequences for negative behaviour. Significantly, this will also teach your child that you can be trusted. Whilst it is important to carry through with your threats, it is equally important to respond to inappropriate or undesirable behaviour in a similar way each time. Children become confused if they are allowed to do something one day but not the next. This confusion can even be quite frightening for them, and children who are able to predict their parents’ behaviour feel a lot more secure and less anxious.
Positive Reinforcement: Praise is More Effective Than Punishment
Sometimes it can be easy to get into a negative cycle of using frequent punishment for unwelcome behaviour. This is especially true when you are stressed and tired. Whilst there is a time and a place for appropriate punishment, children generally respond a lot better to encouragement than they do to moaning. We often notice bad behaviour more than we notice good behaviour and it is a great idea to pay close attention to the times when your child is behaving in a positive way. By doing this, you will be able to acknowledge good behaviour in your child when it occurs. For instance, rather than moaning at your child for making a noise, praise them the next time that they are quietly sitting drawing a picture.
It is important that you are not vague when telling your child what you expect of them. For example, rather than telling your child to be ‘good’, tell them what you actually want of them, such as ‘say please’ or ‘do not hit me’. If there are specific (target) behaviours that you would like to see more of in your child (for example, brushing teeth without being told to; using the toilet independently; getting into bed without making a fuss), then a good way to encourage these behaviours is by rewarding your child when these behaviours occur.
Natural Consequences: Allow Children to Learn Their Own Lessons
Although it can be hard to watch your child fail, it can be a very effective option to allow your child to experience the natural consequences of his or her behaviour. Rather than argue with your child over every matter, make your child aware of the consequences of his or her behaviour and then let him or her experience it. This obviously does not apply to situations where your child might come to some harm if you were to let his or her behaviour go unchecked. Not only will this teach your child to be internally responsible for monitoring his or her behaviour (as opposed to relying solely on other people), but it means that you do not need to spend the energy trying to control every aspect of your child’s day. In this way, you will have more energy to engage in positive activities with your child.
Punishment: The Last Resort
It has already been suggested that praise and encouragement is more useful than punishment. However, there are some situations when punishment will need to be used. When using punishment to change your child’s behaviour, it is important that the punishment is reasonable, and that it is suitable for the age of your child. For example, putting a two year old in time-out for half an hour will be too long, whilst putting a 12 year old in time-out for half an hour might be appropriate.
A Final Word:
If you have been using other means of disciplining your child, you can expect a worsening in behaviour when you start using some of the techniques that have been suggested. For this reason, you need to hang in there and persevere for some time before you will notice improvements in your child’s behaviour. Most importantly however, children require warmth and affection more than they require fancy methods of discipline. With a solid foundation of love from you, your child will be absolutely fine, regardless of the specific methods of discipline that have been used in the past or in the future.