#2. Treat your kids like people…because they are!
Here are some examples of how I try to do this:
*I try to teach them to be responsible for themselves and learn to handle their own problems. If Luke does something to hurt or upset Lilah, I don’t automatically send Luke to time-out and comfort Lilah. Instead, I talk to Luke about what happened and explain how Lilah feels so that he can understand. “You just ran over Lilah’s toe with your bike. Look at her. She’s crying. That probably really hurt. Can you go tell her you’re sorry and give her a hug? From now on you need to be more careful when you’re riding near people because it can hurt them.” Then I ask him to talk to her about it. Or if Luke comes to me upset because of something Lilah did, I tell him to talk to her about it. “She took the car you were playing with? Well, go tell her you were playing with that one and would like to have it back. Find a different car that she can play with.” They’ve learned through our talks and my modeling that they should apologize, hug, give back the toy, etc. I’m not saying we never do time-out or that this is a perfect system, but for most minor offences, I try to have the kids work it out between themselves with my involvement kept to a minimum. A lot of days, I overhear what I think is pretty impressive communication between a 2 and a 3 year old.
*If I see one of the kids isn’t eating something on their plate and I would like a bite of it, I make sure to ask them if I can have a bite instead of just taking it and assuming they weren’t eating it. I wouldn’t want them just snatching something off of my plate, so I show them the same courtesy. This goes for toys, clothing, music, etc. I also try to occasionally ask for bites of their snack or turns with their toys so they get in the habit of sharing. I try to offer them bites and turns when I have things as well.
*I try to talk to them about anything that is going to happen to them before it happens — if I’m going to wash their face with a cold cloth, I tell them before I do it. If we’re going to a store and they’re going to have to ride in a cart while I shop, I talk to them about it before we get there. If we’re going to do something out of the ordinary, I try to add it to our calendar and talk to them about the details as the event approaches. I’m not a big fan of surprises myself, so I can understand why a kid might react with a tantrum when something new is thrown on them unexpectedly. Talking to them beforehand helps a lot in my experience, not to mention I think when a child is prepared for an event, a lot of times they’ll glean more from it.
*I expect my children to listen to my instructions, but I also try to listen to their wants and requests when it’s appropriate. For example, if I say it’s bedtime, but Luke says, “I was having fun playing with my cars. Can you set the timer for 5 minutes?” I’m likely to oblige if he stays calm and asks nicely. This is still a work-in-progress at our house — letting the kids know when they need to just do as they’re told and when it’s okay for them to counter with their own ideas — but as they are getting older and understand more, it is getting somewhat easier.
*I give the kids choices as much as possible. I wouldn’t always like being told things like, “You’re getting spaghetti for dinner. You’re going to wear this outfit today. You have to color on this red piece of paper;” so as much as possible, I offer the kids the ability to make their own choices. “Would you like to eat that with a fork or a spoon?” “Would you like milk or water with your lunch?” “What do you think we should have for dinner tomorrow?” Be sure when you offer choices, that you are fine with what the child picks. Don’t ask an open-ended question like “What do you want to do today?” if you know you don’t want to go to the park, have friends over, or build a giant fort. Instead, you could offer, “would you like to play with your toys, or would you rather sit down and read some books together?”
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