Find someone you trust and admire, a very experienced parent or early-childhood teacher, and seek advice from them. Ask them how they would handle a particular situation. Ultimately, you may have to take a new approach to interacting with your child. Like letting him have the last word and just saying, “Uh, hum” instead of arguing. If you can’t find a confidant, there’s nothing wrong with meeting with a family counselor or child therapist. It can be so valuable for an outside person to get a perspective on the two personalities a play -- yours and your child’s.
The final thing I would advise a parent to do is get out of the house on a regular basis to do something alone or with friends. Build in regular outlets like this at least once per week. When we can clear our heads, we come back to our children in a better frame of mind.
Are there any popular parenting myths you'd like to debunk?
I am appalled at the popularity of cookbooks that instruct you to hide vegetables in your kids’ foods. It is a bad trend for several reasons. First, it encourages mothers to work harder in the kitchen when they could be playing games, reading or doing something else more valuable with their kids after school. Second, it plays right into the age-old insecurity we moms have about getting our kids to eat right. (I’ll feel better about myself if I can get healthy foods into my kid.) As if we can control what our kids eat! What’s so hard about serving some chopped fresh vegetables and some meat, protein or pasta? They’ll eat what they need. We’ve got a whole arsenal of whole foods out there, why turn our kids into little foodies?
In your intro, you say that the phrase "use your words" is more trouble than it's worth. Why?
When parents overuse any phrase, it starts to lose meaning and at worst becomes like a reflex or tic. Kids will stop paying attention to it, or even get angry when they hear it. Most likely your child is in a situation where she is too upset to talk. Recognize she has to calm down for a few seconds before you give her any orders. And mix it up. “Go ahead and tell him how you feel.” “Are you feeling angry right now?” “Please don’t hit; tell him what you’re thinking.”
Are there any battles that are absolutely worth fighting with your kids? Any worth ignoring?
A big problem for parents it letting go of status or decorum -- for example, the importance of matching tights, a symmetrical hairdo, harsh words between peers, bossiness in your own child, picky eating. We feel we must correct everything or else our child will grow up uncivilized. But kids learn so much from their social interactions with peers, even if many of the interactions don’t seem fair or balanced to us. Don’t forget -- they learn a lot from being allowed to make mistakes. That’s invaluable. Be in control, but not controlling, is what my co-author Barbara O’Neal likes to say. Let stuff play out among kids, and be there to re-direct when things start to get too hurtful or dangerous.
What’s non-negotiable (95 percent of the time)? Getting to bed at the same time each night. Getting to school on time most days. Bathing, teeth brushing, taking medicine. Treating each other respectfully.