As a parent, patience often gets tested. Sometimes words are said and we don’t realize how much they can hurt a young child. Even positive reinforcement can sometimes do more harm than good. Accidents happen and when we’re deep in the throws of life with young children, even a saint might utter a few words they aren’t proud of. Here are a few things to avoid next time you feel yourself losing your cool.
1. Tell your child to leave you alone
Every parent needs time to themselves. Life with kids is busy and it can be all-consuming if you let it. Taking time for yourself can minimize blow-ups and frustration. In the heat of the moment though, you may say phrases like, “leave me alone”, or “get out”. While they may seem harmless and even justified, they may start to internalize feelings of dismissal. If they feel you don’t have time for them, they may not want to open up to you as they get older. If you’re home alone with your little ones and know you have a few tasks to get done, set them up with something to do before you begin.
Set your expectations low and try to remember this activity may only keep them busy for thirty minutes. Once they’ve moved on from the activity, pause yours as well. Engage with your children for some time and pick back up again when they are ready for another independent activity or at nap time. Remember to also make taking time for yourself a regular activity. If they know you always water the garden first thing in the morning, for example, this will become part of their routine and they’ll know you’ll be done in a few minutes. It’s good for the whole family for parents to take time for themselves.
2. Compare your child to someone else
It’s easy to mentally compare your children to each other or to their classmates and friends. As a parent, you likely often wonder if they are hitting milestones and behaving like other children their age. Remember that they aren’t other children. Your kid is completely unique and they will do things differently than other people. When you tell them to be more like someone else, they may start to feel like they aren’t good enough. They may even start to resent the other child if they always feel like they are falling short of them.
3. Diminish their feelings
When a child is upset, they are likely feeling that way for a reason. Rather than diminish their feelings by telling them not to cry or not to be a baby, validate their feelings and tell them you understand. You should always let your child know that it’s OK to have feelings and to be upset. If they are upset that they have to leave the park, tell them you understand that it’s hard to leave places you don’t want to leave. Kids will feel comforted by the fact that you understand what they are going through.
4. Make threats
Making threats may seem like a great idea at the moment but if you don’t actually take action at that moment, your child will quickly learn that your threats don’t carry any weight. When a child needs discipline, attention or to have something explained to then, do it right there at that moment. Let’s say your kiddo starts to dump cups of water onto the bathroom floor during a bath. Your first response might be to say that if they don’t stop pouring water on the floor, they won’t get to take a bath the rest of the week. This probably isn’t likely if it’s only Monday. Instead, get on your child’s level and explain to them why they can’t pour the water out of the bathtub. Make eye contact, and don’t get too wordy here. You only have a few seconds sometimes to talk to a child before their mind starts to wonder.
5. Rush them
Kids have a miraculous talent for making something that should take two minutes last twenty. When it’s time to go to bed, for example, they may all of a sudden, need water, they can’t find their stuffed animal or they want a snack. None of this should surprise you. Instead, twenty minutes before you usually take your child to bed, offer them a snack and let them know that after they will be going to bed. Tell them to gather everything they need and have water ready for when they ask. If you’re always telling them to hurry up they will tune you out pretty quickly. Make sure to always give yourself a buffer as well. If you know you have to be somewhere in an hour, start to get your little ones ready early. If you’re running late, you’ll be more likely to explode and your kids will internalize your stress.
6. Over praise them
Telling your child they did a great job isn’t a bad thing. When you praise your child for everything they do, that’s when your praise will start to lose its authenticity and value. If they have been drinking out of a cup for ten years, it’s probably OK to stop telling them they did a good job after they drink a glass of water. Save your praise for big accomplishments and for times when they need reassurance. When your child does something for the first time or overcomes an obstacle, these are the times they need you to let them know how great it was. If you praise your child for everything, they may not feel your reaction is genuine.