In a previous post, I wrote about how we changed from being No. Don’t! parents to Yes!parents.
Saying ‘Yes’ didn’t mean that we gave up discipline, but rather, it changed the way we disciplined.
We read lots of books and listened to people who had a much gentler and more enjoyable approach to parenting – with better results.
We discovered we had confused discipline with punishment. After lots of research, we learnt that they had little in common – especially when dealing with young children.
Show them how
To discipline means to ‘train’; that is, to show how.
Kids are much more co-operative when they know what they’re expected to do.
For example: We discovered we could show our children how to touch things ‘gently’ – placing their little fingers in ours and helping them to touch and feel things, such as baby brothers and sisters… gently.
When we began to respond with a ‘Yes, that’s right,’ instead of a ‘NO. DON’T!’ we found that desirable behaviour was usually repeated. If you think about it, ‘No. Don’t!’ doesn’t tell our child what to do next. It just breaks our communication with them, confuses them and leaves them with no options.
Learn more positive ways to communicate with our children
When the children wanted to change activity, instead of saying ‘No. The room is a mess; No, you haven’t finished your homework; No, your hands are filthy; No. No. NO!’ we learnt to answer
‘Yes, when the Lego has been put away; Yes, when you’ve washed your hands; Yes, after you’ve written two more sentences of your homework…Yes.’
Save NO’s for those times that are really, really necessary.
You can imagine our children’s surprise when we began to say ‘Yes!’ much more often than ‘No!’ But as they got used to it, they listened to our instructions much better. And on the rare occasions we did say ‘NO!’, they knew it was important and respected it.
At about the same time as we discovered this, our fourth child
joined our family. We named him 'Noah'. You suddenly become aware of how
often you inadvertently say 'No!' when you have a little one who
responds every time you say the beginning of his name.
Look through different eyes
We began to look at our children through eyes that looked for signs of discovery and wonderment rather than eyes looking out for trouble.
By observing our children we could follow their lead in learning new things, playing, seeking reassurance and rest. Our job was to provide a safe environment. Their job was to explore it.
Children whose needs are being met are much more eager to please their parents than to disappoint them.
When expectations of a child’s behaviour are consistent with the child’s development and ability, discipline becomes much more realistic and manageable, and parenting becomes enjoyable.
There is a little bottle that lives in my purse. It is not elegant. Its packaging is cheap plastic and it cost me about 25 cents. So I’m happy to give it away whenever the situation calls for it.
But the problems it solves, the moods it changes, and its power to transform the atmosphere wherever I am is almost miraculous.
It’s a bottle of bubbles.
I’ve been carrying bubbles with me for years—ever since somebody introduced me to the ABCs of parenting: A is for Atmosphere, B is for Boundaries and C is for Communication.
A is for Atmosphere.
Do you remember the last day that the kids were stuck inside? The television was on all day and the noise turned into a dull roar, with occasional explosions of screams and squawks. The children were initially a little irritable. But being stuck in the house aggravated them to the point that the whining and niggling behaviour turned into all-out war. Or perhaps that only ever happened in my house.
It was at this stage that I’d scream and yell in response. It would go something like, ‘I don’t know what’s wrong with you guys. There are lots of things to play with. Can’t you just play nicely for a change?’
Sometimes what I said wasn’t quite as nice.
Take control of the atmosphere
Eventually I was reminded that I was the adult and so ultimately I was the one who could take control of the atmosphere.
I know now that a change in atmosphere is literally as good as a holiday, and it’s really simple and inexpensive to achieve.
Nothing beats going outside to change the atmosphere.
Even little babies love to lie and watch the breeze moving the leaves on the trees. Why not take a picnic snack down to a local park? You could lay a rug on the ground, lie back and watch the clouds moving in the sky, and get some exercise and fresh air in the process.
But sometimes you have no choice but to stay inside.
Using My Senses
Some more experienced parents told me that by simply using my five senses—smelling, touching, tasting, seeing and hearing—I could figure out when and how to make small changes that would make a big difference in the atmosphere.
If the noise level is too loud, get the children to turn off all electrical gizmos (especially the television).
Perhaps you could play some beautiful music and dance or sway. Or get the kids to sing.
You could grab some cushions or pillows and a blanket and lie down to read a book or tell a story about what you did when you were growing up.
Or turn everything off, close your eyes and listen to all the noises that happen when everybody in the house is quiet.
You could even practise being blobs of butter melting into hot pieces of toast. Just see who goes to sleep first.
Open up windows to let in fresh air if you can. Grow herbs or carrot tops by the kitchen sink or on a window ledge. Display flowers (or neighbourhood weeds) in a glass. Make orange juice. Bake. They’re all pleasant ways to change the ‘smell’ atmosphere in our homes.
A less pleasant (but very practical) idea: Take the rubbish out to the big bin outside.(I found that our kitchen got smelly because our rubbish bin was too big. So I swapped it for a smaller bin that needed to be emptied daily. It got rid of the stinky problem, and was much more pleasant to empty.)
Feeling clammy, being hot and sweaty, and even sticking to the floor, are all touch sensations I experienced with lots of little kids in my home.
One of my favourite ways to change the ‘touch’ atmosphere has always been bath time. Water refreshes, cooling us in summer and warming us in winter. Children play and chat happily—and I used to find numerous things to do, such as reading magazines and even sewing on buttons as I sat within an arm’s reach of the kids, so there was no risk of tragic accidents.
Keeping a stack of face-washers or microfibre cloths close-by helps to quickly wipe sticky fingers and mouths, and to wipe off tables, chairs and everything else on which those little sticky fingers left their mark. I’ve seen parents teaching their children to do the same.
