We all want our kids to be free, secure, and well-mannered. We know they’ll push the envelope and test our resolve. Some days we’ll “have it all together” and some days we’ll become angry moms. The goal is for us to manage our homes in a way that takes us from chaos to peace. At least… most of the time.
My husband and I just looked at one another with resigned faces.
“What on earth is going on?” type of expressions.
In the remaining weeks of my 5th pregnancy, things had just started to go to pot.
Kids weren’t doing what we said and we weren’t quite sure how to make the kids listen since we weren’t quite sure where we’d gone wrong. It was those pesky Alien Replacement Kids that come around, every so often, when our own well behaved and stable kids are abducted and held captive.
We needed to crack down.
We needed to hold firm.
We needed to remember they are, after all, only little.
But as I laid in bed that evening, the missing piece of the puzzle came to me. The thing I’d gotten out of the habit of doing. Something that children – particularly toddlers and preschoolers – needed. All the time. Over and over.
They need constant reminders of our expectations.
I’d already experienced what it was like when I stopped praising my children, but now I was experiencing what it was like when I’d stopped holding up the expectations clearly. This was, I hoped, a relatively easy fix. As it turns out… it works wonders.
Repeat Over and Over For Better Behavior
Now, I’m not talking about the 1-2-3, 3.5, 3 and 3/4, type of repeating… keep reading and you’ll see what I mean.
1. Decide what exactly it is you expect from them at given times
As we ate dinner the other night, 2 out of 3 kids were twisting around on their bar stools. They had a toy or two near their plate (which they were fighting over) and were being silly. I actually want dinnertime to be a place of fun and laughs, but they were getting wild and out of control.
I realized, I’d never said I expect them to sit facing forward and to put all toys at a neutral point until after dinner. Two small rules that make mealtimes a lot more peaceful now, but that needed deciding. I needed to realize what I wanted to happen or not happen so I could oversee it.
2. Be clear about expectations before they’re needed
Instead of waiting until our children do something we don’t like to explain our expectations, make them clear beforehand. Before the meal starts I’ll say, “Feet facing forward.” Before the kids go outside to ride bikes I’ll say, “Stay on the lower driveway.” Before we watch cartoons I’ll say, “We’re only watching one and I don’t want any screaming when I turn the TV off.”
3. Ask them to repeat back to you
When I’ve asked my kids to do something that is more than 2 things in a row – for example, “Go to your room, pick up your toys, put on your pajamas,” I’ll ask them to repeat it back to me. This helps them internalize your request as well as remember it. Toddlers don’t have long short-term memories and this helps get them involved and “own” the task at hand.
One phrase I use and love is, “Yes, mommy.” After you’ve asked your kids to do something and you know they understand, have them say “yes, mom” or some equivalent. It might sound a bit hokey pokey to you, but it really works. When kids tell you they’ll do something, they are far more likely to do it.
4. It makes you proactive instead of reactive
By repeating your expectations over and over and over again you become proactive in your interactions and activities with the kids. You are “on top” of things, so to speak. Ultimately our expectations align with our values and priorities and by communicating them regularly we are teaching our children what we’d like to see from them.
This provides security to children. Lack of boundaries is a root cause of insecurity and expectations = boundaries. Children feel secure knowing what you expect. Even if they choose to do whatever they feel like from time to time. It’s when they don’t know what you expect that things start to get hairy all around.
5. It curbs some “wise in their own eyes” behaviors
I’ve found my children’s “wise in their own eyes” phases come when I’ve been lax in explaining my expectations. As summer approached and the weather warmed up, I was so happy to let the kids go outside. All the time as much as they wanted.
However, I hadn’t explained to them the parts of the yard they were allowed in or needed to avoid.I didn’t give them clear expectations about closing doors, taking off dirty shoes, or washing their hands. Or peeing in the yard in plain view of every car that drove by. Find a tree, kids!
It took about a month of me feeling Huge and Pregnant and Frazzled to realized I’d failed in the expectation department. Their “wise in their own eyes” behaviors were because I hadn’t given them wiser alternatives.
Explaining our expectations… again and again and again… is a hugely helpful parenting tool. Some of our expectations won’t change and some will, but our job as parents is to teach our children what we expect in our home and help them to achieve this.
It doesn’t mean we’re all about rules.
It doesn’t mean we lecture, lecture, lecture.
It does mean we help our kids avoid the Smack Down as we lead by example.
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