Teaching v Parenting

I've had a few people lately allude to the fact that my previous career as a teacher may have equipped me to know how to handle my children better than if I wasn't. I don't think that's technically correct. I think that it has little effect on parenting skills, really. It's more about being passionate about your family and being interested in who your children are than a teaching degree.

However, there are a few little things that I have learned from being a teacher that I use with my own children. So I thought I'd share them here and maybe start some suggestions........

........and I need to say firstly that I am far from the perfect parent. I make mistakes every single day. Losing my temper is generally a daily event. I'm lazy and stuggle with keeping all the balls in the air - sometimes, the balls just drop and I have to scrabble around madly to get things going again. Rolling my eyes and saying, "I'm not interested in your dobbing!!!" is also a daily spectacle in our house.

My children aren't perfectly behaved and have all given me trouble at one stage or another, in one form or another. I am not writing this here to brag about how awesome my parenting skills are........but I thought I'd get the ball rolling on a list of tips we can ALL use with our children since I've met a few frustrated and at-the-end-of-the-rope mums lately!

My absolute number one top tip is: immediate consequence related to the behaviour!!! Do NOT follow through on a consequence the day after. Deal with the issue as soon as you can. It might mean a slap on the hand immediately, time out or waiting until Daddy gets home for a talk (this is OK in my opinion for children who are old enough to understand, but the professionals say it's not - do whatever works for you), but if it needs to be dealt with, don't put it off. This is hard if you're breastfeeding a baby/cooking dinner/on the toilet/hiding for some peace and quiet/on the phone at the time, but just do your best.

The consequence MUST relate to the incorrect behaviour as much as possible. Don't make them pull weeds for hitting their sister.....an apology and time out is going to hit home more effectively for your child. Don't make them say sorry for throwing their cereal on the floor....make them clean it up. Doing it this way has two pay-offs: one, it delivers the message that the behaviour is NOT ok because they have to fix it up and two, you don't have to clean up mess - just make them do it!

2. Praise the stuff you want them to do ("I love how you showed kindness to your brother - that's great!) and ignore ("STUDIOUSLY ignore," my Ed Psych lecturer used to say :D) as much as possible the negative. Or deal with it quickly and firmly to minimise fuss. I sometimes make a point of fussing over the child who is the victim to minimise attention-seeking behaviour.

3. Be specific about what you require your children to do. Don't say, "Clean up your room." or "Get in the car!" or (my personal pet hate) "DON'T!!". Say, "Get in the car, sit in your seat and get your seat belt on, please." or "Stop doing that, or (insert consequence)". Pinky McKay wrote once that we should praise our children specifically, too. So, for example, not just say, "Great drawing!" - building them up for a broken heart when the first kid at school says, "That's a stupid picture." Instead, she suggests pointing out what you like about what they have done. "I love all the colours you've used!" is my frequent 'fall-back'! My other 'teacher-ism' is to say, "Wow! What can you tell me about this?" when they present me with a drawing or artwork - this gives you a clue into their thought processes and it's quite awesome to hear what they have to say!

4. My lecturer at uni once surprised me by suggesting that when we ask students (or children) to do something, we should always ask them with the expectation that they'll do it. Seems obvious, but I was surprised how much of my breath I wasted asking without expecting follow-through. It makes me stop and think about what I really want them to do.

This isn't from my teaching background, but from a good friend who said once in regards to disciplining children: "You have to be more determined than they are." This has become one of my mottos. If I decide on a consequence for my children, I do not give up one single inch. I keep insisting and persisting with them until they do what I need them to do. This does not mean arguing the point - it means enforcing a consequence until the child does what is needed. I've had tears, screaming, shouting and I've even had to physically move children, complete with kicking and flailing limbs and arching back to make sure they do what I ask. It's hard work (especially when you're pregnant!) and emotionally draining. The benefit of this is that you only have to do it a few times before they get the message and realise that it's easier to just do what they're asked.

Of course, if something isn't worth insisting and persisting about, then I let it go and don't waste a minute of time quibbling about it. Do they really need matching socks to duck out to the shops? Nope. I guess it's called 'picking your battles'. Do it really carefully but be strong on the things that matter.

That's all well and good to have those ideas, but how do you actually say it and get it to happen? Sometimes it helps to learn a bit of the language. I have a few phrases I use that help me hang on and persist and insist:
"You don't have a choice." - sometimes this is true. I find it solves the endless arguing and back chatting. Sometimes, they don't get to decide where they go or what they do. Telling them so is only telling the truth.
"Who is in charge?" - let them know the answer if they struggle with that one - "Mummy is in charge - you are not. Now go and put your book away, please."
Something I've only recently started is making my children answer, "Yes, Mum/Mummy." when I ask them to do something or when I'm discussing a negative behaviour with them. It's a verbal acknowledgement that I'm in charge and that they know that. I've found it helps.
I still explain why things are happening the way they are. I disliked very much having my questions ignored or unanswered deliberately when I was a child, that sort of "Because I said so," thing. Not cool.

On the flip side of dealing with negative behaviour is encouraging. I feel stupid some days carrying on the way I do, but I have found that children respond to that bright, happy, positive voice that trills, "Oh, I love how you're packing away those blocks so beautifully!". If I see my children doing something that I want to see repeated, I compliment them on it with sincerity to encourage them. On the odd occasion I might let it go. I don't believe we need to screech at the top of our lungs overflowing with overtures of praise every time they pick up one block to put away! However, most of the time I praise, encourage and cheer them on when they do something that's great. And that, of course, is complete with hugs, kisses, back pats, high-fives and hair-toussles as much as possible! Some people might see it as showing off or over the top, but I've found that most children just lap it up!

This isn't a teacher thing, either, but still relevant: Do not give up. Ever.

If you love them, you will always, always keep persisting and trying to do the right thing by them - even through inevitable mistakes, heartache and tears. Keep going, keep praying and keep working on solving problems as they arise and celebrating the achievements, no matter how small.

So, those are a few things I do to keep things running around here. What about you? What do you do?

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