Today may not be the best day for me to write a post with the title “The Power of Positive”, given that it started with my two year old biting my three year old and ended with the same two year old dancing in the three year old’s wee (having emptied the potty’s entire contents on the lounge rug). I am going to stick with it though as I need the positive energy and because there was no poo. Also as our happiest moments come out of the positive, if I am going to start my ramblings anywhere it has got to be with the positive. And what is usually my pursuit as opposed to mastery of it.
I am not going to ramble too much about those times when it’s easy to be positive, when it happens without you noticing. You know. Like every….so often. The first afternoon of the year spent pottering in a warm back garden. The spontaneous laughter of little friends/siblings sharing a joke. The random relaxed days when everything just clicks into place. Instead I want to strengthen my positive resolve for when my offspring dance in each other’s wee. For the I won’t eat my cereal because you didn’t let me pour 4 pints of milk on it “by myself” moments. Or the, I am going to take thirty minutes to get into this car seat and there is nothing you can do about it scenario. (And there’s no point trying as I will Houdini myself out of it even if you briefly manage it moments.)
So here I am chasing down the positive. Often failing, normally laughing, sometimes crying. Here is my list so far….
(1) Never put a child down
One of the best bits of advice I have had was in 2000 during my first year of teaching. “Never put a child down”. Thanks Pat! Pat was no mug. Kids behaved for Pat. Whilst keeping their self esteem intact. No mean feat.
(2) Close the windows of opportunity
Another gem from an old head of department. I guess with regards to a toddler it might be moving an object out of sight or emptying the potty pronto.
(3) 5 to 1 praise ratio – at least!
I regularly have to remind myself (and my husband – I don’t know how he puts up with my constant feedback on rearing our offspring) to think about how things seem from their viewpoint. I tell myself to think about how hacked off I would be with an email in my inbox (or a colleague in my face) that asks for this and that, but doesn’t seem to appreciate or thank me for what I have done. A cliche but “catch them being good”.
How hard must it be to have your whole day dictated and planned out for you with constant instructions. And to be so dependent. I would be vile if the boot was on the other foot. Bet I was. Sorry Mum. No wonder my two year old, who is mastering more and more words, is trying to own me the whole time! Charlie Taylor in his book “Dictators and Divas” advocated letting them be the boss in play sometimes to give them an outlet for this frustration. Sometimes I try this. Sometimes I “like” to take it further and “let” them be the boss in real life.
(5) Collecting rewards
Another Charlie golden nugget – collecting pebbles in a jar, although I tend to use ball pool balls in a jug. They don’t hurt if you throw them. Close that window. He advises just focussing on one behaviour that you want to change – for me it was kindness between siblings. The idea is that every time they do the positive behaviour they get a ball and put it in the jug and when the jar/jug is full they get a treat (for us it’s normally letting them wash up or pretend to drive the car). You aren’t meant to take balls away (although my husband likes to) but maybe take a break from collecting the balls / awarding rewards if things go awry. This method works SO well as it focuses you and them – you are looking for the positive and as a result see more of it. Can’t recommend it enough. It has given us happy days. Even if the kindness was saccharin sweet and hideously exaggerated.
(6) The little things
He also promotes the use of little rewards. ONE chocolate button for a tidy table after a meal. In our house it would have to include floor, walls, head and me but you get the idea. I NEED to buy a tidy tube of chocolate buttons; this idea of his worked an absolute treat a couple of years ago on my then nearly two year old. Second children definitely get it easier as I am currently just waiting for number 2 to grow out of it. Going to buy that tube.
I think sometimes you just need one fun thing like balls in a jug to set the tone for your day. After all children love to hear about how good they’ve been so relive it and repeat it. Let them overhear you telling your other half or Grandma about it. Repeat, repeat, repeat! Celebrate! My three year old loves it when I tell him he has made my nose go all tingly as he was so kind / gentle / thoughtful to his brother.
(8) Descriptive Praise
I LOVE “How to talk so kids will listen, and listen so kids will talk” by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish. A fantastic read and potentially life changing book on how to get the best out of children. I especially love their take on descriptive praise, which is basically you running a commentary on the positive behaviour displayed, describing what you like. The idea is that the indirect praise feels more genuine as they know what it’s for, which also might make them more likely to repeat the good behaviour. It can also be used subtlety so children copy each other rather than feel put out that they’re not getting the “well done”.
(9) Let them problem solve
Adele and Elaine’s book “Siblings no Rivalry” is another book well worth some time and I often draw on their idea that you don’t have to resolve all their conflicts for them. Obviously you want and need to keep them safe, but who gets the car they both want can be a problem that you help them solve. Ask them to solve. Over-acting definitely helps. “Oh no, you both want this car, there is only one car, what will we do?”
They make the point well that negotiation and getting along with each other are life skills that need to be taught and we don’t need to wade in as the judge; we can instead help them to build the life skills needed to resolve conflict.
A truly great book, worth reading for the odd gem that is bound to ring true for you.
Before we all go off to do something else a big shout out for re-direction. Don’t give the behaviour you don’t like much air time. Children, especially little ones, seem to hear everything as an instruction. You may feel you have to say what you don’t like once, but move swiftly on; tell them what you want them to do. And repeat this as many times as you need, perhaps with some re-phrasing. Act as though this is what is about to happen, is happening, carry them along in the moment! If you can make re-direction happen even before the event has taken place, it can be even more positive and powerful. I was surprised at how well my three year old responded to being told that rather than push his little brother he should ask me for a cuddle as I loved cuddling him, but when he pushes his brother over I have to instead comfort him. I just need to remind him of this when I see things brewing, which is not always easy to spot in the changeable world of a little person!
I think I’ve almost finished my first ever blog post. I hope that it helps someone somewhere. It has at least helped me gather my thoughts and any ideas to add into the pot would be gratefully received! You can’t have too many tricks up your sleeves in this game.
The thing with bringing up children is that you aren’t going to know if you’ve done a good job for a fair few years. Even then you won’t know what caused what. What if this doesn’t pay off? What if you don’t do it well enough? The best bit of advice probably in both books is not to give yourself a hard time, when the resolve weakens or you make a mistake, accept you are human, move on and try again. As both of the above authors allude to; children benefit from seeing you being kind to yourself and forgiving your own mistakes. Being kind to yourself is being kind to their future selves. They are modelling themselves on you so treat yourself how you want them to treat their future, grown up selves. So if you were looking for an excuse for putting your feet up with that magazine or taking that nice, warm bath….