What my three year old wears on a daily basis makes her look like a homeless crazy person because she doesn’t want me to do her hair (and she has some seriously crazy curly hair) and she puts together shirts with Disney princesses on them with sparkly Hello Kitty sweatpants (and maybe a skirt on top too, because why not?). She looks disheveled, completely inappropriate for the warm weather, and like she’s been electrocuted, but she’s happy and I don’t care. Now, when it comes to giving me attitude (which she’ll do on occasion) or misbehaving at the dinner table, I jump into action.
I think a lot of it is consistency, and being on the same page as my husband. We parent differently, but we respect what the other feels is important. This has helped a lot. My husband and I do not undermine what the other one says/does because we do not want to send a mixed message. We avoid letting Esther see any cracks in our seemingly seamless parenting styles; or so we thought.
For example, Esther used to smack me and Josh in the face. This is no joke; she would really hit us across the cheek! She was about 18 months old and hitting was her response to not getting her way. We could almost see it coming and try to duck, but her little hand always made contact and it was NOT COOL. Our positive parenting response was a time out.
After about a week or so I was baffled as to why she was still hitting us because we usually extinguished unwanted behavior with time outs within a few days. I mentioned this to Josh and asked if he had been giving time outs for hitting and he admitted he wasn’t consistently giving Esther time out because she would immediately apologize for hitting and give him a hug and a kiss.
There are a lot of lessons to be learned here.
1) Being inconsistent means we continue to get hit
2) Toddlers are smart. Esther learned she could get away with hitting if she immediately launched into hugs, kisses and saying sorry
3) Daddy is wrapped around his little girl’s finger (which is adorable and I love seeing how much he loves our children, but at what cost?)
Josh and I talked about it, and even if Esther went directly to giving us an apology after hitting, she still needed a time out for hitting in the first place.
Low and behold, a few days later Esther was not hitting us anymore – I honestly cannot remember the last time she hit, pushed, or was physically aggressive because saying “Mama likes gentle touches” really resonates with our positive parenting style. She understands this and internalizes it well. Now we see this gain momentum and expand to other areas, like gentle touches with her baby sisters too! When we rough house with Esther she warns us about giving us a push and it’s as gentle as can be, but of course we play it up like an action movie sequence where we fly across the room as if her very light touch has the strength of a thousand Supermen.
Being consistent is not easy, but the return on investment is amazing. Kids are incredibly astute and they will see the opportunity to take advantage of the situation when they can. If Mama says yes to a doughnut for dinner (which has happened – don’t judge), then Daddy has to be OK with it too.
Consistency is hard. You may already be tired, exhausted from dealing with kids all day long and you just want to take a nap, but it will be your best friend if it helps you to avoid tantrums in the supermarket or it helps your kid basically put herself to bed every night.