I'm no parenting expert. Despite a degree in Psychology and being an experienced teacher, when it comes to parenting my own kids I am still very much a novice. It's learn as you go, and certainly NOT a one size fits all thing. But recently parenting has been getting on top of me. It has become a chore and not a pleasure. I have started to dread weekends rather than look forward to them, as I know there will be many moments of conflict with my children - as I desperately try to get them to spend time doing anything other than staring at an iPad. I actually regret hugely the decision to buy an iPad and often wonder about selling it or simply chucking it in the bin. It is the biggest cause of conflict in our house by a long way and is the first thing my children ask for when they wake up in the morning. I say "no, not yet" and the first of the arguments begin, before it's even 7am, and seems to set the tone for the rest of the day. The simplest of requests or any sort of transition, seems to always result in conflict - or downright refusal. I've been so worn down that I couldn't even think outside of the issue or come up with idea for tackling it, I admit I had given up and accepted constant conflict almost as a fact of life for the foreseeable future. A depressing thought.
Then I had a night away. In fact a night and a day away. Just that space allowed me to start thinking about it objectively and try to identify exactly what is going wrong and when. A few things struck me...
1) We've pretty much given up being nice to our children. Requests have become orders, and when these are ignored or reacted to, the conflict begins.
2) Spending time with my children is no longer a pleasure whatsoever
3) I am constantly worn out and fed up.
As the adult in the situation, only I can change what's going on here. So today I woke up and decided to have a totally different sort of day. Here's what I did.
1) I greeted each of my children really enthusiastically, and complimented them on something.
2) Rather than ordering my children to get dressed, I asked them what they wanted to do. They wanted to do different things but both could be accommodated, so we compromised.
3) Every small thing they did, I praised them. I used the language, "I've noticed that Lewis has been very grown up and cleaned his teeth without being asked, that makes me very proud." and "Euan you showed such good manners then, what a star you are." To be honest I sort of feel like I shouldn't HAVE to praise such basic things, but you've got to start somewhere.
The effect was immediate. And I mean, immediate. The first thing I noticed was the look on the boys' faces when I complimented them, they didn't know what to say, or do. That made me sad as I realised they weren't used to it, they were just used to us moaning at them or requesting them to do something. Not that what we were asking them was at all unreasonable, but I have to get out of that mindset as it's just not working!
The other thing I tried was if one of the boys did start becoming difficult, I ignored that and focused on the other child, "Lewis I really like the way you've eaten all your food, that makes me think you're a very sensible boy." Lo and behold, our other son suddenly stopped messing around and started eating too. Hmm!
One of the things I also noticed, was that if I engaged with the boys and chatted to them about something they were interested in, there were no issues whatsoever. They didn't even notice when that meant I was leading them towards their bedrooms to get dressed, as they were totally distracted. I asked questions (mainly about the battle of Waterloo) suggested theories and explanations. Really, and I mean REALLY engaged. Not just superficially, but a proper, real conversation that was genuine. In the past I've felt too worn down to really go above, "Oh that's nice".
So today I have spent the day being 100% positive, engaging and "in the moment" pretty much the whole day. I have nothing left to give right now, but today was a GOOD day. We enjoyed spending time together and all got to do something we wanted. And I can't remember the last time that actually happened.
I purposefully haven't researched or looked into the theory or ideas behind the concept of "positive parenting" as I want to figure this one out for myself based on what is best for our family. But I can say that suddenly the future looks so much brigher. And I don't need to dread weekends anymore.
Now that is progress.