Last week my husband discovered a hidden treasure of junk food wrappers in my child's room, suggesting hard evidence that one of our house rules had been broken -- no food upstairs. He came downstairs with the wrappers in hand and mad Dad face. "I have asked you NOT to bring food upstairs!"
What had been a relatively smooth morning with a happy child ready to go to school, immediately flipped to an angry child with folded arms refusing to speak or rise from the breakfast table. I turned around, flashed angry mom face to my husband and asked him to leave the kitchen and let me finish getting this child out the door.
This was not me or my husband at our best. That happens sometimes because we're just people, and everyone has moments when they don't have it together.
After a few minutes of letting the child calm down followed by a lot of coaxing, child relaxed and agreed to go to school.
The problem here was not that father spoke to child about a broken rule. The problem was that the way he approached it made his own job 10 times harder than it needed to be. We went from a pile of food wrappers to a pile of food wrappers and an angry, defensive, guilt-ridden child refusing to leave the house. This was not a positive progression.
It's normal to feel frustrated when a child breaks a rule. In most (not all) cases, the broken rule should be addressed. But take a deep breath, and ask yourself these three questions to make your parenting job easier.
1) Is this the right time?
A broken rule requires a conversation, not a simple accusation. The moment a child is walking out the door to go to school is never a good time to bring up something that needs at least five minutes. The child is under time-crunch pressure to get out, and so are you. Save the discussion for a time when you are both relaxed and happy.
2) Is this the right body language?
A lot of this will naturally be fixed when you choose the right time. But take a moment to assess your non-verbal communication. Are my arms crossed or open? Do I look relaxed or tense? How is my tone of voice -- curious or condemning? Am I directly facing the child? Directly facing someone can come off as confrontational -- try talking while walking or driving or doing a puzzle instead.
3) Are these the right words?
The goal is a conversation about why the child disobeyed the rule so you can work together to increase the chance of success in the future. Try these wording options:
When I was looking for your book yesterday, I noticed food wrappers in your room. What's up?
When I was looking for your book yesterday, I noticed food wrappers in your room. I'm confused because I know you really try your best to obey the rules of our house, and I know you know this rule. Help me understand what was going on for you.
Asking yourself these three questions before you speak in frustration will make your job so much easier -- not only in the moment, but it will decrease future frustration because you will get a chance to find the root of the issue. Why is the child having trouble obeying this rule? What is a plan you can implement to help?
Parenting is tough, and sometimes you just lose it. That's ok. You're a human. Whenever you can, remind yourself that taking a moment to pause and think will always yield better results.