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You are here: Home > Toddlers > Parenting

Games Parents Play to Win

by Ron Huxley LMFT |
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Sometimes parenting just seems like a game...that you can never win. The other team has more energy, more time, and more players. To help parents improve the odds, we've come up with some new "game plans" that might even the score.

Follow the Leader is a parenting tool that can be used in two ways: 1) As a game; and 2) as a "redirection" tool. When using this tool as a game, parents can invite their children to play "follow the leader." This game is fun on family trips or vacations. Families with more than one child can have each child take turns leading the family hike or singing a song. The leader has the power to choose which forest path to take or which song to sing. Each child (and parent) gets the opportunity to be the leader, thereby encouraging equality and fairness. When used as a "redirection" tool controlling children can be direct their need to take charge of a particular task, such as getting the family together for dinner or organizing a wood gathering party for the campfire. Children who power-struggle with their parents can benefit from this latter application.

Freeze Play is a parenting tool variation of the Time-Out parenting tool. Time-out is usually conducted by isolating or excluding a child from the rest of the family or classroom. In this traditional form children are sent to their room, a chair in the kitchen, outside the classroom door, or left facing a wall. Time-Out has a number of disadvantages, the primary one being that it involves the use of punishment that may seem harsh to some parents and children. Some children may become out-of-control or physically destructive when put in isolation or exclusion time-out. Fortunately, parents can use a different form of time-out, that behaviorists call "nonexclusionary time-out."

Nonexclusionary time-out, like isolation and exclusionary time-out, eliminates reinforces (interaction with others). It accomplishes this by freezing the moment of interaction with the child for a very brief, but poignant amount of time. For example, if a child starts whining when told they must wait for dinner to eat, the parent can firmly but evenly, say, "stop!" The parent then avoids eye contact (i.e., attention during the discipline) for a few seconds and the child is prohibited from communicating during this time. Afterwards the parent can nonchalantly carry on the task at hand or use Time-In or educational parenting tool. Be careful not to place too much emphasis on talking about the misbehavior afterwards as it might inadvertently reinforce the child to misbehave again for the attention it gains.

It might be necessary for the parent to tell the child what is going to happen during "freeze play" and the expectation that their will be no communication/eye contact during that time, so that the child knows why the parent is "acting this way." In addition, the old rule of thumb for time-out, one minute for every year of life, can be used in Freeze Play by substituting seconds for minutes (e.g., one frozen second for every year of life.)

Huddling is a parenting tool similar in function to the Family Meeting parenting tool but different in form. Huddling is a quick, informal, type of family meeting that any number of family members can have together and can occur at any time or place. Football players do this before every play to make sure the team knows what the plan is and to make clear everyone's job. Rather that set an agenda and have a formal meeting. Family members can stop whatever they are doing to have a quick, little meeting about a specific problem or task. Parents can play the captain by telling the family to "huddle together." Put arms around one another for support or just gather together in a circle, face in. Talk about the problem or task and assign jobs or ask for quick input. Decide on a plan of action and say "lets go!" Parents can use this tool at the zoo to decide what they are going to go see first, at the restaurant to decide what everyone wants to eat, and at home to decide what toys need to be gather before going to the park.

While these "game plans" don't guarantee a winning season, they can coach parents on new ways to improve there performance and their satisfaction in parenting. Go parents!

Parenting in the Middle Years - ages 5 - 12Giving our Children What They Need

Ron Huxley is a Licensed Marriage, Family & Child Counselor and owner of ParentingToolbox.com

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