Parenting toddlers and school age children can be challenging at times. Children — like most adults I know — want to do their own thing and that sometimes differs from our plans as parents. In our work at the Family Resource Center, we hear common challenges. These are listed below along with some miscellaneous suggestions. Take what you can use and throw out the rest.
Children and families differ widely and what works for one parent or family may not work for you! Consider your child’s needs and strengths as well as your family’s unique situation and be willing to try a variety of tools and techniques until you find the one that works for you. And if it all feels confusing or overwhelming, reach out to a helping agency such as the Family Resource Center for some individual (and free of charge) coaching.
“How can I get my child to follow rules?”
Families have the most success when they follow a few rules about rules. Write down rules so that you are better able to stay consistent and adopt only three to five house rules at a time. Be sure that the rules are developmentally appropriate for the child.
Give positive reinforcement for the rules. Many parents use charts and stickers to help their children track progress or to earn a reward. Most important of all, catch your children being good and following the rules. Children naturally want to please us and thrive when they are praised for doing the right thing.
“I ground my child, but it doesn’t seem to help with the misbehavior. They just don’t listen to me!”
Grounding can be an effective form of behavior management but while it may seem as though we are being firm and driving home a point, the two weeks of grounding we demand can be unrealistic for everyone involved. The longer the length of “grounding,” the more difficult it is to be consistent with enforcement — and consistency is what matters most in this behavior management technique.
Before grounding your child, think about your purpose. For most parents, it is to demonstrate a consequence for a misbehavior. For more effect, try decreasing the time spending being “grounded.” An afternoon without TV can be more effective at driving home the message than being grounded for two weeks. Consider the age of your child and all that is going on in your life.
“I feel guilty when I tell my child no and really struggle with my own emotions when they tell me that I’m mean.”
It’s hard when we get into trouble. Your child may feel angry, embarrassed, and may — in that moment of getting called on the carpet — feel they don’t like you and that you are mean. Those words can hurt a parent’s heart. But it is important that we remember our role as parents.
While we ae loving and friendly to our children, we are not their best friend. Rather, we are their guides and loving mentors. Children love their parents very much and while they may not like you in the moment or even call you mean; they do indeed love you. Stay consistent, give them other words they can use (e.g. “I know you feel angry that you can’t do what you want right now.”), and stay the course.
“My children whine.”
First consider the age of your child as it affects the way you treat the whining problem (you will treat a 2-year-old differently than a 6-year-old). Help your child break the whining habit by first teaching them how to ask for what they need in their “big person” voice. Do not give in when your child whines.
Finally, think about the situations that seem to trigger the whining — is your child overly tired or stressed? If so, think about ways to help them cope with the stress they may be feeling. Children whine because it works. Give them alternatives.
“My child won’t eat at mealtimes.”
First, evaluate reasons your child may not be eating. Is mealtime coming too soon after snack time? Are they engrossed in other activities? Are they picky eaters? Let your child help with meal preparation and planning as it is safe for the them to do so. Give them smaller portions of foods and encourage them to at least try a bite of new foods at mealtimes (dessert might be contingent upon trying a new food).
Increase the time between snack time and mealtimes. Give your child transition time if possible, between the activity in which they are engaged and mealtime. Cut out the desserts or between meal snacking if your child won’t eat their meal. Some parents find success by saving the uneaten meal food for the next snack time (rather than a favorite snack). Others find success by remove distractions at mealtimes (e.g. turn off the TV) and by having meals at consistent times.
Sometimes, we as parents feel as though we must be incompetent to have these “challenges” with children. The fact is these are common challenges. Consistency, loving and nurturing responses, and understanding that these are normal parts of growing up can help us as parents successfully move through these phases.