A 4-week challenge to raise a thriving kid. Are you up for it?

Frankly, as of this month, I am fairly tired of being a parent. It has been incessant for the past few weeks and all I want is to get into bed and go to sleep for about three weeks till the kids magically transform into non-difficult human beings. But that’s not going to happen, right? As every mother who has more than one kid knows, you stop being a parent once the second one comes along. You are, instead, a referee. I should know: I have two, one aged eight and one aged seven. The age gap, or the lack of it, isn’t the most difficult thing though. It is the utter difference in temperament that does me in. If one is reasonable and understanding, the other is immensely stubborn and demanding. If one is full of imagination and questions, the other one is easily bored and needs entertainment. If one likes spicy food, the other one screams blue murder if a green chili is even waved in her direction. The hardest part, though, isn’t managing their likes and dislikes; it is, in fact, dealing with their upsets that causes me to turn grey quicker than my good genes dictate.

Dealing with an upset child is super hard for me, and I am hoping it is the same for most mothers. I watch one of my kids dissolve into a stream of complaints and accusations and I want to flee. Like literally pack my bags and run away for a week, if not forever. Not being the most patient of people, I often lose my temper and give my kids a yelling, and even as I yell, I know it’s not the right thing to do. I know this sort of behaviour will only be modelled by them and will make things even more difficult in the long run. But I have a short fuse, and my kids test it fairly often. So then, if you’re like me, how do you create an environment where your child can thrive, where they can find confidence in themselves to express their displeasure and trust you enough to throw a little tantrum when they don’t know how to handle their emotions? In my experience, there are a few things that work for parents, no matter what your parenting style or your child’s temperament.

1. Physical affection:

No matter how old, kids magically transform with a warm, genuine hug. Affectionate physical contact everyday makes a big difference, so make time to cuddle, and be physically connected to your child. She feels immeasurably loved when there is enough physical contact. If she is too old for cuddling, then a foot or leg massage, a neck rub are all good ways to connect with her.

2. Focus on the good things:

I know this from having been a child myself: the voice of your parents becomes your inner voice. So if there is a behaviour in your child that you want to see more of, then focus on that. Be delighted each time she exhibits it. Be genuinely appreciative and let her know you enjoyed her generosity, or her grace, or her patience or her perseverance. The more positive things you say to a child, the more positively she responds. I’ve seen this play out with my kids very often.

3. Put yourself in their shoes:

This might seem like obvious advice. But we mothers have this unique ability to ignore not only our own needs but also our children’s emotional needs. We take care of everything else, but when it comes to a tantrum or a disagreement, we refuse to put ourselves in their place. Imagine if a friend fell ill. What would you do? You’d call and find out what they needed, how you can help, right? Then why don’t we extend that to our children? I fail at this many times, but it’s fine. I continuously remind myself of it and come back on track. And the times I do it successfully, the kids are much better behaved and problems are resolved quicker.

4. Acknowledge each child directly:

One of my biggest failings is that I club both my kids together; all my sentences have both their names thrown in together. Till one day, one of them complained that I never spent time alone with them. Hain? How was that possible? I was around them all the time! “But I want to spend time with you alone!” And this is when I realised that kids as young as mine also have the need to be seen and recognised. Just like you have a desire to be seen as an individual, your child also does and deserves to be seen as he is. And not as part of a sibling pack. My tips: juggle bedtimes and play times in order to have at least one kid alone with you while the other is playing or sleeping. Look into their eyes when they talk. Ask questions about what they’re saying.

5. Restrict and restrain, but kindly:

Last weekend, when the sky was overcast and the weather chilly, my kids demanded to go swimming. I obviously wouldn’t let them. It hurt me to see how they really wanted some physical activity but it was just not the day for it. They railed and cried: I usually would have gotten upset and told them off saying, “Don’t talk to me till you’ve stopped your tantrum.” But this time, I decided to approach it differently. I said to them, “I understand swimming is fun, but I just can’t let you.” I think the fact that I didn’t get upset and reactive surprised them into listening to me. And when they did listen, I think they understood that I knew they wanted to go and understood their pain, but I just couldn’t take the risk of them falling sick.

6. Don’t get upset:

And this brings me to the point that I struggle the hardest with. Losing my cool. I mean, I am the adult in the equation. I have no business losing my cool when they lose their cool. I am the one who should have things under control. But the transition between feeling upset and letting it show is so quick that, by the time I tell myself to control it, I’ve already lost my temper. So these days, when I feel my temper rising, I stop whatever is that I am doing and walk away till I have a little more control. I succeed sometimes, at other times I don’t. I walk away because I realise yelling does absolutely no good. It will scare your children into immediate compliance, but they’ll do the same thing again.

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