Lately I’ve been hearing this a lot. “Just wait until your father gets home!” My friends and I are sharing our struggles with disciplining our little ones and someone says they are frustrated because their kids listen to their husband more than them. They feel they have to pull the ‘father card’ with some version of, “Wait until your father gets home; he’s going to deal with this.”
I’m right in the trenches of the little years right now. There are definitely tough days. Please know my heart here. There is a precious unspoken rule in mothering where we don’t tell each other how to raise kids. I believe in a community of uplifting, supporting, and encouraging each other at every stage. Motherhood is a sacred thing. We do it best when we are well supported in a community.
I never give advice unless directly asked by someone I know and love. But, this is a blog, so I’m hoping there’s a little space here to tell you some things that I’ve learned along the way. But the last thing I want you to feel is judged or like I’m trying to tell you what to do as if I have it all figured out. I don’t. I’m always learning. Every kid is different and every situation requires its own wisdom. And just to prove it, I’m sure my kids will create a big public scene today!
Over the last 20+ years I have spent my life with children. I’ve been teaching in classrooms, working as a nanny for almost 10 years, and working at my church. I’ve spent a lot of time reading, studying, asking experts, and working with kids.
Here are my top tips to help you tame some of the frustration in the discipline realm for the little ones:
1. Come prepared. I’m not saying this is a battle, but if you come prepared, you give yourself a fighting chance! We all know leaving can be the ultimate showdown. You’re at a park/play date/fun activity and it’s time to go. You can already hear the protesting before you’ve said the words.
First, give them a warning. Kids do well when they know what’s coming and they can wind down whatever play they are engaged in. I usually give a five-minute warning like this, “You have five more minutes to play, and then it’s time to go.”
Then I give more instructions as the situation needs. This is done best by quietly going over to your child, getting on their level, and calmly talking with them. I will tell my son what we are doing next so he’s no longer focusing on what he’s leaving; he’s already thinking about what’s coming.
I also make sure to set him up well BEFORE the activity. Before we get out of the car, I tell him what is happening after we leave or I tell him about something that will be waiting for them in the car when we are done, i.e., a snack, favorite song, or a book they can look at .
2. Get to 3! You know when you count to three, but you don’t actually make it? You give all sorts of extra numbers and suddenly you’re an expert at fractions!?
“One, Two, Two and a half, Two and ¾, Two and 7/8…”
Get to 3. All those fractions are just teaching your child that he has plenty of time and that a counting method doesn’t actually mean anything. You have to get there and then do whatever it is you’ve said will happen at the end of 3. Your child is looking to you to set the boundaries and if you’re counting all those fractions, you’re telling them the boundaries are pretty wide…and unpredictable. Bottom line, just get to three and stick to it. It will only take a couple of times for them to learn that three is three, and they better hop to before you get there!
3. Don’t make promises you can’t keep. If you give a threat, make sure it’s something you can follow through on, and something you WANT to follow through on. For example, don’t threaten to “cancel Christmas” unless you’re really willing to pack it all up, return all the gifts, and miss out on Christmas yourself because of your kids’ behavior. It might seem like you have to go big to get your child’s attention, but really all you have to do is follow through. If they know your threats aren’t empty, they will listen and respect you more. Again, if this is a habit you’ve fallen into, it may take a few times for your kids to know you’re serious, but they will get it!
4. Stay calm. You are the parent. They are little and still figuring it all out. They are looking to you to set guidelines and boundaries. They need you to show them grace and love with discipline. Discipline isn’t punishment; it’s teaching kids how to become great adults. If you need a minute, make sure your kids are safe and put yourself in time out. Flip through a couple pictures on your phone of your kids doing something sweet or silly or sleeping. Remember how much you love them and get yourself in the right head space before you return to address the situation.
Like I said, I’m not perfect, I don’t always do these well, but I’m trying because I know they work and help my days go better. What are your best tips for disciplining your kids?