One thing I have learned in my relatively short tenure as a parent is that not all words are equally effective. There is saying "no," and there is redirection: "Let's do this instead." There is saying "no," and there is instruction: "It's dangerous to stand on top of the table." There is saying "no," and there is offering choices: "Instead of coloring on the walls, precious child, how about coloring on this paper or this coloring book." (Confession: I haven't quite matured to the level of offering choices when the walls are being colored on.)
It's hard work, this constant monitoring of how we understand, mold, discipline, converse with, and encourage our children. Sometimes I succeed--I'm good at offering praise and encouragement. Sometimes I don't--I'm inconsistent in my discipline and have a shallow well of patience when the girls are distracting me from something I'm involved in. Most of the time, the only one who offers me feedback on my parenting is Jason. Which is fine, since to be quite honest I tend to not be great at receiving admonishment from someone else.
I will say that in general I'm very careful about the words (though not always my tone) I use to and around my girls. That's not because I'm a super fabulous parent; it's because all those classes in child psychology and the power of words have trained me to be conscientious in what I say around students and children (if only I were so consistently thoughtful when I'm talking to adults...*sigh*). I have always assumed my children's spirits are as sensitive as my own, so I try to make sure that I don't say something I'll regret. Don't mistake my admission as bragging because let me tell you there are plenty of things I'm not great at, but that's a different (and longer) post altogether.
My constant vigilance of what I say helped me connect with two books we've been reading for the past few weeks. Parent Bloggers Network hooked me up with Ready for the Day! and Ready for Bed!, two books published by Free Spirit Publishing (who have some other fabulous things too, like these Story Starters in a Jar). On the surface it seems like the books might be geared towards helping kids learn how to transition through routines like breakfast or bedtime without sass or stress. Certainly the books do help promote positive behavior. However, the books are also meant to help parents learn the language of positive parenting.
As the story unfolds for each book, different parenting phrases are highlighted to show examples of the parent validating feelings, offering choices, and giving encouragement. In Ready for the Day!, the child whines about wanting to stay home with her dad instead of going to school. Her dad follows up on the whining with, "I know just how you feel. I wish we could spend the day together too." He doesn't say what might be the first reaction for many of us, "Stop whining."
It might seem hokey or too touchy-feely, but honestly it doesn't come across that way in the book. I'm all for books that help parents and children navigate the routines of the day in emotionally healthy ways. In my own personal experience, the book helped me remember the importance of validating feelings when Sydney cried at discovering we weren't going to be living in our house anymore. My knee-jerk reaction would have been to distract her from the topic and say something along the lines of "Don't cry. It'll be okay." Instead I said, "It is sad that we aren't in our old house anymore. I'm sad too. But we're going to build a new house that you'll love even more." I cried when we moved; I should certainly allow the same kind of emotion from my child.
Obviously, these books aren't meant to replace our other silly, artsy, dance-themed, farm-animal, Bible-story books, but they are a good addition to our library that remind all of us how to work together.
Now if only I could train myself to respond more appropriately to Julianne dumping juice all over the floor. Right now, I'm pretty much stuck in the rut of "exasperated sigh followed by smacking my hand to my head." I'll tell you right now, that technique isn't working.