15 Tools for Parents of 3 to 12 year olds

Pondering some of my most valuable parenting tools, I came up with this list and expanded on them below.  Please feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments.

#15 – The Kindness Contest

#14 – Go Tell Your Brother (or sister)

#13 – The Do-Over

#12 – The Pre-Empt

#11 –  The Talking Break

#10 –  Earplugs

#9 – The Belt

#8 – We’ll See

#7 – The Meltdown

#6 – The Apology

#5 – The Nap

#4 – The Snuggle

#3 – The Bedtime Convo

#2 – The Hug

#1 – The Yes

#15 – The Kindness Contest

I blogged about #15 a few posts ago, and though I’ve only recently discovered it, it still made the list.  Works best when used sparingly, and in conjunction with an edible prize. As in, “whoever is the kindest during dinner gets two extra scoops of ice cream.”

#14 – Go Tell Your Brother (or sister)

My kids are so sick of this one, it’s amazing I still have to break it out as often as I do.  Here’s the gist of # 14. When a kid comes to tattle, we used to ask them, “Did you tell your (sibling) you didn’t like that and not to do it again?” But now we just say, “Go tell your brother (or sister) how that made you feel.”  Usually, the ‘crime’ is so inconsequential that I never hear anything else about it. Also, the offending sibling has learned by now this is their one chance to keep the parents out of it.  All they have to do is sincerely say, “I’m sorry.”

#13 – The Do-Over

The Do-Over comes in handy whenever there is back-talk or generally disrespectful communication.  We don’t have too much of this, but it does happen.  And when it does, we say, “Hoooold it right there. I don’t think you said quite what you meant to say. Why don’t you try again.”

#12 – The Pre-Empt

We started using The Pre-Empt when our biggest were 2 and 4 years old.  It started because they would go absolutely berserk whenever Amy would take them inside the grocery store.  One day, Amy (my wife) parked the mini-van, turned around and calmly explained what was about to happen, and what she expected from them.  I’m not kidding, she will tell you the difference was immediate and we’ve done it ever since. Our kids are 5, 9 and 12 now, and we still Pre-Empt before restaurants, sometimes before church, basically anytime we really want them to not act like a small troop of baboons. 

#11 –  The Talking Break

I’ve blogged about this before, and I know this tool is not for every family.  However, for those of us blessed with children with the gift of gab, The Talking Break may be what keeps us out of the loony bin. Like The Kindness Contest,  The Talking Break works best used sparingly, and it works two ways.  First, “You need to take a talking break.” As in, little gabby must not talk for a few minutes (we started with 5 minutes, but it has grown over the years).  We came up with the talking break when our youngest was 4, out of utter desperation. Without the talking break, the chatter would swell into a sound tsunami that would drown you where you stood. Second, “I need a talking break.”  As in, “It would not be right to give you yet another talking break, but I cannot answer another question like, “Why is that the peanut butter?” or “Are these my arms?””

#10 –  Earplugs

After the explanation of #11, #10 is probably obvious.  I’ve slept with earplugs for years, so we’ve always got some around. These come in especially handy on play dates with more than one friend, or when all three of our kids are playing together in the den. You can still hear what’s going on, but not with ear drum-shattering clarity. 

#9 – The Belt

The Belt comes out during dinner time, whenever a child has been repeatedly asked to not get up out of their seat. We’ve really only used this on the boys at 4 or 5 years old, and it started out as a joke, so it’s always been a lighthearted tool. After the umpteenth infraction, we will literally take a leather belt and seat-belt our (now) 5 year old to the chair for the remainder of dinner .  Like the rest of these tools, The Belt should be used sparingly, and after a few of these experiences, just the mention of The Belt is usually enough to change the behavior.  

#8 – We’ll See

This one is all Amy.  When we were first married, she used to talk about her dad saying “We’ll see,” to all her questions when she was little, and how infuriating that would be. We were determined to be more respectful and consider all of our future children’s questions.  Obviously, we had never had a 3 year old.  

#7 – The Meltdown

These are going to happen anyway, so you might as well make them count.  I’ve totally lost it with my kids a number of times in 12 years, and though I’m not proud of those moments, they probably did some good work in teaching them a certain kind of respect: do not touch a hot stove, do not squeeze a Capri Sun, do not swing a skillet around the kitchen, especially while your dad is crouched looking for the right tupperware lid.  You will hit him in the forehead, and that’s not good for anybody. 

