I was talking recently with a nanny who comes from a family of many children and currently manages a family with 4 children. We got to talking about her experiences and her challenges, and she said something you may have heard before: the kids are a product of their parents. You may have heard something along those lines before, but probably not in the way that she means. For her, as a nanny when considering new families she always takes into greater consideration how the parents are than how the kids are, because she knows that the real issues and challenges (or fantastic experience) will come from the parents, not the kids. Yes, of course it’s challenging to work with kids who are unruly and throw tantrums and aren’t polite. But they often are that way because their parents have allowed them to be up to this point. That doesn’t really mean that the parents have failed, just that they really need to step up and take responsibility, or give responsibility to someone else (and not take over or micromanage).
Initially it’s not easy for the parents or kids, but over time kids do learn to interact differently with different people and in different situations. If you think about two classic examples, school and church, kids act much different at school and church than they do at home. At school you’re expected to use your brain, listen to adults and not be a bully and at church you’re expected to be quiet as a mouse and be on your extra best behavior (even at church picnics and fun events). However at home so many of the “rules” go out the window. In some ways it’s necessary to let go of some rules and give kids time to be kids, but the leadership from parents and respect for adults needs to stay in place at all times, and it can be difficult to be a leader and be respected when they’ve seen you down on your knees making train sounds during play with them.
So how do you get from being an unruly household to one that’s got usually well-behaved kids? Start with love, affection and attention. These three are super important because they show your kids that you do indeed care about them and want them to be part of your life. Follow that up by setting a good example, for example: if they see you disrespecting others (including themselves) when they’re talking by being on your phone, they’ll get the idea that it’s OK to ignore others too. Setting boundaries and time limits consistently can also help because you say that you need 5 minutes to do stuff and then they can have you for a game or to do something (or that you can play for x amount of time but at a specific time you need to go do your thing). Finally, don’t be afraid to screw up and make changes. What you teach them as you work through your mistakes can be as valuable as not making them in the first place. Employing a give-it-a-try attitude can make a big difference in how they approach problems and relationships of all kinds.
If you’re struggling as a parent, this week I would encourage you to make one small change in your relationship with your kids and that would be to love more, be more affectionate and give them your full attention. I’m not asking you to implement any real rules or make any big changes, just be more present for them and with them. What difference will a little love make in your life and theirs?