I ought to be an expert on parenting by now, I have read so many books and blogs and forum posts. I read about parenting, child development, teaching, therapeutic parenting, life story work, Christian parenting, adoption, attachment, ADHD, autism, routines and boundaries, acceptance and endless analysis of what LOVE really means.
(These are the laminated hearts that I sometimes use to write a wonderful thing each person did during the day on and hand out at tea time: an idea I borrowed from Supernanny)
Unfortunately, I am beginning to realise that theory only gets you so far. So despite the extensive research I am no expert.
None the less, there are a few things I do know now (or at least think I know) that I didn’t know five years ago.
Of course, I only have three children to parent, so it’s hardly a decent sample! Plus, I barely seem to be ‘parenting’ the baby, he just grows up next to me. So, realistically, this is what I think I know about parenting my older two boys.
1) You cannot control your child, you can only control yourself.
So often the arguments and frustrations I have with the children stem from me forgetting this fact. I say ‘put that down’ (for example); child refuses; I feel furious and resort to threats, bribery or (in our darkest moments) grabbing. I am always better off with a statement of fact ‘that isn’t yours and if you twist it, it might break’ (for example).
If you remain calm, or (perhaps more achievable) regain your inner calm, the children calm down quicker. You can (slowly, slowly) teach them to control their emotions by showing them how you do it. You cannot help them control their emotions by yelling ‘just settle down and stop screaming at me!’
2) Consequences cause massive rows and are not teaching anything useful!
We might be getting somewhere by trying to help the boys fix whatever they broke. That includes fixing relationships by learning to say healing words after hurting words and learning to show sorry as well as saying it. Plus, this has the added benefit of the bathroom getting cleaned more often!
But when you ban the TV or the Gameboy, the children are convinced this is evidence that you are horrible and don’t love them; this results in the children plotting ‘revenge’.
Proof that consequences don’t work is that you still try to use them even though they have always resulted in unpleasant consequences in the past! If you aren’t changing your behaviour because the children destroy your stuff, the children are not going to change their behaviour because you briefly confiscate their stuff.
3) Telling the children they are well behaved makes them behave better. Telling them they are badly behaved makes them behave worse.
Honestly, if you manage to look surprised by a thrown chair and say ‘you’ve been getting so great at using your words lately’ they will sometimes stop throwing furniture at you. If you say ‘this is the third tantrum today and it’s not even nine o’clock’ there will be more tantrums – guaranteed!
4) Everything passes.
Yes, it often feels like tantrums are going on all day, but there’s always the odd nice moment mixed in where you share a joke, give them something they like to eat or play a game everyone enjoys. If nothing else, there are hugs at bedtime!
And, yes, there are phases that haven’t ended yet. But, come on, is it even possible for them to still be doing that at eighteen? At the very least, they will be a lot larger and you can give them responsibility for the state of their own clothes.
One day they won’t be your little boys. One day they won’t need you every day. One day they will have separate lives. And when that happens you are going to miss these days, these long, chaotic, frustrating days. One day, all you will be left with are the memories and the crushing guilt. So, do your best to teach them, to raise them, to exert some kind of influence, but most of all just try to give them a childhood.