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I’m a parenting educator: Here are 5 things I always do with my own kids

By making time for these tactics in your home, you’ll reap behavior benefits for years to come.
Amy McCready is pictured with her two sons.
Parenting educator Amy McCready, pictured here with her two sons, has come to understand which parenting strategies don't work — and which ones truly do.Courtesy Amy McCready
/ Source: TODAY Contributor

If you’re a parent reading this, I know one thing is true: you already do SO much. The packed lunches, the chauffeur service, that silly song you sing to cheer them up — you’re on it. 

So, I wouldn’t add to your to-do list if there weren’t a great reason. But as a parenting educator who’s dedicated decades to teaching effective child-raising strategies, I heartily recommend the gold-star, bang-for-your-buck, cherry-on-top tools below as the best for both getting good behavior and helping your kids reach their true potential. 

If you make time for these in your home, you’re going to be a rock-star parent and reap the behavior benefits for years to come.

1. Carve out daily one-on-one time with each child.

Sure, you’re with your kids a lot, but how much of that time is spent multitasking the kajillion things on your list? Believe it or not, proactively carving out one-on-one time for your child (when you are fully present and getting into their world) is the most power-packed strategy you can use with your kids to get better behavior and improve your emotional connection with them.

I refer to this special one-on-one time as a "Mind, Body and Soul Time" connection because you are fully present in mind, body and soul — not checking your phone, not multitasking other duties, not even mentally running through your to-do list. 

Each session can be as short as 10-15 minutes, with each child doing something they want to do. (It’s one of the few times in your kid’s day that they get to call the shots, and it is powerful!) And while family time is great, this tool fills their hard-wired need for individualized attention and emotional connection, which means better-behaved kids and more family harmony.

2. Create a decision-rich environment.

What to pack for lunch? What to wear? When to finish homework? These are the types of age-appropriate decisions we need to allow our kids throughout the day to help them flex their decision-making muscles and give them the positive sense of control they crave.

Just like with attention, kids are hard-wired to need a sense of power. Kids who feel in control of their lives — even in the little things — are more likely to cooperate with what they can’t control (like brushing their teeth or doing their homework). That means fewer power struggles and arguments.

You’ll set the boundaries, but within those, proactively let your kids have as much say in their lives as possible. It might be tough to let go, but it’ll be worth it as you see your kids learning to make great choices.

Related: I’m a parenting educator: Here are 5 things I never do with my own kids

3. Use specific, repeatable encouragement rather than fluffy praise.

What’s the difference between these two phrases: “Good job, you’re so smart!” and “All your studying really paid off — you must be so proud!” 

And which would resonate more if you’d dedicated the last few evenings to studying for a test — and then received a less coveted B? 

Chances are, you’d be grateful your hard work was recognized and that your parent noticed, even though you didn’t bring home an A.

That’s why encouragement is so much stronger than praise. Encouraging words highlight the specific, repeatable effort or attitude behind a positive behavior or accomplishment, such as perseverance or teamwork, while praise is full of fluff, focusing on things a child might not be able to control, like intellect or natural ability.

With encouragement, kids are more likely to repeat the action in the future, and develop the internal motivation that leads to success, in whatever form it takes.

4. Problem-solve instead of punish.

According to psychologist Ross Greene, “Kids do well if they can.” And whenever our kids act out, there’s always a reason. By uncovering the reason and helping them problem-solve, we can empower them to make a better choice next time.

Very often, kids misbehave because they’re hungry, tired, stressed or simply don’t have the training. Or, they may not have the neurological ability or emotional maturity to make good choices or regulate their actions. Other times, they’re seeking control when they feel overpowered.

With problem-solving, you’ll get on the same team instead of pitting yourself against your child by using punishment. You might train on behavioral skills, work to remove triggers or simply look for ways to avoid the problem in the future — together.

5. Hold regular family meetings.

Think of these meetings as weekly "Mind, Body and Soul Time" connections for the whole family. And they’re anything but boring when you assign roles to everyone (meeting leader, notetaker), serve a small snack, and always include something fun — even if it’s just telling jokes or playing a quick game.

Open your meeting by having everyone share gratitude about each family member, then cover the weekly calendar and any family business you want to discuss. This is a great chance to problem-solve together.

Short and sweet is key; when you make meetings fun, you’ll find they become a family ritual that everyone looks forward to.

Before you dash off to implement these gold-star, best-bang-for-your-buck parenting strategies, remember that you don’t have to do it all at once.

But when you do try some of these new techniques, your whole family will benefit from new skills, fewer misbehaviors and more connection all around. And that’s what rock-star parenting is all about!

Today Parents contributor Amy McCready is the founder of Positive Parenting Solutions. Check out her free parenting class for even more strategies to get kids to listen without yelling, nagging or losing control. 

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