#6 – The Apology & The Second Apology

 When you apologize to your kids, you teach them how to do it (for better or worse). Also, when I really screw up and hurt someone’s feelings, I am a fan of the second apology.   Sure, I apologize right away, but when it’s bad I owe them the right to feel hurt for a minute.   I may take a minute and pray, reckon things with the Lord, and come back to apologize again with new humility. This second apology can give everyone a chance to talk it out more dispassionately. 

#5 – The Nap

Take a freaking nap. Sometimes even let the one-eyed babysitter do you a favor.  It does not make you a bad person, and it might make you a better parent for the rest of that day.

#4 – The Snuggle

When our kids hit 18, maybe they won’t value a good snuggle on the couch with mom or dad they way do now. But till then, I see it as a crucial part of the parent-kid relationship. They need that physical affirmation of our unconditional love. And It’s my favorite thing about watching movies with the fam at home. 

#3 – The Bedtime Convo

There’s too much to try and say about this one.  I find out about almost everything important in my daughter’s life in the 20 or so minutes it takes to say goodnight. I’ve stayed in there for hours before.  It’s priceless, and I could easily miss it in my hurry to catch a few minutes of down time with my bride before we both collapse.  

#2 – A Hug

When they are acting sour, very often my kids don’t need “a talking to.” Many times they just need a hug. I always try to let them be the first to let go.  Sometimes they surprise me with how long they are willing to hold on.  It’s like they can’t get enough.  Hmmmmm.

#1 – The Yes

The Yes claims the top spot in the parenting tool box.  Yes. Yes says, “I believe in you.”  Yes says, “You are awesome and I want you to be happy.”  Yes says, “I trust you,” and “Surprise!” and “I love you.” all at the same time. Yes claims the #1 spot because of how often we must say “no.”  No you can’t play in the parking lot. No you can’t eat till you’ve washed your hands. No you can’t stay up 5 more minutes. No you can’t watch a movie, No you can’t have an iPhone, No you can’t spend the night out tonight. Kids ask and ask and ask, and they force us to say no over and over. Thankfully my kids have learned that I like to say yes, so when I say no it’s easier for them to swallow (sometimes).  I look for surprising opportunities to say yes, even if it inconveniences me or changes my day around, but usually it doesn’t.  One night I said “Yes, you can have another cookie” every time they asked until all the Oreo’s were gone and they were all laughing out loud at the giant stacks of cookies on their plate.  Every yes is a gift, and after all, it is better to give than to receive. 

12 thoughts on “15 Tools for Parents of 3 to 12 year olds

  1. Great list. We invented something similar to your Kindness Contest called “Penny Manners”. Also best when used sparingly, we would announce that a certain day was Penny Manners day. Mom and Dad carry around a stack of pennies, to be given upon each beautiful self-initiated please/thank you/yes ma’am/sir/etc. Depending on your kids, you’ll only be out a quarter or so at the end of the day, and it’s a lot more fun that just correcting the kiddos over and over again.

  2. The Penny Manners idea is awesome! 🙂 I need to try that.

    All of these are great parenting tips Randall. Usually at the supper …insead of the belt idea…I threaten to take out the booster seat in which I use for the little ones I watch. My kids are definately too old for the boosters these days….but just the threat of me bringing them out keeps them relatively still. 🙂 Though we honestly haven’t had too much of an issue, thankfully.

    I LOVE the bedtime convo’s. As much as I enjoy spending time with my husband at the end of the day, the bedtime routine is my favorite. I usually read them one book, two if they’re good, and try to end it with a small devotional in which we start opening up conversations. The devotional I use currently is My Little Good night Prayers http://www.amazon.com/Little-Good-Night-Prayers-Collection/dp/0784712298 . Even though my daugter is older than what this is geared for; it’s still a nice way to end our day. And the little conversations are great.

    I also love using the Jesus Story Book Bible…with the CD to read it….when my voice is gone or something. I LOVE the accent of the reader. 🙂

    Thanks for your post Date: Mon, 11 Feb 2013 04:07:00 +0000 To: write_to_us_guys@hotmail.com

  3. Thank you for posting. The list sparks many thoughts…

    #15- In some Amish (large) families, a child who misbehaves at the table does the dishes. This is a very effective deterrent.