Tastebuds will be happier if the children work with you as you prepare their snacks or meals. They’re more likely to eat what they’ve prepared themselves. It’s an easy form of entertainment and it gives them life skills.
Make sure to do this before they are hungry, or it won’t be a good experience for anybody.
Encourage creativity. But too much clutter and unsorted toys tend to overwhelm children (and adults).
Sometimes it’s worthwhile keeping some toys packed away for a season while others are played with. Sometimes there’s just so much stuff you don’t even know where to begin.
Try using a kitchen timer and a clothes basket or a big box. And see if all of you can pick up all the toys and things from the floor and put them into the basket before the timer goes off.
If ‘team effort’ is somewhat lacking, give a challenge such as, ‘I’m going to pick up the red things. Which colour are you going to pick up? Ready, set … go!’ – Remember, you’re the adult. They’ll watch what you do and will learn from whatever you do next.
A hint: You may have to start first and ‘enjoy’ yourself before they’ll join in. Their enthusiasm may depend on your acting ability.
Include ‘clean-up’ as an important part of play–although it’s worthwhile to find a space for ‘works in progress’ too, especially as children grow older.
A message to generous grandparents, aunts, uncles and godparents: if you give a present such as Lego or something with bits, consider also giving a container big enough to fit in all the pieces when children (or spatially-challenged parents) need to pack it all up—and make sure it’s stackable. Shoeboxes and ice-cream containers work really well.
Balls, balloons and bubbles
Balls, balloons and bubbles are inexpensive and easy to have on hand—at home and on trips.
Even if you’re in the car or on a plane, in a doctor’s waiting room, or a church pew or a schoolyard, remember that you can be in charge of the atmosphere. Packs of cards, a notebook and pencil—anything that gives the children something to concentrate on other than their discomfort—can contribute to a better atmosphere.
A note about electrical games: My own personal experience is that though some kids are fine with them, others (like me) get cranky while playing them. One of my kids couldn’t concentrate at school or focus on anything after they’d had a session on a screen. Simply changing their screen-time to later in the day or after school, before dinner time helped them to stay focused at school.
A lo-o-o-ng trip
I remember a lo-o-o-ng car trip from Adelaide to Brisbane. Somewhere along the way, the kids in the back seat began to moan and whine.
So we stopped by the side of the road, held the hands of our children, told them to be very quiet, and we all went ‘platypus hunting’.
It’s amazing how interesting a creek by the side of the road can become. Bushes that infrequently occur on the Hay Plain or little tracks at a local park can become the sites of great adventures. It’s also amazing how quiet six-year-old boys can be when platypus hunting!
Never too late
Oh, how I wish that I’d known about taking charge of the atmosphere much sooner. But even now, when young adults and their frequently visiting friends inhabit our house, that same principle works equally well.
It’s never too late to change a toxic atmosphere, no matter how old you are.
Perhaps we could all change the world—a bottle of bubbles at a time.
As I passed a sports shop in my local shopping mall this morning, my favourite shoes were on display. My current shoes show that they’ve been much loved. Thread by thread, they threaten to reveal my big toe. Their replacements are long overdue.
I picked up a shoe and turned it over.
My current shoes became my favourites when our extended family was caught in a rain-storm in Brisbane. While I walked along the wooden esplanade through the down-pour, family members who were with me slid and skidded, performing balancing acts that should only be seen on ice, after practice—not by my mum in her 70’s.
My feet stayed secure. The little round ‘lugs’ molded into the base of my shoe created mini-suction cups. So I stuck to the walkway like a gecko on a wall.
So, prompted by the display this morning, I picked up a shoe, tipped it over to press on the little molded lugs on the bottom, with the same delight as popping bubble wrap,
the little molded lugs had gone: Replaced by inserted plugs of what can only be described as aerobic exercise mat.
‘Spongy,’ the shop assistant said to me.
‘Disappointing,’ I responded. ‘Those others stopped slipping. I don’t think these will do the same.’
I didn’t tell her that with my vast experience of sporting equipment (I can hear those who know me, laughing!) those little plugs are intended to fall out.
‘Change.’ she said. ‘Change doesn’t have to be so scary. I think that manufacturers don’t change things to make them worse, but to improve them.’
My mouth (surprisingly) didn’t speak the ‘Yeah, right!’ that my face obviously did.
I saw her discomfort and said ‘It’s the little changes that are the most annoying.’
She laughed, then sidled up next to me.
‘See those track pants along there?’ She pointed at a clothes rack on the other side of the store. ‘Standard stock for years. This year they have elasticised ankles.
People hate them.’
‘Especially those who are 5’ 2” I reckon,’ said me, looking up at the shop assistant who had much longer legs than me. Her eyes looked puzzled and she shook her head. I tried another tack.
‘It’s like computer programs,’ I said.
She grabbed her hair at her temples,
I smiled. ‘Yeah. It’s those little changes: Some bright spark decides a widget would look better in a different place, might work better a little differently, or should be removed because it doesn’t appeal to his personal taste. And we, the consumers, don’t get to choose what we want.
Big changes you are forced to accept. You have to adjust your mindset. Allow yourself to grieve. Get on with life.
It’s all the tiny changes that drive you nuts.’
We both paused. I put the shoe back on the bench and said, ‘I’ll go home and think about it’.
She didn’t make a sale. But I realized I have more in common with Gen Y than I had thought.
And I went home to discover another thread had pinged on the toe of my favourite shoe.
P.S. After I came home to write this story, one of my family asked me to pick them up from a different shopping centre. And there, on sale, was a new ‘old’ pair of my favourite shoes complete with molded lugs that stick like a gecko on a wall.