Day to day, season to season, parents can find themselves facing any number of challenges. From developing a routine to increasing communication with your children, here are three common challenges and tips to face them head on.
- Developing a Routine – Having a routine is important for children. Routines help children feel safe and secure because they know what kinds of things will happen. When developing a routine, consistency is the key. When the routine is the same, children know what is expected of them, and they are able to behave accordingly.One of the most common but challenging routines parents face is bedtime. There are many reasons why bedtime routines can be difficult to set up and maintain: everyone is tired at the end of the day, life gets busy, and as a result bedtime routines often feel rushed and pressured. Here are some basic tips to help you create a simple, doable bedtime routine:
- Let your child know 15 minutes ahead of time that bedtime is approaching. Older children might like to set a timer by themselves, since this helps them feel like they have more control over the situation. Depending on the age of your kids, you may choose to give updated time warnings at 10, 5, and 2 minutes (older kids may need less reminding). It can also be helpful to offer suggestions on how to finish up or find a good stopping point, so they don’t have to quit an activity right in the middle.
- Be sure to keep the activities in the same order within the routine each night. For example: Bath, pajamas, brush teeth, give hugs goodnight, pick out book, read, sleep. For younger children, you might make a list with pictures of the routine you follow at bedtime. This will help them remember what comes next. You could also make a fun little book with photos of your children doing these activities. They will enjoy reading about themselves and learn about bedtime at the same time.
- After books are read and they are tucked in, let you child know you will be in the other room if they need you. This will help them feel more secure and safe. Tell them it is bedtime now and you look forward to seeing them in the morning.
- There are many popular methods for helping a child get back to bed if they get up repeatedly. One common method is to calmly and firmly state it is bedtime and walk them back to their bed, have them lie down, and walk away. If they get out of bed a second time, calmly walk them back again. Resist the urge to sound like a broken record; you are demonstrating what is expected by walking them back. You may have to do this repeatedly the first few nights, but over time, your child will come understand what is expected of them.
- On nights when time is short, it is still helpful to stick to the basics of the routine. You may be able to shorten it by:
- Having them take a shower or sponge bath instead of a tub bath
- Giving them only two book options instead of the entire shelf to choose from
- Making sure the bedtime book choices are short, or for older kids only reading one chapter of a book
- Dealing with Transitions – Children can have a difficult time with transitions. Remember, routines give children a sense of safety and security, but transitions often do the opposite. When children do not know what to expect they may feel uncomfortable. Transitions are unavoidable and occur throughout life, especially in the military community. Some transitions are sudden and unexpected. Others offer advance warning and plenty of time to prepare. When facing an upcoming transition, the best thing you can do is talk to your child about it, using language that your child will understand.
- Talk about timing: For some children, it is hard to understand specific measurements of time labeled in months or years, so you might anchor the transition time around something your child can understand, using phrases like “during the summer break,” “after Christmas,” “2 days after your birthday,” etc. These references will be more concrete for your child and help them understand the time span.
- Talk about feelings: It is also important to talk about different feelings your child may have during the transition. For example, if there is a deployment coming up, you might say, “Daddy has to go away, and you might feel sad because you’ll miss him, but we will be able to talk to him on the computer while he is gone.” A statement like this prepares the child for feelings that may come up and also lets the child know what will happen during the transition.
When possible, it is helpful to ease into the transition. For example, with a child starting a new school, you might visit the school ahead of time with the child and discuss with them what they can expect. Books are also a great tool during a transition. Look for titles that talk about similar experiences you are facing, and read them together with your child. Give them an opportunity to ask questions if needed.
- Talking with Your Child – You may spend all day talking to your child about different household activities, but it can be hard for even the most talkative parents to really communicate with their children about their thoughts and feelings. Here are some simple tips to improve your communication skills:
- Get down on their level and look them in the eye.
- Use “open” body language that lets your child know you are available (open) to talk and to listen.
- If you have a message to give your child, try to be brief and simple. Complex or non-specific messages can be hard to decode and process, while simple and direct messages are easier. For example, instead of “get ready for school” (a complex task), you may say, “please brush your teeth and put on your shoes.” To simplify this further, you may give one command at a time—delaying the second request until after the first one is complete.
- Tell your child what you do want them to do instead of what you don’t want them to do. For example, instead of “no running,” try “inside we walk, outside you may run.”
- To be sure your child heard your message correctly; ask them to repeat what you said. If they get the message wrong, it may have been too confusing. Likewise, if your child is telling you something, it is helpful to check in with them to be sure you heard them correctly. For example, if your child is telling you about their day at school, you might summarize it by saying “You felt happy when you played outside today.”