This post condenses some of my favorite parenting books into 11 basic ideas as a kickstart when your parenting needs a boost. Sometimes, in the midst of parenting and work plus general ‘life chaos’, we feel like we hardly have time to sit down, let alone read more books on how to keep up and manage the chaos in our lives already. Hence, the Positive Parenting Cheat Sheet. A quick start guide for when you only have time for the highlights!
While I would highly encourage everyone to read the books listed in my Parenting Books You Need In Your Life post, you can still take advantage of my obsessive research tendencies here. I hope these simple (but not always easy) parenting tips help provide you with a better connection to your own kids, and eventually make your job as parent easier.
1. ‘Bad Behavior’ is Really a Cry For Help
Despite what you might think, kids that are acting out are not trying to just intentionally piss you off, manipulate, or otherwise drive you nuts. It is, however, a sign that their connection to you has gone off-track.
‘Refilling their cup’ with special time and getting to the root of the problem is what is needed. Also, remember that when they are in total disarray about their sister getting the last blue bowl, it’s often about something more than the blue bowl. Just as we get totally frustrated over something small after a day of everything going wrong, it’s really just the straw that broke the camel’s back.
If your parents raised you with a more authoritarian ‘my way or the highway style’, the tendency is to want the kid to be punished or suffer for acting badly, with the thought that if they are made to feel bad enough about something, they wouldn’t repeat it because they don’t want to feel bad again.
However, science doesn’t back this up. All this really does is break your connection with the kid further. Sure, you might get a short term result you like, but long term, the kid is resentful and just adds to more misery for everyone.
2. Build Connection
Whatever you choose to call it, ‘Special Time’, ‘Kid Time’, ‘Mama-Kid Time’, ‘Daddy-Kid Time’, the name doesn’t matter. But what is important is devoting 100% focused time on the child.
We think that we do this a lot because we are always doing stuff for and with the kids, but when we really examine our behavior, we find it’s not 100%. We have to cook dinner, help with homework, check email, or help a sibling. Our focus is not there and the kids know it.
Set a timer and give 10-15 min. of dedicated time to each child and let them choose the activity. Sure, you may want to tear your hair out if it’s something you hate, but you can suck it up for 10 minutes and they will love you for it.
We are on a 30-day challenge to do this every night with our kids, even after work, to help fill their cup and hopefully have more cooperative kids and improved relationships.
The addition to this is occasionally doing longer individual dates with each kid. I know all of these get way harder with multiple kids, but even if you aren’t hitting a daily goal, every little bit helps.
3. Make Yourself a ‘No Yell Sticker Chart’
We all know we shouldn’t yell or be cross and many of us wouldn’t dream of acting this way with a coworker, yet somehow at home with the people we love the most, we let our guard down and slip into bad habits. We revert to our default reactions.
Sticker charts for kids aren’t so great because they don’t teach intrinsic motivation, but you aren’t a kid, so you can have a sticker chart! Have a dedicated calendar, and every day that the kids think you didn’t yell, you get a sticker.
It is important for the kids to be in control of the stickers here for multiple reasons. It gives them a sense of control and power which is often lacking in their lives, they think it’s fun, and you become aware of your tone as well as volume.
When you are acting respectfully, you can get your idea across without the extra volume or being rude. If you don’t scream but yet act snarky, you still won’t get a sticker because the kids know that what you said made them feel bad. You’ll be surprised that they do award stickers even when you have had disagreements as long as they are handled respectfully.
This one is a personal downfall for me. I don’t set up routines very well, but time and again they show that kids do better when they know what to expect. Even just a general rhythm to the day helps with the flow and allows kids to settle in and not have anxious feelings about what may be coming, or disappointment over activities ending at a certain time.
5. Allow Kids to Feel Emotions
Don’t shut down sadness and crying. We tend to say things like, “Don’t cry! It’s not that big of a deal. It’s not worth crying over!” Sure, it’s annoying as hell, but telling a child something isn’t worth crying over is telling them their feelings aren’t important. Empathizing with them allows them to process the sadness and move on instead of pushing it deep, deep, down where it will bubble up later- probably just when your trying to rush out the door or in the middle of the supermarket.
6. Connect, Then Correct
Dr. Laura Markham uses this phrase to describe how to transition a kid from doing something we don’t want into something more appropriate. Picture this… Kids jumping from the brick fire place to the ottoman- basically, head trauma waiting to happen.
