Monday, September 20, 2010

Embrace the Good Life: Grow Respect Right From the Start

Many thanks to today's guest blogger, Monica Wiedel-Lubinski, Program Director of The Nature Place at Irvine. Last month, Monica shared tips for exploring nature with your infant. Today, she's got fabulous tips for unplugging a bit and raising a (respectful) child. Thanks for sharing, Monica!

We especially like her tip "come from a place of yes." How many times have you told your toddler "no" today? Yeah. Me too. (But, Monica helpfully reminds us, none of us is perfect...)

Although we may not yet have achieved perfection, we're already superheroes! (Don't believe me? See below...)
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As an educator and the director of a preschool program at Irvine Nature Center, there are more than a few lessons I have learned about how to gently tend to children’s' needs and delicately prune behavior. By planting these little 'seeds' below, your child will develop positive, healthy habits and your family will grow in respect, trust, and love.
  • Don't Kill the Joy. Let your child marvel in the minutia of life. Acknowledge your child's little discoveries and stop to ponder with your sweetie. Take time to smell the roses (literally) or watch that bitty insect buzz around. Let your child experience free play time outdoors. You will begin to learn about your child's interests and hone his skills for future learning (observation, spatial, fine and gross motor, etc.). And you send a strong message to your child: "your ideas matter to me." 

  • Be Present. Turn your who-za-whats-it OFF. Yes, I know you were looking forward to this episode, or you really need to check your email about that work thing. But in the big picture, none of that matters. Your family is the most important thing in your life, so let your actions speak louder than your words. Turn off the TV, computer, phone, or IPod and enjoy this fleeting time with your child.

  • Be Genuine. Give sincere, specific praise when you really mean it (EX. "I like the way you picked up all your toys! Thank you for helping!") Be ware that your praise will lose its polish if you go overboard or make sweeping declarations of praise ("You're the fastest swimmer EVER!"). Along these lines, avoid telling white lies. It sets a bad example and usually isn't necessary. If you invent little lies to cover up uncomfortable situations, you can be sure that your child will, too. She may begin to question your sincerity all the time, which could impact the trust you are trying to grow.

  • Come From a Place of 'Yes'. "No, don't do that! No, leave that alone! I said NO!" No one wants to hear "no" all time. (Do YOU?) There are certainly times where 'yes' cannot be your response, but coming from a positive mindset models how to be optimistic and provides plenty of choices as to what children CAN do. Instead of "No, leave that alone!" try "That's not for kids, but let's play with ___ instead". Then, follow through with your suggestion together. If you were hoping your child would play independently for a little while longer, but the behavior continues, you may need to focus on quality playtime. Offering alternatives can redirect behavior and is very effective with the under five set, but if your child is craving one-on-one attention, redirection is no substitute for you!

  • Magical Motivation. I can't say enough good things about puppets. Yes, that's right -- puppets. Puppets make any chore fun! Clean up blocks? No problem, watch the puppet. Put on your shoes? Happily, with a silly puppet serenade. If you don't have any puppets, try singing in a funny voice or make up goofy rhymes that you can both dance to. You will feel like a fool, but don't worry, your child won't mind! Not only will you help motivate positive behaviors, you will also encourage a love of music, dance, and dramatic play. And another bonus: your child will learn that mundane tasks can be fun.

  • Patience, My Pretty. It's dizzying to think of all the new skills children develop through their preschool years. Despite all of the progress, there is ample frustration prior to mastering a milestone. You might be in a hurry or tired of cleaning up after your child as he learns a new task (putting on shoes, walking up steps, using the potty, or drinking from a glass). It takes nerves of steel to allow your child to make mistakes (there goes the glass of water...again!). But keep smiling, take a deep breath, and offer support for your frustrated cutie pie. Your child will learn to trust you and seek out your help as he or she gets older if they know you offer non-judgmental love and support now.

  • Ditch the Schedule (yours and your baby's). Don't over schedule your tot with to-do's whether they are social, educational, or otherwise. Strike a balance between enrichment for your child and overload of activities. Remember, being present with you is what matters most. You are your child's best teacher. 

Trust is in her eyes. When speaking to your child, make eye contact. Even more difficult but equally as important, make eye contact when she is speaking. Don't interrupt to speed things up or put words in her mouth. Be an active listener. After all, you want her to listen to you, right? Now is the time to model how it's done.

  • Consistent = Fair. Children learn how to be respectful in part by being treated respectfully. Consistent enforcement of rules goes a long way to teach children fairness. When a child feels he or she is being treated fairly, they develop a sense of dignity, justice, and respect. Consistent, fair treatment in a family, classroom, or social group is a key component to fostering respectful behavior.

  • You're Already a Super Hero. It's true! To your child, you can do no wrong. So set an example, a good example, of the virtues and behaviors you would like your child to develop. Take a moment to write out a list of traits you would like your child to have as an adult. Scan down that list with your partner. Are these traits that you regularly model for your child? If not, discuss ways to incorporate different activities or routines into your days.

  • Forgive without a Grudge. "She's ALWAYS misbehaving." "He NEVER listens." Usually the person uttering these words doesn't grasp the power of what they are saying over and over again. Negative statements like these can become self-fulfilling prophecies. (IE. Mom says I never listen, so I may as well ignore her.) After another mini-disaster when it's time to make up, set an example of forgiveness. When you hold a grudge, you relaying that you don't trust your child to correct her behavior on her own. Children rise to expectations, so believe in your little dear, and believe her when she is sorry. Give her the opportunity to redeem herself with your support and love.

  • Choose your Battles. You don't want to be the broken record parent constantly scolding "No! No! I said NO!" Just as your child will tune out insincere praise, your child will also get 'no overload' if it's all you ever say. Instead, decide what truly warrants a 'no'. It may be that you need to redirect his or her behavior or remove temptation altogether. There will always be the non-negotiable "we don't poke Spot in the eye, that hurts!" but if it's not going to cause injury, try to let it go.
Alas, we are only human. No matter how hard we try, no one on earth could do all of these things all of the time, despite our best efforts. Let forgiveness apply to your own parenting faux pas. Though it may break your heart to apologize to him for your outburst, he will also learn how to forgive you.

NOTE: Irvine Nature Center is full of ways to unplug with your child (think Meet the Critter or Tagalong Time). You can purchase puppets there, too! Check us out at or come by for leisurely hike on the trails.


Janie said...

Some of these tips seem obvious, but it is amazing how many parents don't think to practice them. Some of these ideas it took me 4 kids to learn! And don't underestimate the puppet trick. My Pediatrician used a doll pretending to drink my child's milk to get her to start drinking her milk. I was amazed!