Seven Tips for Getting Along Better with Your Kids
| James D. Sutton, EdD, Consulting Psychologist
Tip #1: Affirm Unconditionally. Whether we like it or not, we live in a conditional society. We have to perform to stay employed. Sometimes our children sense that they must perform to be loved. They have difficulty separating who they are from what they do, and unfortunately we too often add to the confusion by praising our kids when they make the team, if they make first chair trombone, and because they won the contest. Although there is nothing wrong with recognizing a child’s accomplishments, such affirmation must balance with recognizing the youngster’s unconditional value.
Tip #2: Empower the Youngster with Choices. Whenever possible, allow the youngster to exercise skills of decision-making by offering choices. This is especially helpful with the youngster who has difficulty completing tasks, as the child is more apt to initiate and complete that which he or she has selected. For instance, give the youngster five cards, each of which has an assigned task written on it. Tell the child that, if he or she begins the tasks within ten minutes (point to the clock) and completes them, only three of the tasks need be done; two cards can be returned. This approach not only eliminates a number of hassles, it is usually perceived by the child as being a fair and reasonable gesture.
Tip #3: Occasionally Let the Youngster Lead. If you have a youngster who is sometimes critical of the way you do things, let them plan the next family outing or activity. Provide a few guidelines and a budget, then let the kid have a go at it. This won’t necessarily ensure that everyone will have a great time on the activity, but it will eliminate much of the complaining. Be certain to recognize the youngster for his or her efforts.
Tip #4: Make Tasks Fun. There’s no rule that says that chores and tasks have to be miserable and never-ending. It’s a fact, however, that more conflicts occur within families over issues of tasks (including homework) than anything else.
Tip #5: Lighten Up. If we’re not careful, we’ll become so overcome by parenthood we’ll neglect the opportunities to enjoy it. Hang on to your sense of humor; you’ll need it. Spontaneity is a great source of fun, and when done in good faith, it almost always improves relationships. Food fights and water-gun duels are messy, but loads of fun. No harm is intended or taken, and everyone joins in on the cleanup.
Tip #6: Spit in the Soup. Sometimes stronger action is called for. Think about it. If, during lunch with a friend, you lean over and spit in their soup, there are a number of things you could say. You couldn’t, however, say that it was a mistake. It was a deliberate act. If you have a child who too often drags his or her feet, a simple provocative statement can be just the ticket to create some sort of action. An example might be, “Johnny, I was kind of wondering if you were going to forget to put the trash out on the street like last week and the week before? I’m going to watch and see if you put the trash out this morning. If it doesn’t get put out, maybe we need to talk about it tonight. What would be a good time for you to meet with me?” Now if this kid wants to avoid the talk, all he has to do is put out the trash.
Tip #7: Recognize Improvement. Kids sometimes feel that, if they ever did anything well, no one would ever notice anyway. So notice. Recognize the child’s effort, express your appreciation about it, and interpret what you think the improvement means. For example, “Mark, I haven’t had to say a word about homework all week. That really impresses me, and it tell me that you’re doing an excellent job of being more responsible.”
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