This weekend I was outside hoping to do a little work on our garden. I had recently built a new raised garden bed, and I was hoping to get the soil in and cucumbers planted. We were in the backyard (me, wife, and two boys), and one would assume this would be an ideal time to work on this. We have a good-sized backyard, playground, slip n slide set up – should keep the kids busy for at least an hour, right? However, within 10 minutes our kids were already fighting. There was yelling and trying to hit each other with squirt guns. There were constant screams for attention, mommy help me, daddy help me, etc. Where did we go wrong?
Childhood independence can be heavily influenced by their parents early on. I am sure for those parents with toddlers you are already experiencing this – many kids want to try to do things themselves. It seems like as soon as our kids start putting more than two words together, they feel the need to try to do everything on their own. Usually these episodes lead to messes, delays, or other issues. As parents we may end up discouraging them from trying to do something simply to avoid any negative outcomes. Want to put your coat on yourself? Well hurry up, we need to get going. Want to brush your teeth yourself? No, you are doing it all wrong; let me do it. We tend to focus on the negatives at these ages of the child trying to perform the act rather than the positives.
Positive reinforcement is an incredible tool when used right. Overusing it may lead to a reduction in effectiveness. Underuse may lead to further cries of attention, typically leading to more yelling, whining, tantrums, etc. Most kids are looking for any kind of attention or reinforcement. If we wait for them to be yelling for us to give them any kind of response, we are typically fostering those negative behaviors for later use. Ways to improve this are to give positive praise simply when the child is being good. Not OVERLY good, like vacuuming the house. More like if they are sitting on the ground playing nicely with a toy, playing kindly with a sibling, etc. I think many times when this occurs, we think to ourselves, “Oh good, they don’t need me right now. I can go get the dishes done.” However, we forget to praise the children for their good behavior to allow for that independence to continue.
Boredom is also a WONDERFUL thing. How many times have your kids cried to you, “What should I do? I am bored! Help me find something to do.” All the while they are sitting in a pile of toys that are going unused. I think some of this gets fostered early in life. Nowadays it seems like any toy you buy, including baby toys, requires batteries. Lights. Sounds. Movement. It does everything for you. You simply just have to sit and watch. As you grow from a young age your brain expects this outside force to do the entertaining for you. The use of your own imagination is typically not included. As your child gets older, they may require more outside stimulus to feel “fulfilled” in their play time (including screen time, which I will discuss in a different post). However, if you allow your child to be bored, they are eventually forced into learning to create, imagine, and play on their own. This leads to a lot of creative growth in the brain, as well as improved self-esteem and confidence.
As your child ages, allow them to do more things around the house. Chore charts, bathing, putting on clothes – sometimes your child is more ready for these things than you think. When they show interest allow them to try. Let them take the time to do the task, even if it delays the current schedule. The sense of accomplishment is a HUGE positive reinforcement tactic on the brain’s reward center. If you stop them too soon, they eventually learn that mom or dad will just do the task for them, so why bother learning?
How does this all relate to your hobbies? Sometimes mom or dad needs time to do their own thing. This is important for us all to keep our sanity with parenting. If your child is constantly expecting you to help them with every aspect of their lives, this leaves no time for you to be you. Set up a time during the day that is alone time. Have a reasonable amount of time in place for your child to do things on their own while you do what you want to do. Our 3-year-old recently decided that naps were no longer his thing. So now that time is quiet time – he has a timer set and he can do what he wants to do with that time (playing by himself or with brother, looking at books, etc) while mom and/or dad are doing their thing. When the timer is done make sure to give positive praise on how well they did with alone time. This tactic will not always work well in the beginning, but positive praise for doing it right will get them there sooner. You can start with a slightly shorter timer and then work up from there.
Is your child interested in your hobby? Consider including them from time to time if you can. I enjoy woodworking, and I express to our kids my interest in it. They will come out to the garage and help me measure and use the screwdriver. They watch as I use the different saws. We talk about how things work. When they recognize how important the activity is to you, they start to respect it more. Use positive reinforcement when they are behaving well during these moments to show your appreciation. However, make sure that you get to do your hobby on your own as well. Typically, I set ground rules. As soon as the boys decide they are no longer interested in what I am doing, they have to go back inside and find something to do. Dad is not going to stop doing what I am doing just to play entertainer.
When I watched our boys interact outside this weekend I had to wonder if I failed as a parent, providing more attention to the negative behaviors than the good ones. However, when they were given quiet time the next day, they did phenomenal with it – lots of praise there. As parents we can’t always expect everything to be perfect. You have to expect your child to act out on a daily basis. Testing boundaries is part of growing. Embrace the imperfection, and enjoy those moments where positives overwhelm the negatives. And remember not to give up on yourself and what you enjoy to do. Being a parent is meant to be a part of us; not a replacement of who we were before we had kids.
What hobbies do you enjoy doing that seem to be affected by being a parent? How have you coped with it?
Imperfect Dad, MD