My daughter is 5 and a half years old going on 15. I get eye rolls from her on a daily basis, impatient ‘Duhs’ when I say something that is apparently just so obvious, and the insistence on having it her way, whether it’s a minor event (“I want 10 more minutes of cuddle time before bed, mommy”), or more major (“I want to wear open-toed sandals to school tomorrow, mommy”).
“No sweetie, it’s winter,” I say, which promptly brings on a tear storm, born by her frustration at being thwarted.
Where is she learning this stuff? I think she is picking up some of this behavior from other kids in school, and some of it from television (what’s up with whiney Caillou anyway or the evil machinations of Sam from Sam and Cat)? Some of it I chalk up to her strong-willed Taurus personality, and, of course, a lot of it has to be our (meaning me and my husband’s) influence.
So, because I fervently wish her to grow up to be strong but not obnoxious, powerful, but not a bully, and tenacious but not impermeable, I have come up with eight ways to address my daughter’s behavior by curbing my parenting missteps in 2015.
1. Give myself a moratorium on meltdowns
Mine, not hers. I don’t do them a lot, but when my cup is not overflowing, or I’m not feeling well, I’m likely to get more frustrated than usual with some of the trials of day-to-day-living. So, I will not yell at the cable company in front of her when they screw up the signal to our televisions for the umpteenth time. And I will not indulge in road rage (at least not in front of her) when yet another harried suburban mom cuts me off in my lane while driving my daughter to school.
And, lest I forget, my daughter is watching me, very carefully and modeling her behavior after mine. According to the 2012-2013 State of Our Nation’s Youth survey by the Horatio Alger Association, 80 percent of students indicate that the most valuable and essential relationship in their life involves a family member, and most often that family member is their mother (47 percent).
So knowing that her mommy can keep her emotions in check should help my daughter manage her own emotions with greater resilience.
2. Cut out cutting phrases
I will try to focus on naming her behavior (“You are not acting politely”) instead of attacking her personality, (“You are being bratty”). I will also refrain from using any favorite cutting phrase of my mother’s from my childhood. One is, “I’m raising an enemy in my own home.” I like it for its military and dramatic flair, but having been a regular recipient of it, I know it’s hurtful. Another one I will not say is, “You’re just like me.” Since I look like my mom and we are both writers, people have always lumped us together, which made me feel less than an individual for many years. My daughter is her own person, and I will honor that.
3. Reduce random gift giving
I’ve been known to go shopping and grab any cute dresses or shoes I see for my girl. In fact, she’s so used to me saying “Look what mommy got for you today,” that she barely reacts or acknowledges my offering because I do it so often. Her doting grandparents also tend to shower her with gifts. However, gifts need meaning. I therefore resolve not to piecemeal provide her with new clothes–even if I find something great on sale. Instead, I’ll keep the stash hidden away until I can show it to her at one time. Dolls and toys will also be packed away for special occasions, so she doesn’t take them for granted.
4. Tame the television and technology
Right now, if she has a few minutes, she watches a few episodes of Team UmiZoomi or Sofia the First, which is fine. But she also takes the iPad while I’m in the shower, or working on a project, or preparing dinner, and watches an unapproved children’s or preteen-focused show. I’m putting a stop to it in 2015. I’m also limiting the amount of time she will spend on technology when it’s not learning related. There are so many wonderful educational apps now, like DreamBox Learning, which is the one her school uses. I will download those and let her learn instead of watch — on a limited basis.
5. Have us all mind our Ps and Qs
I’ve tried to instill in her the importance of using the words “please” and “thank you,” but I realize that sometimes my husband and I fail to follow our own advice. So I’m making some adjustments. “Honey, I need you to pick up cold medicine for me on your way home,” will become “Honey, please pick up my cold medicine when you get a chance.” I’m hoping this will change her behavior from, “Mommy, I need milk NOW,” to “Mommy please get me some milk when you get up from the table.” We need to remember to lead by example. It’s easy to forget that as we rush around during our days, but the more we do it, well, the more we will all do it.
6. Take a page out of a 1950s parenting playbook
All right, this one is sort of tongue and cheek. But, come on. It makes a little sense that children should be seen and not heard. Do we really need to debate every request I make of her, just to show that I value her individuality? If I ask her to put her dirty clothes in the laundry basket, I do not need to hear a 10 minute diatribe from my 5-year-old on how she’s too tired (but not too tired to run around the house like a maniac), and how she won’t need these clothes for a week, and how maybe I can do it, or help her do it? No, if I make a reasonable request of her, then she can’t talk back. We also won’t respond back to her with our own retorts (which we are both guilty of doing) because we don’t want her to think that is how she should act. (See also #5.)
Since I realize that she most likely talks back as a way to get attention or assert her independence, I have to consider her triggers. For example, sugar sends her off the wall, so I must make sure that she has protein first to keep her brain chemistry balanced, and cut back on the sweets.
I also need to remind her of her schedule, to help her transition between activities. Her morning chant, “Get dressed, eat breakfast, brush teeth and off to school,” works like a charm to prepare her for the day. Where I slip up is in the hectic after school routine. If I say, “Eat dinner, get a bath, read a book and off to bed,” it will eliminate her incessant bedtime negotiations.
7. Fake it ‘til we bake it
I am not fond of cooking, but I do like baking. My daughter loves it, too, because she gets to contribute to the feeding of our family, and feels proud of the results.
So why don’t I bake more with her? For one thing, I hate messes. For the other, I try hard to watch what we eat. But since she loves it so much and feels so productive doing it, I plan to bake (and maybe even try cooking with her) once a week. I’ve got the new National Geographic Cookbook for Kids, and we’ll wend our way through the pages in 2015. (Also, have you seen MasterChef Junior?)
8. Demonstrate that charity begins at home
As a family, we find ourselves doing the bulk of our giving around the holidays. I want to change that. So in 2015, I’m instituting a charitable act a month. Each month, we will find an organization that needs our help. I plan to have my daughter research these groups along with me. Then whether we need to make decorations, stuff envelopes, collect box tops, donate clothes or help out at a soup kitchen, we will make sure to put our time and energy into monthly giving. What better way to build the act of giving into her psyche, and what better way to teach her to be grateful for what she has? My hope is that this immersion in helping others will show her what really matters in life: giving and loving.
So that’s my list. I hope that as my daughter notices the changes I’ll be implementing in my parenting methods, her behavior will improve as well. My goal: a happier, kinder and more appreciative family environment for 2015 and beyond.
Estelle Erasmus is a journalist, author and former magazine editor. She has contributed to several anthologies, and blogs about the fun and serious aspects of parenting at Musings on Motherhood & Midlife. She can be found on twitter at @EstelleSErasmus and on Facebook.
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