15 September 2006

Tips for light-hearted parenting

Gretchen Rubin is the woman behind The Happiness Project, in which she spends a year testing every theory she can find on how to be happy. Here's her take on how to become a more light-hearted parent. All of her suggestions are good, but my personal favorite is to go to bed on time. I'm the worst about staying up too late reveling in the quiet and solitude. But I always pay for it the next day, and so do my kids. I know many of you have kids who wake at night (my daughter still wakes up occasionally, too), but I find that getting myself to bed early still helps, even if my sleep gets interrupted.

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I've been doing some of these, and they work (When the morning is going badly at the waking up stage, I sing them up; getting to bed on time is CRITICAL; "Yes" messages (tell them what TO do), etc.).

Some of mine:

1) Turn 'must do' items that cause regular struggles into games. Currently there's a rabbit that hides in our 22-month-old twins' mouths at toothbrushing time. I have to brush it out of there, so it doesn't stay all night ("oh, no, now it's hiding behind your molars! Quick, brush it out!"). Still some protests, but also a lot more giggles.

2) Give them a love litany. Especially when siblings become a 'problem', giving them a running list of everything about them that you love, their successes, their enthusiasms and passions, their joys and quirks, even the color of their eyes, will get both of you feeling positive. Do it with eye contact. I always finish mine with 'You are my only Gabe, the very best Gabe I could ever have, and nobody could be my Gabe the way you can.' (or Brendan, or Meriel, or Rowan...)

3) Our mantras are: Safe, Respectful, Kind. And Prudent once you pass all those. Bonus, there's never a situation that these rules won't cover. We coach them on application, but these are the only rules. And they apply to the adults, too. Frankly, the grownups may be 'safe' more often, but we blow it on the rest rather a lot more than the kids do.

4) Wait 20 minutes. In our house, it never takes more than 20 minutes for the whole situation to change. If we can wait 20 minutes, the sibling fight will be over and they'll be playing nicely again. In 20 minutes, the frantic before-dinner-rush will be past. In 20 minutes, the twins won't be trying to wash the electronics in the sink anymore, or cleaning the floor with daddy's toothbrush. In 20 minutes, everything changes. Wait. Then enjoy the change.

5) Dance. When all else fails, put on some music and dance. Crying babies, homework fights, housework crises, grouchy tired spouse bickering, all are easier to handle when you're dancing.

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