Most of us want to shout across the room, “Quit jumping right now! How many times have I told you?!?” The better response that is more likely to accomplish your goal is to walk over and say, “Wow, you’re getting so good at jumping! You love jumping, don’t you? Jumping off the fire place is dangerous, though. Where else could you jump? Here, let’s put this blankets on the floor and you can jump over them while you pretend it’s a lava pit!”
They may also have other suggestions, but the point is you show that you know they are having fun, but gently lead them to a better decision. You don’t have to be a jerk to get what you want, but yes, it does involve actually going over there and helping to sort it out. And yes, I know sometimes that is the absolute last thing we have energy for, but if we expect kids to be respectful and speak gently, shouldn’t we do the same?
7. Limit the Screen Time
We all know we should do it, and sometimes we are better than others, but every little bit helps. Decreased screen time for kids and parents allows more time for other activities, connection, and allows better sleep since the blue light from LED screens isn’t interfering with melatonin production.
In our family experience, the results of using handheld tablets, were actually far worse than any television or standard computer. The kids actually did a 30-day screen fast last year that really reset their screen addiction. They still want screen time, but it is far less dramatic now. I can totally tell when they’ve had too much by the incessant demand for More, More, More!
Also, note that just as in adults, kids will use the screens to ‘zone out’ rather than deal with stressful situations that are bothering them. They have a rough day and instead of coming home and pouring a cocktail, they want a screen to chill with. Either way is not necessarily horrible if you are aware and not making them daily habits.
8. Just Say Yes!
It’s important to limit how often you say “No”. Look at your day and whenever possible just say “Yes!” If we examine ourselves, often we say ‘No” out of habit or perceived inconvenience, when really if we just paused a second and thought about it, often the answer can be “Yes- we can have a picnic lunch!” Or, “Yes, we can go outside!”
A friend of mine created a ‘Yes Jar’ that is filled with all sorts of snacks and some toys. Throughout the day, kids can get anything out of the ‘Yes Jar’ that they would like, and the answer is always YES! When the snacks run out, there are cards that say they can grab fruits or veggies. I think she does have a time limit before dinner, but otherwise, it’s all YES, all the time. When kids feel like they have some control, they are actually much more willing to comply with your other requests.
9. Don’t Major in the Minors
Ask yourself, “is this an emergency, or, will it matter in a year?” Generally, the answer is always no. Don’t freak out over a spilled glass of milk, a messy room, or chalk on the porch. Reacting dramatically to small incidents makes everyone feel bad (yourself included), creates kids who won’t tell you if something goes wrong because they are afraid you will freak out, and diminishes their reactions when something actually is important.
10. Develop a ‘Growth Mindset’
This is a big buzz-phrase concept right now, as studies have shown that those who believe they can learn to be better at different subjects, do better and succeed more than those who believe we are just ordained with being good at something such as math and that it never changes.
Parenting may not be as straight forward as mathematics, but they are both skills that can be developed. Changing all of these habits, finding patience, and developing calm is not an easy task. But it is a vital and worthy adventure.
11. Say You’re Sorry
When you screw up and yell or threaten, seriously it’s a when not an if unless you’re some sort of super human, remember to apologize. It doesn’t diminish your authority and actually helps our kids learn the proper way to respond when they themselves mess up.
12. Delight in Your Kids
Don’t forget to soak up all the wonder and magnificence of your kids. If your house is anything like ours daily tasks and responsibilities can cloud your everyday thoughts causing you to rush through the day trying to fulfill the agenda. It takes real conscious effort to slow down and really ‘see’ our kids, ask questions and really hear the answers. We all have these little magnificent humans living in our midst and finding ways to remember the good in them, especially when they are driving us crazy, is crucial for us as their coaches in life.
When we have a better attitude towards our kids we start to assume better intentions from their actions instead of assuming the worst, we are more inclined to help them when they are emotionally distressed and we are more likely to continue working on our own issues so as not to be triggered by their behaviors.
The final thought from all these books is to bite off small chunks to tackle, have grace with yourself when you stumble (because you will stumble), and keep marching forward. I think it helps to be enrolled in an online class or consistently be listening or reading the books to help keep the ideas in your mind.
We all slip back into bad habits, especially when tired or stressed (*raises hand*). But constant reminders help keep us on track. I should probably read this list every morning as a reminder! Eventually, you will look up one day and realize that these are now your new habits, and maybe things are a little less chaotic. And can’t we all use a little less chaos!