All of us want our children to grow up in a loving, happy home

Parenting as Partners – All of us want our children to grow up in a loving, happy home. Some days it seems easy enough. Everything is going well, your kids are hugging each other and playing together, and they tell you that they love you at bedtime. Other days, you’re not so sure. Your kids are fighting, you feel stressed, and nothing seems to be working. While all families have their good and bad days, there are many things you can do as parents to create more of the good days.

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➤ How your relationship affects your children ➤ Tips on disciplining your children effectively ➤ How to make the most of family routines ➤ Ideas for family traditions

Building Blocks

The foundation of a happy family is a strong, loving relationship between the two of you. The single, most important thing that you can do for your children is to do everything in your power to have the best possible relationship with your spouse. If they see the two of you getting along and supporting each other, they will mirror you and will likely get along with each other and their friends. Every single ounce of energy that you put into your relationship will come back to you tenfold through your children.

On the other hand, children are also great imitators of less than perfect behavior. If they see the two of you arguing constantly, calling each other names, putting each other down, or hitting each other, you will probably see them repeating these nega- tive behaviors. They will probably feel insecure, and this insecurity might be reflected in poor grades, bad behavior at school or home, or even depression. If the two of you are going through a rough period, work on your relationship! The entire family will benefit, not just the two of you.

The Great Imitators

George and Tina’s 11-year-old son, Eric, had been acting up for a few months. Before, he was a solid “B” student and was well liked in school. Recently, however, he had been failing some of his exams, not doing his school reports, and neglecting his friends. Eric had also started to talk back to his parents, walk away from the dinner table, and slam the door to his room. George and Tina just didn’t know what to do. The worse Eric’s behavior got, the more they worried and the more they fought. They blamed each other for his behavior, and rather than come up with solutions, they kept focusing on the problems.

Marriage Q & A’s

Q: Is it bad for my children to see my spouse and I disagree?

A: No. It can be instructive for your children to see the two of you disagree and resolve the issue. They will learn valuable skills. On the other hand, yelling, screaming, threat- ening, or calling each other names is counterproductive. If you do have an unproduc- tive argument in front of the children, be sure to make up in front of them as well.

When George and Tina reached the end of their rope, they came to see us about Eric. We listened to their description of his problems and then asked them how things were going for the two of them. They admitted they had been fighting a lot lately, even before their son was having problems. They were struggling financially, and both were working overtime to bring in extra income. They weren’t going out to- gether anymore in an effort to save money, and in general they weren’t even enjoy- ing each other’s company. They never discussed their problems in front of their son because they didn’t want to worry him.

As they talked more and more about their problems, Tina and George started getting the message that their behavior had really affected Eric.

Over time, George and Tina worked through a lot of their financial worries. They changed their budget so they could reduce their work hours, and they started to go out together again. They made a point to have a nice meal every night and talk about everyone’s day. Their son gradually returned to his old self. He started inviting friends over to the house and completing his assignments. Eric’s behavior problems had been a reflection of his parents’ problems. When his parents worked through their difficulties, Eric’s behavior began to improve.

Disciplining Your Kids

One of the most important things you will do for your children is discipline them. It’s an important part of helping them feel secure. Children need and want structure, even though they often will fight you every step of the way. It would be nice if chil- dren always listened to us the first time we asked them to do something. But even the best of children don’t behave every minute. Disciplining kids is part of being good parents even when it’s more troublesome to discipline our children than it would be to just let them have their way. Disciplining kids can also be a source of conflict between parents, but there are ways to keep arguments about discipline to a minimum.

The Three Times Rule

Often what happens when we try to discipline our children is we tell them to do something over and over again until we are incredibly angry and frustrated. For in- stance, if you say, “Johnny, stop hitting your brother,” and he doesn’t stop, you will probably say it again. If he still doesn’t stop, you might say it several more times until you become furious. Then, you might grab him and put him kicking and screaming into his room, turn off the TV set, or take away a toy he’s playing with.

A method that works much better for both you and your child is the three times rule. First, you simply say, “Johnny, stop hitting your brother.” The second time, you say it with a consequence: “Johnny, stop hitting your brother or you will have a time-out in your room, you can’t watch TV anymore today, or I will put away the toy that you are fighting over.” And the third time, no matter what, you apply the consequence. The third request is usually accompanied by counting slowly one … two … and, at three, boom, they’re in time-out, or have met whatever consequence you warned them about.

You have to use this rule every single time for it to be effective. Don’t give in! If you follow through with your punishment, your child will really learn that you mean what you say. And he or she will know that not listening to you will bring a conse- quence, not just a threat. It also will give your child a sense of control because he or she will always have a warning before the punishment is actually carried out.

