By James D. Sutton, EdD

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Tip #1: Affirm Unconditionally.
Whether we like it or not, we live in a conditional society. We have to perform to stay employed. Sometimes our children sense that they must perform to be loved. They have difficulty separating who they are from what they do, and unfortunately we too often add to the confusion by praising our kids when they make the team, if they make first chair trombone, and because they won the contest. Although there is nothing wrong with recognizing a child’s accomplishments, such affirmation must balance with recognizing the youngster’s unconditional value.

One way to do this is to simply say to the youngster, “You know Suzie, I was just thinking about something. I know that we have our differences from time to time, but, through it all, you’re one of the best things that ever came into my life. You don’t have to say anything; I just wanted you to know.” The secret to making this affirmation “stick” is to immediately ask a non-related question (such as, “Say, can you tell me where the scissors are?”), leave the room, or in some way make it comfortable for the youngster not to respond to what you have said.

Casual notes left on the bathroom mirror are another way to affirm a youngster without him or her feeling like you are making a “big deal” out of it. Keep affirming in small, almost “casual,” ways. It will begin to pay off.



Tip #2: Empower the Youngster with Choices.

Whenever possible, allow the youngster to exercise skills of decision-making by offering choices. This is especially helpful with the youngster who has difficulty completing tasks, as the child is more apt to initiate and complete that which he or she has selected. For instance, give the youngster five cards, each of which has an assigned task written on it. Tell the child that, if he or she begins the tasks within ten minutes (point to the clock) and completes them, only three of the tasks need be done; two cards can be returned. This approach not only eliminates a number of hassles, it is usually perceived by the child as being a fair and reasonable gesture.



Tip #3: Occasionally Let the Youngster Lead.
If you have a youngster who is sometimes critical of the way you do things, let them plan the next family outing or activity. Provide a few guidelines and a budget, then let the kid have a go at it. This won’t necessarily ensure that everyone will have a great time on the activity, but it will eliminate much of the complaining. Be certain to recognize the youngster for his or her efforts.

I encourage families to have a message center, the “Important Things to Remember” Board (on or near the refrigerator, of course). Things that are important, such as appointments and activities, are on the Board, and everyone is expected to read it and be responsible daily for what is on it. “I didn’t know” is not an excuse. Let the youngster take responsibility for posting messages on the Board for a week, as you pass this responsibility around to family members who can handle it. This strategy also ensures that the youngster in charge of the Board will not “forget” what is on it. Again, recognize efforts.



Tip #4: Make Tasks Fun.
There’s no rule that says that chores and tasks have to be miserable and never-ending. It’s a fact, however, that more conflicts occur within families over issues of tasks (including homework) than anything else.

If your children have a set time to complete chores at home, try implementing the “Caught You!” Award. Set a timer to go off sometime during chores, telling the youngsters that, whenever the timer goes off, they will win an award (such as a prize, extra allowance, or a later bedtime) if they are “caught” doing the chore. Not only does this approach make it more likely that chores will get done, it is fun to do.

Another fun way to approach tasks is called “Slip and Draw.” Every time your children complete a homework assignment, or some other task or chore, give them a slip of paper to sign (“certify” the slips by initialing them on one side with a colored pen). The slip is then placed in a coffee can with a slit cut in the lid. At the end of several days or a week, have a drawing for a nice prize (it helps if the prize is displayed in a very conspicuous place). Youngsters quickly figure out that the more slips they have in the can, the better chance they have of winning. The more slips, the more completed task—-and the fewer problems.



Tip #5: Lighten Up.
If we’re not careful, we’ll become so overcome by parenthood we’ll neglect the opportunities to enjoy it. Hang on to your sense of humor; you’ll need it. Spontaneity is a great source of fun, and when done in good faith, it almost always improves relationships. Food fights and water-gun duels are messy, but loads of fun. No harm is intended or taken, and everyone joins in on the cleanup.

Let your kids know that parents aren’t perfect. Encourage them to let you know (appropriately) if you do or say something that bothers them or hurts their feelings. If you were wrong, apologize. Everyone makes mistakes, but those with real class stand responsible, and try to set things straight as best they can.

What to really make an impression on your children? Let them self-evaluate. When given an opportunity to evaluate themselves, kids are usually tougher than the adults. I got this idea from a teacher who essentially eliminated all complaining and grumbling in her classroom. She would give her students an assignment, along with a simple checklist which had a sticker paper-clipped to it.

Any youngster who completed checklist (stayed in seat, worked silently, and completed the assignment) could turn it in with the assignment and keep the sticker. She said it worked very well. It would not be difficult to modify this approach to the home environment. For example, prepay a child for doing an extra task, and let them determine if they should keep the money or not. If this approach doesn’t work, don’t repeat it, but it’s worth a try.



Tip #6: Spit in the Soup.
Sometimes stronger action is called for. Think about it. If, during lunch with a friend, you lean over and spit in their soup, there are a number of things you could say. You couldn’t, however, say that it was a mistake. It was a deliberate act. If you have a child who too often drags his or her feet, a simple provocative statement can be just the ticket to create some sort of action. An example might be, “Johnny, I was kind of wondering if you were going to forget to put the trash out on the street like last week and the week before? I’m going to watch and see if you put the trash out this morning. If it doesn’t get put out, maybe we need to talk about it tonight. What would be a good time for you to meet with me?” Now if this kid wants to avoid the talk, all he has to do is put out the trash.



Tip #7: Recognize Improvement.
Kids sometimes feel that, if they ever did anything well, no one would ever notice anyway. So notice. Recognize the child’s effort, express your appreciation about it, and interpret what you think the improvement means. For example, “Mark, I haven’t had to say a word about homework all week. That really impresses me, and it tell me that you’re doing an excellent job of being more responsible.”

About the Author:

In his book If My Kid’s So Nice … Why’s He Driving ME Crazy? nationally recognized educator, psychologist, and author Dr. James Sutton addresses what he calls the “Good Kid” Disorder. He shows parents and teachers the behaviors to watch for, and how to better understand and respond to the youngster displaying them.

Tips and solutions that will strengthen your relationship with your toddler.

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