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, but this post will help .
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 when we’d stopped. 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.
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
You want to communicate your expectations to your child until they’re so confident they know them that they get a little smug.
Our Restaurant Spiel
We go out to eat a lot as a family. Taking 5 kids, aged 7 and under to a restaurant can be horrifying.
To everyone else in the restaurant.
Not because my kids are out of control, but because it’s a shocking sight for bystanders. But I digress… I also tip well because #lotsofcrumbs.
ANYWAY… nearly every time we get out of the car to go inside a restaurant I repeat the same few phrases over and over. I even adopt an exaggerated Reminder Tone and it goes something like this.
“Okay, kids, y’all know what we do and don’t do in restaurants, RIGHTTTT? No standing in chairs, no crawling under the tables, no walking around the table, no crying, no whining, no….”
And about this time all the kids start acting Fake Annoyed and say things like, “We KNOW, mom, come on!”
This is where you wanna be. This means they’re so used to these expectations that – most of the time – you’ll only have to reference them while inside and they immediately keep the rules.
1. Decide what exactly it is you expect from them at given times
Here’s a scenario from a few years ago.
As we were eating dinner one 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 felt like I kept saying, “Stop twisting! Stop twisting!” over and over.
I realized, I’d never said I expected them to sit facing forward and to put all toys at a neutral point until after dinner. I didn’t have a firm boundary on this and it showed. I needed to decide what I expected them to do, and then to communicate it often enough that it was enforceable.
(Dinner time shenanigans. #5 keeps the other kids in stitches)
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, are we going to cry when I turn it off?”
Preparing your kids for what’s next is a big way to cut down power struggles and undesired behavior. And at the least, you can reference the rule afterwards so it doesn’t come as a surprise to the child.
Children don’t love surprises unless it’s a happy one. Like an animal.
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.
And if they don’t want to do it, they won’t agree to it. This helps dig deeper into what’s going on.
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. Or, as they say in some homeschooling circles, you’re “holding the space.”
Explaining our expectations (ad nauseum, it will seem to us) 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 don’t give a rip what you expect and do their own thing, there is still security in knowing the rule. And knowing what happens when the rule is broken.
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 and lazy in holding my own boundaries.
A while ago, I was chatting with a neighbor who told me a funny story.
It was funny TO HER.
She drove by our (old) house and saw one of my boys with his pants at his ankles.
Right there in the front yard.
I want to continue with this story, but what else is there to say?”
As the weather had warmed up I’d been happy to let the kids go outside. All the time.
As much as they wanted.
However, I hadn’t explained to them that they shouldn’t pee in the yard in plain view of every car that drove by.
Find a tree, kids!
(Don’t worry, no one is peeing here)
Shortly after that, while Huge and Pregnant and Frazzled, I fully 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.
Even when you think it’s unnecessary.
Until those rules become second nature.
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