It’s also important to choose the punishments carefully. You should keep two things in mind. First, the punishment should be something that you can and will carry out. If you tell Bobby that he can’t come to the party with you and you know you will take him anyway, that is not an appropriate choice. Second, you should also get in the habit of making the punishment fit the crime. If Susie is coloring on her sister’s book, you should give her a time-out in her room, or put the crayons off-limits for the rest of the day. Taking away dessert after dinner would not be as fitting a punishment. The closer the consequence is (in time and relationship) to the inappropriate behavior, the more likely the child will understand the relationship of his or her ac- tions to the punishment.

Keeping a United Front

It’s also vitally important to keep a united front with your spouse when disciplining your children. If one of you starts to carry through a punishment, and the other one tells them that it’s not necessary, you will have undermined your authority. Your children will be the ultimate losers because it will not be clear what is expected of them. Even though they might feel good that they were not punished at the time, they will be generally confused about how they should behave. Further, you will have eroded trust in your marriage. Therefore, you must always stand by your spouse at the time, even if you disagree strongly. Afterward, in private, you can discuss how you might have handled the situation differently.

Marriage Q & A’s

Q: What if my spouse and I disagree on how to discipline the children?

A: Keep in mind that your goal as a team is to give your children limits. Your children must have consistent discipline from both of you. It’s very confusing if each of you dis- ciplines differently. You must put your differences aside and make a plan. If you cannot come to an agreement, you might find a book on discipline helpful.

The absolute best thing for a child is to see that his or her parents are a strong unit and are in agreement, even about a punishment. Of course, all kids will try to break parents down. They are experts at sniffing out differences and trying to push two par- ents apart. Your child might play one of you against the other. This is very normal behavior for a child. The quickest way for a child to outgrow this phase is for his or her parents to stand strong. When a child learns it’s possible to get what he or she wants by playing one parent against the other, the child is more likely to continue doing it.

The following is a list of discipline Dos and Don’ts:

DO

  • Discipline firmly and consistently.
  • Discipline with love.
  • Use time-outs instead of hitting or yelling.
  • Use the three times rule.
  • Choose appropriate punishments.
  • Keep a united front with your spouse. Compliment your children frequently.

DON’T

  • Let your child play you against your spouse.
  • Punish inconsistently.
  • Yell and scream at your child irrationally.
  • Call your child names.
  • Notice only negative behaviors and not positive ones.
  • Shame or insult your child.
  • Threaten punishments that are impractical to follow through on

Marriage Q & A’s

Q: Sometimes I’m just so angry that I can’t keep from yelling at my child. What can I do?

A: If you find yourself starting to yell, take a deep breath and count to five. (The child will likely stare at you wondering what you’re up to!) Then you’ll be able to handle the situation like a pro calm, cool, and collected. You’ll also show your children by your actions how to handle their anger.

Merging Different Parenting Styles

Ted came from a very strict household. Children were to be seen and not heard. He was very strict with his children, and he did not tolerate any misbehavior. His wife, Millie, also came from a very strict home. She had bad memories about it, though, and tended to be more lenient with their children. When the kids were alone with their father, they were usually unspontaneous and relatively quiet. When they were with their mother, they knew they would get away with more and tended to be wild, loud, and rowdy.

Ted and Millie came to see us because they found themselves arguing more and more about the children. Ted was frustrated with Millie’s leniency and felt the children were out of control. They would argue about discipline all the time in front of the children. And Millie often became upset with Ted when he disciplined the children because it reminded her of how strict her own father was with her. She wished the kids behaved a little better, but she wanted to do it without being as strict as her parents were.

When we asked Ted and Millie to describe their goals for their children’s behavior, they listed similar things. They wanted their children to listen to them when they asked them to do something. They wanted them to behave at school and around other people. They didn’t want them to talk back to an adult. They wanted them to say “please” and “thank you.” Ted and Millie were surprised that their lists were so similar, because it generally seemed to them that they had very different goals for their children.

We taught them to use the three times rule. Ted used it more than Millie, but she would not interfere when he did. It worked well because their children had an opportunity to correct their behavior when Ted was upset with them. Sometimes they were still punished, but many times they managed to stop what they were doing and calm down before a threat was carried through. Millie also found the three times rule useful. It made it easier for her to discipline their children when she needed to.

Differences in parenting styles can often be reduced by sitting down with your spouse and coming up with a list of behavior goals for your children. Then you can figure out which behaviors are intolerable and use the three times rule for discipline. Remember to always work these issues out with each other.

Family Routines

One of the most valuable things you can do is to provide your children with a stable, nurturing environment. Children like security, and one of the ways they feel secure is to have things they can count on. It’s not surprising that they like to read the same book over and over again and have the same bedtime routine. You can, as parents, give them many things they can count on.

