Every day I reflect on my parenting skills. I always question whether I’m/we’re doing the very best for our 5-year-old son. He’s a bright, sensitive, intelligent, well-behaved (most of the time) little human and we’re ever so proud of him. Although I believe in biological predisposition to an extent I also believe that, as children, we are heavily influenced (good or bad) by our parents/carers and peers.
Understanding that children need boundaries should be a starting point as to which we can begin to learn the complexities of a developing child. A child who, with our help, will flourish into a confident, respectful, well-rounded individual. A child who will know right from wrong. A child who will not harm others. A child who will be strong enough to walk away from confrontation.
I must point out that I am in no way an expert in raising children and I make (and continue to make) MANY mistakes along the way. That’s just being human. I do, however, always make a conscious effort to rectify my mistakes by apologising and talking through any issues with my son and husband. I believe that a lot can be said for having the ability to recognise when you’ve made a mistake, apologise, and then move forward positively.
Some of the boundaries my husband and I try to set are based on a lot of trial and error. What works for us may not work for other parents and vice versa. I always try to find reasoning behind other parents’ techniques and usually a lot of it is learnt behaviour handed down through generations. E.g. ‘My father hit me and it never did me any harm’ seems to be a familiar
reason excuse for hitting ones own child(ren). Now firstly, if you have to inflict pain on your child as a form of punishment then, seriously, I urge you to get help now and stop smacking your kids because violence, in any capacity, is most definitely NOT the answer. And secondly, I disagree that no harm was done. The harm is your lack of empathy towards your child and total disregard of the pain you are causing both physically and psychologically. You’re not disciplining them, you are simply instilling FEAR and that fear will most likely turn into anger. We, as adults, simply can not go around hitting whoever we feel like just because they didn’t do as they were told so why do some find it acceptable to hit their own children for the same reasons?
So how do we raise our son? Well, by trying to protect him the best we can.
Sometimes I feel as though he needs protecting from me and my horrible temper. I feel shame for getting angry and it’s never because he is at fault – he’s a child. It’s me coming to terms with my own childhood. Having to deal with my own emotions and feelings the only way I know how. Fortunately, I seek help in the form of counselling and there will be more on that in a separate blog.
So what do we do that we feel is right for us and our son? I’ve listed some things that I feel help us and him in his development:
Solihull approach – this is a parenting concept offered in the form of a free course that was offered to us through our local SureStart centre. At the time of referral I was having a bad patch so was offered the opportunity to do this course in our own home. It has been invaluable in helping us to gain an understanding as to how children view the world. I would recommend this to anyone with children, whether you’re a first timer or have more than one – it’s been a real help to us.
Limited screen time (and age appropriate content) – TV programs, films and games are limited to 2hrs a day and we ask bubs how he’d like his time allocated. Usually he gets 1.5hrs for games and then 30mins for a program. We have no TV Licence but we do have Amazon Prime. The TV is not usually on so bubs will watch a program with his dinner. We’re a little unconventional, I know! Unfortunately, he’s a bit of a screen addict though. I use a fab website called Common Sense Media to find age appropriate games, films, TV programs etc. He could quite happily play Minecraft or watch kids programs/films all day and most tantrums come around the time he has to turn the TV off. It’s worth noting that bubs gets some form of screen time in school, too. At the weekend it may be more if we watch a movie together. And, of course, there are days when he’ll get extra if I’m busy doing something. Being an only child I’d imagine can be quite lonely for him at times as we physically cannot give him our undivided attention 24/7 which means he’s sometimes left to entertain himself.
Limited sugar, salt & trans fat intake (a BIG work in progress) – sugary drinks, sweets, snacks and fast food are pretty much classed as ‘treats’ in our house. We also attempt to limit processed food. This is a tricky mainly because my husband and I don’t eat particularly well but we try to make sure bubs does which is obviously hypocritical of us but we struggle to break free from our habits. Buying organic is NOT cheap and unless you make EVERYTHING from scratch (which we do not all have time for or even the inclination/skills to do) it can get quite expensive. We just try to juggle what we can/can’t afford at the time.
