About a week ago, I fell into a permissive parenting trap. I was leaving a baby shower to meet my husband and kids for a family photo session. As I started walking out the door, a friend handed me a ball shaped shower favor wrapped in red tissue paper.
I looked at her, “What’s this?”
“Skittles,” she said, “They’re for your son during the pictures. You’re going to need them.”
In case you haven’t gathered yet, she was alluding to me bribing my 3 year-old with candy to gain cooperation during our family photo session. And for a moment, I envisioned me giving him one or two pieces of candy during the photo shoot when things started to get really bad.
You can guess where this is going, but really bad started approximately 35 seconds into our photoshoot.
He absolutely refused to smile or even look at the camera. Instead, he wanted to run around, wrestle and hide behind trees. This wasn’t the picturesque family memory I was hoping to capture, but I suppose art does imitate life.
In that moment, my son had complete control over the situation, and it was totally nurturing his need to feel in control. Meanwhile, I was in full-blown permissive parenting mode and I was fighting to get back control–using the skittles as a parenting ploy.
Except it wasn’t really working.
How do you avoid permissive parenting?
There aren’t many hard and fast parenting rules. But there is something I know for certain: All children (and adults too) crave the ability to feel in control.
The question is how do you allow your kid to feel in control without dangling a skittle in front of his eyes and asking him to sit pretty?
Here are 4 ways to offer kids a sense of control without becoming lax on boundaries or turning into a permissive parent:
Voice and validate.
When your child is doing something less than desirable, voice exactly what is going on in that moment. “You don’t want to get dressed. You want to run around and play silly games.”
Kids will continue to communicate–verbally and nonverbally–until they feel heard. By using a technique called SAY WHAT YOU SEE®, you literally describe the situation as it is happening, and in doing so, validate and acknowledge what your child is telling you.
Through this one simple action of voicing and validating, you connect and engage your child. Your child feels power because you basically just said “Hey, I’m noticing what you are doing. I understand what you are saying. I get it.”
Focus on what the child can do.
Now that you’ve voiced the situation, you’re wondering, now what? Because he’s still running around in circles when he’s supposed to be eating at the dinner table or getting ready for bed. The behavior isn’t yet where you want it to be.
After voicing and validating, direct your child to exactly what they can do instead. “You can finish running in circles after you get dressed.” Or “You can play with your toys after you finish dinner.”
By focusing on what the child can do, rather than what they cannot, you are empowering them to make a positive choice.
Think about it: when someone says, “Don’t touch the red button,” doesn’t it make you want to touch the button? But if someone says, “You can touch the red button after you sit down for 5 minutes,” doesn’t it make you want to sit down so you can touch the button?
Nurture the connection.
Many times when kids are acting out, it is because they crave connection. Research shows that giving 8 hugs per day allows you to reap the full benefits of oxytocin production.
“We need 4 hugs a day for survival. We need 8 hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth.” – Virginia Satir.
That’s a lot more hugs connection than most adults are used to in a given day. It might not come naturally to fit in all 12 hugs a day (It doesn’t for me) but taking a few minutes to hug, be silly and create a game out of whatever you are doing can turn a power struggle into a moment of connection and breed cooperation.
To work 12 hugs into your daily schedule, try these simple steps:
- Hug your kids first thing in the morning.
- Hug when you say goodbye.
- Hug when you’re re-united.
- Hug at bedtime
- Hug often in between.
Choices mean everything.
Gaining cooperation from children starts with fulfilling their need to make choices and allowing them to be active participants in their own life. You can keep the choices to within your own parenting limits to balance choices with appropriate boundaries. By allowing kids to make some decisions throughout the day, you are filling their need for control and power without letting them run all over you.
“You have two choices…” is a famous phrase used in our home.
- Do you want the red cup or the blue cup?
- Do you want to go to the park or play at home?
- Do you want to sit nicely in the chair or jump on the floor?
We ran out of skittles.
By the end of the photo shoot, my husband and I gave up on getting our toddler to pose for a picture and resolved to pose for a few photos without the kids. Then we got hungry and ate all the skittles.
The photoshoot was over.
The bribery did not work.
It was far from perfect.
As we walked back to the car, my son was upset that we were leaving, my daughter was crying, and my husband and I–well–we were at our limit. I plopped my son into his carseat, attempting to buckle him, yet determined to re-establish some boundaries.
I did 4 things:
- Voice and validate: “You’re MAD! You don’t want to leave.”
- Focus on what the child can do: “You can come back again soon with mom.”
- Connect: Give a hug.
- Offer choices: “Do you want to play with the blue truck or your book on the way home?”
It’s never too late to turn it all around. To offer control and power to your child, yet still hold firm boundaries. In the end, my son calmed down. My daughter fell asleep. My husband and I relished in the silent drive, no matter how short lived. And just like that we were back on track.
Print this free toddler listening checklist.
This post comes with a free printable checklist to help with toddler listening. I always have the hardest time remembering these phrases. This printable simplifies it!
Here is a sneak preview…
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- Print. Any paper will do the trick, but card stock would be ideal.
- Place it on your refrigerator. Check things off as you go and don’t forget a thing!
Want more on parenting?
- How to Respond When Your Child Says “I Can’t Do It”
- 3 Mom Tricks to Help Kids Stay in Bed
- How to Raise a Great Listener Without Using Words
- The Real Reason Why Kids Never Want to Go to Sleep
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Thanks for the important information. I never had kids and at 62 I started driving a school bus. I was a nervous wreck and screamed at the kids all the time. Within a month I quit. I went back after I started reading advice from experienced people like you. Making time out and discussing it calmly at their level and having them make the choice on the next step has been so helpful. I’ll try to add more of your advice. I’m 65 and enjoying the job more. Thanks, again, Christine
This is finally an article on actual tools that make sense! I’m a permissive parent, no doubt. I have 2 kids, 11 (girl), 6 (boy) It often feels like it’s too late. Its all too engrained. I can suddenly become militaristic with them out of nowhere and honestly, I’m too fearful to anyway. I don’t want to be like that, but I don’t necessarily want to be like this either. Thank you! Some areas to begin with. The whole thing has been extremely overwhelming to me.. trying to figure out how to change. If you have any other good articles, books etc. you’d recommend, please post a link in the comments. Thank you!