    #13- “Please go back to the [place child began running] and try again [child knows that this time he should remember to use his walking feet]; “Did I hear something?” [child knows that this time he should remember to precede his request with “please”]

    #12- We use this when we do something like give our child a quarter and tell them they can use it to purchase something from any of the [gum, toy] vending machines [pointing to a bunch of them at the mall]… so that for the next 6 months, we won’t be asked for a quarter whenever we pass by those machines again. “This is a ‘treat’.”

    #11- This often happens when we adults could use a break- some space, fresh air, exercise, or rest. So when it does, we often go for a walk or take the kids to the park.

    #9- I would never use a belt for this purpose. Depending on my child’s age, I would engage my child in an activity or conversation, offer a book or toy to help my child pass the time independently, or tell my child one time to stay seated and if he got out of his seat we would go process the disobedience and return to the seat. When my child was about 18 months old, I would let him down and ask him questions about the alphabet chart posted at his height in the dining room, while I finished eating [being that I’d usually feed him first and then eat]… “What animal begins with the letter ‘z’?” [He would go across the room and point to the zebra and say, “Zebra!”.] “With what letter does the word ‘cat’ start?” [He would go back across the room and point to the ‘c’ and say, “C!”]

    #3- I really like time with my spouse in the evenings before we are too tired to reconnect after a long day, so my version of this was “the after school snack convo.” Often, this was the time my child was the most hungry and also the most excited or discouraged about the events of her day. So making her something special to eat when she came home from school and sitting with her was the best time for us to communicate. In the evening, we do Bible story and bedtime story, which does involve conversation… but it’s often about Biblical truths rather than the events of the day.

    #2- If it’s a boy, sometimes he just needs a sandwich.

    #1- I rarely answer with just “no.” If it’s the response to a wrong answer (e.g., homeschool related questions), it’s “try again.” If it’s a response to a wrong behavior, it’s whatever I expect the behavior should be. For example, a child in a waiting room in a dentist’s office gets out of his seat and goes to a bookshelf, and begins pulling books off the shelf and putting them in a pile on the floor. Most parents simply say, “no…” “no…” “no…” We train our children to know when our “no” really does mean “no.” Children know when the volume or pitch of the parent means that if they do not stop this time, the parent will be getting up out of their seat and coming over to offer correction which may be unpleasant. And so, I simply would ask my child to please bring me a book. After that, I would ask him to put the books that are on the floor back on the shelf. Then, I would say, “Come sit with me, and I will read to you.”

    Extra tools that came to mind:

    *When one of our children mistreated the other, their consequence was to serve their sibling (by folding their laundry, clearing their dishes, etc.)

    *Taking something to eat and drink, and something to do, everywhere the kids go has been one of our favorite parenting tools. We never know when we are going to run into traffic, wait longer than expected at an appointment, etc. For example, if we know that children have more behavior problems at the grocery store than elsewhere, we can give them a juice box and granola bar in the parking lot before we go inside, and borrow a book on CD through interlibrary loan for them to be able to sit in the cart and listen and read along while we are shopping (if they are too young to help at the store).

    *When caring for many children at once and trying to get them all to clean up and come sit at the table or stand in line, it is easiest to say, “Oh, look! Johnny has cleaned up all his toys and is ready for his snack” (or ready to go outside, etc.) All the children will usually begin to clean up and line up or sit at the tables.

    *When a limited quantity of something is to be shared, we have one child divide and another pick first.

    *Creativity of the parents is key. For example, while waiting for food to come at a restaurant, a pile of change can be dumped in the middle of the table and the children can reach for it, then count the change to see who “wins” the round (math). Or if it is a quiet restaurant, all but one person can turn away from the table while one person removes one item from the table. Everyone turns back around and takes turns guessing what is missing.

    *Tripp’s “Shepherding a Child’s Heart” taught us about something he calls “fruit stapling”- focusing on external behaviors and settling for those- rather than shepherding our children’s hearts. When children are trained to value Christ above all things and others more than themselves, their attitudes and behaviors will follow. We must pray for our children and train them to love the Lord- these are my top two parenting tools.

  4. Duct tape!
    Whenever siblings are pestering each other for the umpteenth time in the same day, we duct tape their feet together. Within minutes they are usually reduced to rolling around on the floor in waves of laughter as they attempt to wiggle in some specific direction.

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