It’s mid-afternoon. My toddler is overtired – beyond ready for a nap, and I fear close to melting down. She’s struggling with EVERYTHING. It’s too hot inside, and yet also too cold. Her tangerine is too juicy, and it’s in the “wrong” bowl. I moved her baby doll – not cool. She’s disagreeable about everything, and starting to whine and cry. She just needs to get some rest of course, but “doesn’t want to take a nap.” A melting down toddler can lead to a melting down adult, and it’s easy to fall into throwing the whining and demanding back at them. It seems like getting the nap to happen is just going to be a battle. Instead, I take some deep breaths and choose to connect. “I’m tired,” I say. “I think I’m going to get some rest. I want to go out and see our friends tonight, and I need energy to do that.” She softens. “Mama, I’m sleepy too. I want to take a nap just like you.” Which leads me to the best, easiest, hardest, and most effective parenting tip:
BE what you want to SEE
Quite a combo right?! Well it’s true. YOU are the biggest influence on your child. Use it for good, and to the advantage of both you and your child. Tired of repeating yourself, not getting results, or perhaps worse – resorting to threats and punishments? Try being the example instead.
That’s it! Struggling to get your child to eat more veggies? Pile them on your plate at every opportunity. Try a new one at the store or farmer’s market. Cook something different. Want your child to say please and thank you? Take the opportunity to do so yourself: to your child, your partner, your friends/family, your morning barista, and anyone else you come across. So much better than the typical “What do you say now???” Want your child to be kind, generous and giving? Well, work on yourself and demonstrate what you want to see. This can work for pretty much anything.
While this technique is simple (some would even call it “lazy parenting”) it is also HARD. It can feel hard to be on all the time. Certainly we are more developed than our young children, but difficult times can still bring out the worst in us. However – these are the most important times to keep it together. Being calm, centered, and focused under pressure shows your child how to deal with less than ideal situations both now and later on in their future. Powerful stuff. It may seem like this is harder, slower, and not as effective as shouting your demands. However, it’s a kinder, gentler, approach and gets a genuine buy-in from your child. I don’t want to discount how difficult this technique can be sometimes. I find it helpful to remember the long view: you’re setting your child up for life. Your momentary frustrations aren’t likely to matter in the long run…but the way you choose to deal with them just may.
Which is why it’s the best parenting tip. Why does it work? Because your child chooses the desired behavior, not you. You are clearly influencing their decision with your own behaviors, but it’s ultimately your child choosing for themselves how they want to be. While this may not seem like such a big deal, it’s the basis for intrinsic vs extrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation means they are making choices from the basis of their own desires, from their assessment of the situation or their own joy, ideals, desires. Extrinsic motivation means they are doing something because they are seeking rewards or avoiding punishment, or to please you as the parent. With the ultimate goal of raising a child with honesty, integrity, and value based living, fostering intrinsic motivation is your best bet.
Sometimes – you just want your child to GO TO SLEEP. There is a humorous but not child friendly book inspired by just that! However -what is truly amazing is that when you set the example, get the buy-in, and finally settle down for the nap in peace, there’s an awesome adventure called LIFE just waiting for you when nap time is over.
Have you tried this? Experiences to share? Please do! We would love to hear about them.