First of all, I would like to give thanks to our member Ulrike H. for having a Nikolaus painting party on December 6th at her Made By You shop. My twin boys were there painting Christmas ornaments and cookie plates when, lo and behold, Nikolaus himself walked in (wonder what she had to do to get her adorable husband to do that!?). Most of the children present were at the impressionable age of believing and there were lots of big, round eyes as well as a rush on the poor man when he asked if anyone had any wishes! He read stories while we painted and gave out yummy candy and chocolates. A very nice event – thanks Ulrike, we will miss you when you go on to your next career!
A new year, and in this very exciting election year, I am reminded of a “kinder, gentler” year! Why? Because my children have, dare I say finally, reached a very decent age. My twin boys turned 6 on Christmas Eve and it was like they seemed to have been suddenly bonked over the head with reason, understanding and actually listening to my barkings. Can I get a hallelujah? Well, I hope it was my influence and maybe the influence of a strict German Kindergarten, but at any rate, I decided to be a kinder, gentler Mama. So I bought a few books when I was in Houston recently, I googled some child-raising sites, I spoke to other mamas with experience who told me what they would have done, in hindsight and this is what I came up with: positive reinforcement works. Really!
First of all, we hung up a reward sticker poster on the wall. When they really have cleaned up their Legos like I’ve asked or have brushed their teeth and made pee-pee before going to bed, well, you know the routine, they get a sticker. For each line completed, they get a small reward (an Überraschungs-Ei, one of those silly magazines with a toy attached, a popcorn evening, etc..) It was very positive and put the ownership on them instead of La Mama being disappointed. Then I thought I needed to stop yelling, so I came up with some alternatives to threats…and, by golly, they worked! I printed them out and put them on my fridge. It is much more positive than threats and it really does work. After all, children want to be good by nature.
You want your child to go to bed and stay there. Instead of saying: “If you get out of bed one more time, I’ll scream.” say: “After you go to bed, I expect you to stay there.” The expectation is clear and expressed without emotion.
You want your child to eat her dinner. Instead of saying: “You’re going to sit at the table until you finish your peas and carrots,” say: “Remember – no snacks after dinner.” It reminds her that the kitchen is closed but she can still choose whether or not to eat.
You want your child to brush his teeth. Instead of: “No bedtime story if you don’t brush,” say: “It’s time for bed. What do you do first to get ready?” This lets him know it is time for bedtime routine, without being punitive.
An old trick I revived from my marketing training seminars days is the ‘either-or’ one. You want your child to clean up his or her room. Instead of saying: “No dinner until your room is clean,” say: “I’d like you to pick up your toys and put them away. Do you want to do that before or after dinner?” This makes your expectations clear and also gives your kindergartner a choice (or makes them think they have the power of choice!).
If he or she is whining or yelling, instead of threatening: “If you whine once more, no TV time.” say “I’d like to listen but I can only understand your normal voice.” This lets him or her know you are interested in what he is saying, but won’t accept the tone.
Germans are big on consequences. If the child is screaming in the car or being loud, instead of saying: “If you scream one more time, we’ll turn around and go home” (do you really want to do this?), say: “I am having a hard time driving, I need to pull over until you are settled.” This lets your child know the effect, limits and consequences of his or her behavior.
We have all been there, making threats and being at our wits’ end. So try to make the best of it and have a positive, happy 2008!
originally published in Currents Feb/Mar 2008