Do you remember when you were a kid and dreamed of having super powers? Many of us would give anything to be like Superman and leap over tall buildings in a single bound. If you are a parent, however, you may feel less like leaping and more like Superman on kryptonite. Don’t fret — you have a power even better than super human strength. You have Parent POWER: Presence, Optimism, Wisdom, Engagement and Routine. Read on to learn how to activate your super power.
TV, cellphones, and computers compete for our attention. Throw in a good dose of demands from work and home and you feel overwhelmed. When we are stressed, our brains naturally seek distractions as a way to decompress (“Candy Crush” anyone?). Some people veer to the other extreme and desperately try to get ahead of the curve by cramming more “to do” into each day (yes, I’m guilty).
While nothing is wrong with these simple distractions in and of themselves, it is difficult for our children to get our attention when our mind is otherwise occupied. Presence with children is a vital piece of our super power as parents. We achieve “presence” by:
Stopping what we are doing. By putting down the phone and giving our child full attention, we let them know that what they have to say is important to us.
Making visual contact.
Listening and asking questions.
Being fully present and listening prevents misunderstandings and helps us better understand our child’s experiences.
In a world where we are slammed by bad news each day, it is easy to view our experiences through a negative lens. As parents, we often judge, fuss and lecture our children. We sometimes even tally points against them and as a result, it becomes difficult for them to meet our expectations. Optimism is a strong tool in your parenting power arsenal because “unless you believe that the future can be better, you are unlikely to step up and take responsibility for making it so” (Noam Chomsky).
A dose of optimism gives hope and goes a long way in helping children rise to our expectations. Leverage the power of optimism by practicing these simple things:
Be clear about behavior that you WANT to see, e.g. “pick everything off the floor” or “dry the dishes”.
Acknowledge the behaviors that get close to that mark and then say thank you.
Praise children for their strengths, e.g. “I appreciate your kindness to others” and “You are a responsible person.”
We are living in stressful times. Our children — and we — need positive words, respect and hope. Optimism takes us down that path.
The power of wisdom means we wait before taking action. Admittedly, this is one of the hardest things to do as a parent. Yet waiting before responding can change an entire day. In spite of a culture that leads us to believe we should express every thought within seconds of experiencing it, the fact is that every situation does not require an immediate response. Unless it is a situation in which the child can be hurt or hurt others, we can push the “pause” button on our response. When your child has behaviors that aren’t quite what you want to see, take the time to wait and observe. Is your child being “bad” or are they simply demonstrating that they are tired? Consider what is going on in the moment and the strategy forward will seem clearer. It’s ok to wait 30 seconds or 30 minutes to make a decision. You don’t give away one ounce of your power by letting children know that you need a few minutes to think about the best way forward.
No one is more important to your child than you. Engage with your child on a regular basis to build relationships. Seek out no- or low-cost ways to spend time together. Activities such as playing games, walking, cooking or even completing chores provide natural opportunities for conversation. Engaging paves the way for discussions about more difficult topics. The key for success with this super power is to keep time together simple and to have a sense of flexibility.
Finally, the power of routine is important for the young and the young-at-heart. Routine can be difficult to maintain with all the demands on our times. However, we know that children who have general and consistent time frames for the regular rhythms of life (i.e. waking up, getting dressed, eating, completing homework and going to bed) feel more secure. Routine brings a sense of order even on a chaotic day.
If you use your parenting super POWER of Presence, Optimism, Wisdom, Engaging and Routine, you will help your child grow stronger … and that is every bit as valuable as leaping over tall buildings. Plus you don’t have to wear a costume.
Tina Bartleson is the Executive Director of the Exchange Club Family Resource Center, which provides in-home parent education and mentoring to families with children 0-12 years. She has 29 years experience working with families and may be contacted through www.exchangeclubfrc.org.