Morning Routine

Having a morning routine can make the difference between total chaos and a smooth start to the day. Everyone in the family will benefit when the first hour of their day is calm. The day should start with an established wake-up time that gives every- one enough time to get everything done without rushing. An example of a morning routine is as follows:

  • ➤  Rise and shine
  • ➤  Eat breakfast
  • ➤  Get dressed
  • ➤  Brush teeth
  • ➤  Collect things needed for the day, such as lunch, homework, or jacket
  • ➤  Off to school Dinner RoutineDinner is usually the one meal of the day when there is a chance for everyone to be together. Nowadays, people often rush through dinner or eat separately. That is a shame. Sitting down to a family meal can be a wonderful time in the day. It can give you the chance to hear about everyone’s day and reinforce the family unit. Even if you realistically can’t all have a sit-down dinner together every night, try to establish several nights a week that are meant for family dinners. Even if you are eating take-out food, set the table properly with plates, utensils, glasses, and napkins.

Bedtime Routine

One of the most important routines for a child is the one at bedtime. Children who have a set of things to do every night before they go to bed will be calmer and able to fall asleep more easily. Bedtime should be the same every night, and the routine should start 30 to 45 minutes before “lights out.” A suggestion for a bedtime routine for younger children is as follows:

➤ Take a shower or bath ➤ Put on pajamas

➤ Brush teeth
➤ Read a bedtime story
➤ Talk about the day
➤ Bedtime with hugs and kisses

As your children get older, they will establish their own routine. But it’s still important to give them a regular bedtime and make sure they stick to it.

Sunday Pancakes

One fun routine is to have a special weekly meal. As a family, you might make pancakes every Sunday for breakfast. Each child could be given a task: help meas- ure the flour, crack the eggs, or stir the batter. You could try different recipes and even create your own family pancake recipe. Or you could make Wednesday night “macaroni and cheese night.” By having an en- joyable routine on Sunday mornings or another time in the week, you will be creating wonderful memories for your children, as well as providing them with something to count on.

Birthdays

Birthdays are fun for everyone in the family. Here are some ideas to make birthdays special in your house:

➤ Have a traditional family birthday cake.
➤ Create and sing a family birthday song.
➤ Tell family stories on birthdays.
➤ Look at birthday photos from the year before. ➤ Make breakfast in bed for the birthday person.

Family Vacations

Family vacations play an important part in our memory of childhood. They are times when everyone is together, on the same schedule, eating meals together, and having a good time. Hopefully, everyone is less stressed than usual and the emphasis is on being together and having fun. But remember, what is fun for an adult is not necessarily fun for kids.

What’s fun for children? Well, we can start by naming what is not fun for kids. Fancy meals, grand hotel lobbies, art museums, and good shopping. Kids like simple foods, outdoor activities, parks, swimming pools, and games. And they often need physical activity each day to release energy!

There are many ways to ensure that your children will have their needs met and that you will also have some time with each other on your next va- cation. Here are three ideas:

  1. Many hotels now have children’s program- ming on weekends and during the summer. It ranges in price, so be sure to ask ahead about the rates. Your children will be able to get some exercise, eat hamburgers, and spend the day or evening doing things that children like to do. Meanwhile, you and your spouse can do things that the two of you enjoy. Try to use the children’s programming about half of the time so that you will still have family time, too.
  2. Go to a family camp. There are more and more family camps cropping up. They usually have dormitory-style food served three meals a day with activities for different age groups at various hours throughout the day. You have a set price for the vacation, so you don’t need to worry about being surprised with the restaurant bill. The activities for your children are also included in the price, and if you are taking a full week of vacation, it will usually be less expensive than a hotel’s children’s programming. Plus, at a family camp, family activities tend to be built in as well, such as arts and crafts and a talent show.
  3. You might consider bringing along a baby-sitter or your parents. In exchange for the plane fare and food, you can trade for a certain amount of baby-sitting every day. This can be especially useful in the evenings when your children are asleep anyway. You can spend most of the day with your family and have many of the evenings for the two of you. If you are driving to your vacation destination, this can be a very cost-effective way to get some time to yourselves.

Creating a Happy Family

You and your spouse will create a happy family if the two of you are happy. Keeping your relationship strong is the single most important thing that you can do for your children. Don’t fight in front of your children, and spend time and energy working on your marriage. Be consistent when you discipline your children, and help create great memories for your children with family traditions and fun family routines. If you truly parent as partners, you will raise wonderful children. They will have fond memories of their childhood and will have a good relationship with you for the rest of their lives.

The Least You Need to Know

  • ➤  A strong relationship between the two of you is the foundation for creating a happy family.
  • ➤  Keeping a united front with your spouse will help your child feel secure. If you disagree with the way your spouse is handling something, discuss it later, not in front of your child.
  • ➤  Discipline firmly, consistently, and with love.
  • ➤  Children find comfort in routine. Having family routines and traditions will give your children things they can count on.
  • ➤  Family vacations can create great memories for your children
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