Sunday, September 25, 2011

Playful Parenting

Do you ever get tired of the sound of your voice, nagging your kids? They probably do too.

More and more, we are a society that's pressed for time. We are also more overprogrammed than ever before. As a result, Canadians are often found dashing out the door, running late for some activity. When you add kids into this mix, two things happen. 1. The number of activities increases exponentially, and 2. The number of bodies to get out the door is greater. Thus the number of delaying factors is enhanced. And when the kids are younger than, say, five, there are a whole lot of extra delaying factors.

This is a recipe for frazzled moms and dads who are chasing daylight to have very thin patience. We nag, we demand, we threaten, we yell. And, at least in my home, none of it does one lick of good.

It seems obvious, but its easy to forget that when we are stressed, our kids pick up on that and it affects their behavior, their likelihood to comply, and their willingness to be cheerful. After all, if we're being Mean Scary Mommy, what motivation is there for them to be sweet and cooperative?

Enter Playful Parenting. In this book by Lawrence J. Cohen, we explore the concept of making parenting more fun. For everyone. The book discusses approaches like ensuring you are at child level when asking them to do things. The importance of eye contact and face-to-face communication (vs. shouting from downstairs). Making tasks more fun, offering choices, and challenging kids to cooperate without commanding them. Parents who try the approach sing its praises and say their kids have never been so happy, cooperative, or pleasant to be around. Just build in extra time for things, make it fun, and you will get where you need to go without yelling.

But is too much accommodation a bad thing? What happens when our kids start school, or organized sports, or enter the workplace? After living with parents who are ultra creative and use these approaches to coax out the behaviors, will these kids expect everyone to do that? I daresay that teachers, coaches, and bosses will not have the time, energy, or inclination to find every child's hot buttons and maneuver a way to press them. Will these kids then be faced with a crushing disappointment and have trouble adjusting to having to do things they don't really want to do? Is this actually a way of manipulating them - and if so, is that really what we are aiming to do?

I suggest that the best approach is to aim for an 80/20 rule. 80% of the time, be fun. Be sweet. Be creative and inventive and do what you've got to do to get things done with smiles on faces. 20% of the time, allow yourself to fail. Snap. Order, command, and demand. And be ok with that. Showing your kids that you are human is a good lesson for them. Making mistakes, and apologizing for them, are wonderful life lessons in modeling humility. Demonstrating that the world does not revolve around them 100% of the time is a teaching opportunity and it sets them up for realistic future expectations. Not to mention, expecting yourself to be darling and awesome 24/7 is a lot of pressure. And I, for one, am probably not capable of that. Kudos to you if you are, but if you give yourself an ulcer trying, maybe you want to reconsider.

I don't think anyone would say that being Drill Seargent Mommy all of the time is a good idea, nor would it be effective in shaping kids with good self esteem, work ethics, or happy childhood memories. But I also think that being Warm Fuzzy Mommy all of the time sets kids up with unrealistic expectations of life.

So go ahead. Lower your expectations (they ARE kids, after all). Have more fun. Enjoy their littleness. And on the days when you are worn too thin and you lose it, don't beat yourself up. But the great thing is, if you don't nag them daily, it can't really be considered nagging anymore. And you'll stop hating how it sounds if you do less of it.

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