Parenting can be the most wonderful and the most challenging experience of our lives. Things that used to seem easy, like getting to an appointment on time or grocery shopping can become all but impossible. We can easily slip into bad habits that create tension, power struggles, and conflict with the very people with whom we most want to connect, our family members.
The good news is that there are also some really good and positive habits that you can begin to practice that will make every aspect of parenting easier and more fun. And once you’ve engrained these into your life, the daily struggle becomes far more bearable and the moments of joy and ease continue to increase.
Here’s a list of the five habits I most rely upon to make my life as a parent easier. These habits help promote cooperation, connection, and may even get you some down time, imagine that!
1) Warnings for EVERY transition
If there is one thing that makes time with children easier, it’s offering warnings about upcoming events. I know it sounds simple, but it really makes a huge impact.
When I started working with kids as a nanny, I didn’t have this habit, but I soon learned its value when my time with children went from a constant battle at every transition to a smooth and easy transition almost every time.
The trick is to get into the habit of offering a 10 minute, 5 minute and 1 minute warning before EVERY transition. About to have dinner? Offer warnings. Headed out to the store? Warnings. Almost bath time? Warnings.
When you get into the habit of offering these warnings about upcoming transitions, children learn that they don’t have to immediately stop what they’re doing. Instead, they have the opportunity to wind down their play or art project and they are often able to get on board with the next item on the agenda. And even when they’re not able to say yes to a trip to the grocery store, at least they feel honored and respected by your attentiveness and dedication to the warning system.
2) Regular Sleep Schedules
Sleep deprivation is a very real culprit when it comes to maintaining a positive mood and being willing to cooperate with others. This is true both for you and for your kids. When we are sleep deprived, we’re just not as resourceful, happy, or able to adjust. And kids need a LOT of sleep.
My favorite book on sleep is “The No-Cry Sleep Solution” by Elizabeth Pantley. One of the many things I love about this book is that it contains charts so that you can get into the habit of recording your child’s sleep. What I like about this is that it can be a reality check. You may think your 3 year old doesn’t need a nap any more, but depending on how much nighttime sleep she’s getting, she very well may. There’s a great chart in the book that lists the amount of sleep children need based on their age and how most kids break up their total sleep between nighttime sleep and naps.
The great thing about getting into a regular sleep schedule is that your child’s body will learn when naptime and bedtime are and getting them to sleep becomes easier. My daughter will often even say, “I’m tired, I think it’s naptime Mommy.” We rarely have a struggle at bedtime and I think that’s because our routine is so consistent that it just seems like sleep time around 7pm.
3) Gratitude, Kindness, & Appreciation
It’s easy to fall into the trap of negativity, always pointing out the things our children are doing wrong, but this habit rarely helps a child snap out of it. In fact, by putting attention on the things we don’t want, we’re actually conditioning our kids to do more of those things. After all, that’s what gets them the attention they so desperately need. You see, children don’t consciously distinguish between positive and negative attention. They just know on some fundamental level that they need attention, and either kind will suffice.
But when we can get into the habit of appreciating what we do like, noticing the things we’re grateful for, and treating our kids with gentle kindness, they blossom before our eyes. I don’t mean we should ignore bad behavior entirely, just that when kindness and appreciation are our habit, we’ll naturally get more of the behavior we want and less of what we don’t want.
That’s because children are hard wired to seek our approval, after all, they rely upon us for their very survival. They deeply WANT us to be pleased with them, even in the times when it seems like they’re doing everything they can to push our buttons. So, instead of seeing the boundary pushing as an attempt to rattle you, begin to see it as a request for connection and safety. Your child is saying, “Will you still love me, even if I misbehave?”
The more we can reassure our kids that they are innately wonderful and deeply loved and appreciated, the less they’ll need to test or challenge us at every turn. Of course, there’s a certain aspect of testing behavior that is just personality based. Some kids will push our boundaries more frequently, regardless of how often we remind them that they are unconditionally loved. And most kids are incredibly sensitive to our energy and will know just how sincere our appreciation and acknowledgment really is. I think that kids who test us more often just need even more gratitude, appreciation, and acknowledgment for the qualities that we most enjoy.
4) Asking for Help
I don’t know about you, but I have a tendency to do it all myself by default. I somehow think that it’s normal to do child-care, buy the groceries, put them away, clean the kitchen, cook a healthy meal, feed my family, put away the leftovers, and play a game with my daughter while I’m doing the dishes. That. Is. Not. Normal. Or at least it shouldn’t be.
Yes, you may be a stay at home mom or dad or a single mom or dad. You might not have family members that live nearby. But no matter what your circumstances, the old adage, “It takes a village to raise a child,” is still true. We MUST get into the habit of asking for help. And that includes asking our kids for help.
Believe me when I tell you that it’s in your child’s best interest to be a contributing member of your household. And if you do have a partner at home, it’s crucially important that you ask for support when you need it, and sometimes even when it would just be really nice. A recent study found that couples who did chores together were more satisfied with the division of labor and had greater marital satisfaction than couples who did chores separately.
And if you don’t have a partner at home, developing the habit of asking for help is key to your survival. By asking friends and family members to help you, you’re expanding your circle of connections and offering people the opportunity to contribute to you. That’s exactly what creates a feeling of community and helps you keep your sanity. Yes, sometimes it’s difficult to ask for help. Do it anyway.
5) Daily Snuggles
Maybe this is my primary love language, physical touch, speaking here, but snuggling up with my daughter is one of the highlights of my day, every day. By making daily snuggles a habitual part of our daily routine we both fill up our love tanks and remember what’s important to us. When her little arms reach around my neck and she says, “Mommy, I love you TOO much!” I simply melt. These moments are what make all the hard work, sacrifice, stress, and difficulty of parenting 100% worth it.
Make sure you get your tank filled on a daily basis. And if you’re not sure what it is that fills up your tank, think about the moments when everything feels good and right. And make more of those moments. Build them into your day so that they become a habit. And then go back to those wonderful moments in your mind, whenever you start to feel stressed or freaked out.
So, there you have it, my five habits to help make your parenting journey easier and more enjoyable for everyone. I hope they work as well for you as they do for me!
Have a fantastic week and please share your own ideas for habits that make parenting easier.
Photo by Heidi Thomas Thomasandvelophotography.com