“Raising Kids Should Be Fun” was the headline on a flyer I recently received for a free positive parenting seminar series hosted by Crossroads at Lakeland Community College. It’s a series of three 90-minute seminars aimed to support parents in our community as they raise the next generation. I agreed to attend because while I absolutely love being a parent, there are definitely times when it is not fun so I can stand to learn a few things for sure. Parenting is exhausting, it’s trying and every single day I wonder why I didn’t study psychology so that I can retaliate on my little master manipulator… I mean… toddler. At just two and a half years old, I’m still new to this parenting thing and there’s so much to learn. I figured if I got one thing out of the class, it was worth getting out of the house by myself and then going to Starbucks to write about it.
The class started with the instructor listing off her credentials. She had a lot of educational experience working with children who have experienced trauma as well as typical children. She also stated that she herself was a parent who became a single parent when her youngest was 2.5 years old so I thought yeah this lady might have a good pointer or two on how to maintain some sanity as a parent.
Everyone went around the room to say how old their kid(s) were and the one thing that they loved the most about them. It was a good exercise that gave some perspective later in the class when people had questions or comments about their own experiences. As each parent spoke about their child, they all seemed to have a kid that is mischievous, social, but also sweet as pie. That’s my Leo! I felt comforted by everyone’s comments like I’m not alone. Like my kid isn’t the only kid who is crazy. This one Mother told a story of her four year old chucking a toilet paper holder down a flight of stairs that morning, which hit and injured her foot. She was instantly mad but immediately the kid went into caregiver mode and wanted to give her “a check up” to make her foot better. The thoughtfulness made her forget she was mad that he hurled the thing in the first place. This. Is. My. Kid. These people will get me.
The premise of these classes is about shifting your parenting style to emphasize the positive things your child is doing and plan ahead to prevent problems which would create cause for negative discipline… basically removing the temptations that will sway your child to act out. To some extent, I started to do this about three months ago. I felt like all I was doing was saying what my son couldn’t do and I saw him doing more and more of what I didn’t want him to do. I thought about what it would be like to be a toddler and have someone else dictate basically every single move you’re making. “Come here.” “Don’t touch that.” “Sit down.” “Stand up, please.” “Get your foot off the table.” “Drink some water.” “Don’t shove that T-Rex into your sister’s face.” While I can’t say that I’ve given up saying any of those things, I can say that I’ve started to praise the heck out of every little thing he does that is good. “I really like how you picked up your sister’s cup and gave it to her.” “Thank you for sharing that French fry with your sister. That made her happy. You’re a good brother to offer something of yours to her.” “That was really great that you said excuse me when you walked past that lady.” I don’t know that it works to the point that he repeats any of the good behaviors that I’m pointing out just to get me to say something nice but I do think it must be a relief to him to hear some positive reinforcement all day long.
One of the points that the instructor made was that we put expectations on children that are not developmentally appropriate and then become frustrated when they cannot handle the situation. Case in point: I took the kids to Target today and I let my toddler walk instead of sit in the cart, which is like releasing a hungry lion into a butcher shop. Maybe I’m a masochist, but I just wanted to give him the opportunity to have some freedom. Well, let’s just say the person in charge of stocking the men’s sock aisle is probably really pissed at me. I mean… every sock… EVERY SOCK on the display was on the floor including those little metal hooks that stick into the peg board and the front of our shopping cart might even be dented from the impact when he rammed it into the display. Sorry, person at Target. Anyway, this is what she means by putting developmentally inappropriate expectations on children. He’s getting strapped into one of those giant 20-foot train shopping carts next time.
We discussed discipline quite a bit, as almost every parent had a question on how to handle a certain situation. The cool part of the class was that while the instructor would provide her expertise, more often than not the other parents in the room would chime in with a “this worked for me” scenario that would add to the conversation. It seemed like almost everyone in the room was suffering from the kid jumping on the couch problem and she pointed out that perhaps a child that is continually jumping on the couch just needs to jump. Instead of reprimanding the location of the jump, take their hand and show them where they can jump. She said that kids can’t regulate their impulses until they’ve reached the age of five (insert forehead sweating here because I have 2.5 more years to go). One Dad said he put a mini trampoline in his family room. If we set up positive learning environments and provide the child with safe ways to indulge their impulses then we are less likely to become stressed and more likely to feel confident in our parenting.
I nearly spit my La Croix out when the instructor recommended that our children have no more than 20 minutes of screen time each day. That’s not a typo. TWENTY MINUTES. Ok so maybe it’s different at your house but I cannot function… WE cannot function without the only source of entertainment that will sit my child down for more than 90 seconds. I need it for when I put the baby down for a nap or bedtime so that he’s not running out the front door. I need it for when I need to fill the dishwasher so that they both aren’t licking the dirty knives as I’m putting them in the basket. I need it for when they wake up at 6 a.m. and I… just can’t. She also recommended that we ignore what you can ignore and pile on the praise when you see something good. So, instructor, I will pretend I didn’t hear your 20 minute screen time recommendation and instead bring a couple friends with me to the next class because the class was really interesting and I came home with a lot to think about.
Raising my kids is fun but it’s easy to lose track of that. My husband and I discuss parenting strategy quite a bit but it is not often that we talk to other parents about it together. There were unmarried moms there, couples and married moms and dads there by themselves. Lakeland provided free child care during the class, which was used by at least half the participants. One couple brought their 12 week old youngest child to the class and I have to say kudos to this Mommy who breastfed the baby during the seminar! I really enjoyed the conversation and I feel like there should be more open discussion going on in our community, which is probably exactly what Crossroads realizes and exactly why this series was created. For more information about Triple P — Positive Parenting Program — call 440-358-7370 or www.crossroads-lake.org.