Change the Strikes
Parents love the 1-2-3-strikes-you’re-out game. Kids? Not so much. Children typically snowball one bad behavior on top of another and it can be exhausting to dole out and receive punishments all day long. One way parents can get creative with this approach, while also reducing outbursts, is to use toys kids like. This approach not only gets their attention, but also boasts a game-like appeal.
Here’s how it works. When your child misbehaves, pick a toy that your child loves and place that toy on a high, out-of-reach shelf. You might say, “Uh oh. Someone isn’t behaving nicely. Your special toy is going up on the shelf. I hope more of his friends don’t join him, because [Child’s Name] will be very sad.” If your child gains composure and starts behaving after strike one, it’s up to you to decide when to let the toy out of jail. If, however, you have the unfortunate luck of making it to strike three, then you give out the tough punishment.
Incorporate a Messy Hour
We try so hard to stay neat, quiet, and structured during the day that we sometimes forget children have an innate desire to be messy. Your day and your child’s day will end on a much happier note if you just allow for some messiness! But remember—being messy doesn’t have to mean being out of control. You can actually create structured messiness (for all the moms and dads out there that are cringing at the thought). What activity does your child consider messy fun? Painting? Finger-painting! Clay? Sand or water play? Cooking?
Find a space in the house that you can prep easily. I typically recommend kitchens because the space is more forgiving of messes (i.e., easily washed floors, cabinets, and countertops). Have “messy time” clothing that you and your child can throw on easily. Explain the rules clearly. You might say, “Okay, now that it’s 7 p.m., it means it’s MESSY TIME! We are only allowed to be messy on the kitchen floor. If the messy play goes anywhere else, messy fun time is over.” If you are using a space that does not have a sink or clean-up spot, fill a large bowl or small bucket with soap, water, and a sponge and keep it close by. This will minimize chances of the mess leaving that room. The rest is pure fun!
Implement Silly Time
Just like being messy, being silly is a child’s job. Oftentimes the last thing we want to deal with when we come home from a long day at work is a kid yelling, running around, and generally acting like their legs are pogo sticks. But there’s nothing that makes kids happier.
Choose a specific time each day to allow for 20–40 minutes of silliness. Your child wants to put on last year’s Halloween costume and stomp around the house? Fantastic! Your child asks you to lead the marching band while they bang on pots, pans, drums, or anything that makes loud noises? Fun! The experience might be painful (or even excruciating) for that designated time period, and you may need a Tylenol by the end, but you’ll be happy that your child burned off some excess energy, had fun, and probably feels ecstatic. Even if you start out forcing yourself to have fun, I bet you’ll feel pretty good about being silly, too. Remember: a happier child is a happier you.
Make Cleaning Fun
“Clean your room!” is probably the least exciting group of three words a child can hear. And let’s face it: you probably need a break from cleaning, and there’s no reason your kids can’t get involved. There are several game-like ways to get your child interested in cleaning.
Try a treasure hunt! Give your kid a list of items they need to find and tell them where they need to put them away. If you have more than one child, you can time it for a winner. To top off the experience, make your final inspection memorable. Create a pirate persona for yourself and march in with your best, “Yarrgh, matey!” You can also offer some sort of small reward for the fastest treasure hunter foe extra incentive.
Other cleaning creativity options can include making it a race with rules (on your mark, get set, clean!), singing songs (with dance breaks), or just offer a plain old reward. You know what your child loves! Be creative, think outside the box, and get them moving.
Take the Negative and Turn it into a Positive—with a Twist
Negative words and behaviors can be taxing on a family. It may sound cliché, but the worst thing you can do when your child misbehaves is to yell and punish. Children need discipline, but they also need your support. So how do you get creative with your support?
Every time your child decides to be a contrarian, curses, tells you they hate you, or generally misbehaves, follow your usual course of discipline (e.g., taking away a toy or placing the child in a time out). Then, ask your child to sit at a desk or somewhere comfortable and quiet and have them create (draw, paint, or sculpt) why that word or behavior isn’t a good or nice thing to say or do. This process can create a dialogue between you and your child about right and wrong. Use this opportunity to teach the very important lesson of making good decisions.
Children love the opportunity to make their own decisions. Change boring or hated orders into a choice. What’s more likely to get your kid motivated? “Put on your jacket; we’re going to Grandma’s house,” or “We have to get ready to go to Grandma’s—do you want to pick out a pair of shoes first or a jacket?” Both of these options seek to accomplish the main goal (getting ready to go to grandma’s house), but the second option makes your child think, “Which would I rather do first?” as opposed to, “I don’t want to listen to you.”
You can also apply this parental trickery to the dreaded bedtime routine. Instead of, “Put on your pajamas and brush your teeth—it’s time for bed!” try “Why don’t you go get your pajamas on and brush your teeth real fast so that you can decide what book I’m going to read you before bed?” By giving your child choices, you’re supporting their ability to be independent while also making your life a little easier.
Beat those Homework Blues
Go do your homework. Blech! Few kids want to do their homework, and even fewer want to be harassed about it. How can you, as a parent, make it a little more exciting? Let’s start with being silly. Create a silly homework outfit to make homework sessions a little more fun. At the start of each school year, take some old fabrics, fabric paint or markers, glitter, and other miscellaneous craft items you might have, and get creating!
You’d also be surprised how far fun writing utensils will get you. Does your kid have a favorite color? Get permission from your child’s teacher to use special pens to complete their homework. You can incorporate choice here, too. Give your child the option to do their homework while you’re cooking dinner, or allow them to do it afterward with your help. Alternately, for tough kids, you can frame the choice as a disciplinary action. You might say, “I know you don’t want to do your homework, but here are your choices: you can do your homework now and still have time to play video games later, or you can choose not do your homework and lose your gaming privileges until further notice.”
Let your creative flags fly! Remember, you were a child once too, and I bet you hated rules, chores, and homework. Think back to what would have made you feel better and have fun with it. The best part is that you can’t be too creative—go crazy!