Thursday, February 23, 2012

THP's THPs ("Tips for Happy Parenting"), PART 1

Being a preacher's kid (a "PK" in church lingo) can be tough; being The Hungry Preacher's Kid can have its challenges, too.  But what about being the parent of The Hungry Preacher's Kids?  Also challenging, but I've worked hard to make parenting as effortless and rewarding as possible for hungry preachers everywhere.  Well, mostly just for myself.
Until today.

With today's post, I stroke my proverbial long, white beard and pass on some of the wisdom I have bumped my head into in my almost 8 years of parenting.  Some of these are variants or applications of tips I have learned elsewhere.  All have been helpful to me.  None are guaranteed for you.  Some are aimed at parent well-being, some are aimed at child well-being (hopefully, neither to the neglect of the other!).  All may be shared or commented upon.

Without further ado, I present "The Hungry Preacher's Tips for Happy Parenting (that may or may not work for anyone else), PART 1."

GROUP A: Things I Say
1.  "Hands up!"  One of the most aggravating experiences of parenting multiple children is watching a battle of possession or position unfold before your very eyes, and being powerless to stop it.  Sometimes my hands are full, like with groceries and I'm walking in from the car.  Meanwhile, the monkeys are both grabbing the doorknob trying to turn it.  Other times, I may be playing with them, but even my presence doesn't subdue the grab-and-yank reflex when they both want the same toy.

Once, out of frustration, I yelled something like, "Let go!  Both of you!  Now!"  The directive was not concise and the letting go was not instantaneous, but it was a start.  Later, I revised to "Hands up!" and explained to my children, who were 5 and 4 at the time, that when I said "Hands up!" they each better let go of whatever she was grabbing and put her hands up like a common bank robber.

Just missing the cut were "Put your hands where I can see them!" and "Jazz hands!"

It only took a few times for them to get the hang of it. I established right away that anyone NOT letting go and putting their hands up would, minimally, lose claim to the disputed item. "Hands up!" meant, "Do this right at this moment, and daddy is not messing around."

Now, I almost blush seeing them react to "Hands up!"  Occasionally, I'll move into "sorting things out" mode, and realize about a minute later that they still have their hands straight up in the air.  Oops.  If you learn the "Hands up!" phrase, make sure you also learn the follow up phrase, "OK, you can put your hands down but don't touch anything."  Also, if you use this at the grocery store or in public, prepare to feel like people are thinking, "They totally must beat their children to get that sort of reaction."

2.  "I need to be a good daddy."  Every parent uses the "if/then" threat on their kid at some point (e.g., "If you don't finish dinner, then you won't get dessert," "If you don't stop crying, I'll give you something to cry about," etc.).  The hard part is following through.  Of course, you don't want to threaten things that are either ridiculously disproportional to the crime or far more burdensome to enforce than they are worth.  But what about when you said, "If you whine one more time, you are going to bed," and five minutes later, the kid whines?  And what if the kid starts crying and asking for one more chance?

If you choose to follow through (and you should, almost without exception) then one tack is to explain to your kid that THEY made the choice.  I have found this to be only moderately soothing in most cases.  My kids often respond with something like, "I would like to make a different choice now."  This is where I defer to the "Law of Good Daddyhood."  I explain, "Sweetie, I need to be a good daddy.  Part of that means telling you truth and not lying to you.  Now, I told you that if you whined again, you would need to go to bed.  If I let you think that it's OK to ignore what I say because I may not really mean it, I would not be being a good daddy."

I don't say this apologetically, but matter-of-factly.  This consequence HAS to happen, or I won't be being a very good daddy.  I've used this a few times, with generally effective results.  Without being happy about their situation, my girls do seem to recognize the dilemma and accept what must happen.

3.  "Do you want to help me clean, or do you want to keep playing nice?"  Preemptive troubleshooting.  If the girls are happily playing, and I'm happily focused on housekeeping or blogging or whatever, then this little gem is wonderfully appropriate, for lots of reasons.  Compare it to the more reactionary, "Stop fighting or you'll have to help me clean."  The preemptive phrase empowers them by giving them a choice.  It reminds them that continuing to play nice is an ongoing choice.  It presents consequences for fighting without my having to frame them negatively.

The best time to say this is when they've been playing nicely for about 45 minutes, which is to say they are due for a spat.  When I throw this out there, I estimate that it extends their patience with one another, on average, by about 30 minutes.

Check back tomorrow for part 2 of this series: "Matters of Food."  Until then...


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