You can really see the physical changes in bubs when he has too many sweets or drinks like Fruit Shoot – he goes crazy! Chocolate and cola both contain caffeine and for a mother of a naturally hyper 5-year-old this really is not my idea of ‘fun’. Though we do give him chocolate, it’s never close to bedtime and always in small amounts. Cola (and other carbonated drinks), however, is a no go – there is nothing good in carbonated drinks but a heck of a lot of sugar and artificial nasties. Bubs gets water, milk, squash (this is being phased out) or juice that has been heavily watered down. Even I drink watered juice now!
Initially I was set against ever giving bubs McDonalds but, alas, I caved when he became a ‘fussy’ eater. Not my proudest moment. I always asked for no salt on the fries or even better, carrot sticks. Fortunately, he’s not overly keen on the food and we now don’t eat there but I sometimes buy him a toy from the Happy Meal which can be purchased on it’s own! Processed and fast food is by far the hardest to avoid. From bread to bacon to tinned tomatoes, KFC to the local chinese – it’s the bane of my life and yet we struggle to keep away from it. It’s convenient. I do not have time to bake my own sodding bread – there, I said it! We just limit as much processed and fast food as possible… moderation is the key but I really don’t want to moderately poison my son.
Also, childhood obesity is on the rise and with that comes a plethora of health complications. From someone who has always struggled with their weight, it’s not something I want my son to experience.
I’m now thinking a trip to the park is a much preferable ‘treat’!
Bedtime routine – this is set at the same time every night with exception to the weekend or special occasions. We try not to overstimulate him after 6pm-ish but he does get 1 song to listen to/watch on YouTube whilst brushing his teeth, 3 stories and then he’s tucked into (our) bed with Disney songs playing low in the room. He’s currently quite scared of being alone and after trying several methods this is the one that works for us, and more importantly what works for him.
Encourage good manners – manners cost nothing and yet it’s a great way to express our appreciation and consideration for others. Although bubs needs prompting sometimes he says please, thank you, you’re welcome and asks before helping himself to anything. Proud mummy moment?
Discourage aggression (both physical and non-physical) – never will I tell my son to just ‘hit them back’ if someone hit’s him at school. Fighting fire with fire will get you burnt. I always advise him to tell a teacher and, of course, tell me and/or my husband. I would never intentionally allow my son to be bullied but issues like this need to be dealt with amicably and without the use of violence. Besides, if a child is lashing out then we really need to look at the reasons at to why they’re lashing out. If a child is being abused at home or witnesses prolonged abuse in the home then chances are this learned behaviour will follow them into school.
Try to avoid ’empty’ threats – although sometimes this can’t be avoided as we all say things we don’t mean, but threatening to punishing bubs by throwing ALL his toys in the bin really is an empty threat. Bubs will grow smart to this and eventually will see us as liars. Not a great way to get you child to trust you, is it? There are always consequences for inexcusable behaviour like hitting or using mean words but we use realistic and effective punishments like banning him from TV/games for a day or not going to the park etc. The punishment needs to fit the crime so-to-speak.
Compromise and compliment wherever possible – e.g. if bubs wants sweets we can usually offer fruit as an alternative. If he wants more game play then he has less TV time. If he doesn’t want to brush his teeth we compliment him with ‘but you’re such a big boy now’. This tends to work well and prevents many tantrums.
I LOVE you and I’m so PROUD of you – this is by far my favourite and requires the least amount of effort. Although self-explanatory, I feel it’s important to make your kids feel loved and valued all the time!
So this is just a little insight into some of the efforts that are made by myself and my husband to really try and set those boundaries without being strict/mean/boring etc. We’re not perfect though and we do veer off track or even just forget that we’re trying something different but the main thing for us is that we continue to try.
Other things we have tried in the past and didn’t work for us:
Reward chart – I think the rewards we offered were too grand and that eventually his sole reason for wanting to behave was because he would get a reward. I feel he should want to behave because that’s what feels right, not because he was forced to everyday. It was becoming too regimented. Now he get’s treats at random times when we’ve recognised he’s had a particularly good day/week or just because.
Time out – for a child who doesn’t enjoy being alone, this just wasn’t a viable option. We tried it but he expressed irrational fear and that’s not something I believe any child should be made to feel, ever.
DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and are not intended to cause offence. Nothing expressed here is aimed at any one person – more of a generalisation drawn from personal experiences. This article was not written for the purpose of shaming anyone. Only you can deem what is morally appropriate.