I recently found a service for digitizing old photos and just received the files containing the first batch of images I’d submitted for conversion. These pictures – and the others I’ll eventually convert – mainly feature my daughters as babies, toddlers, and preschoolers, in the years before my husband or I owned a digital camera. I hadn’t seen many of the images in years so I naturally spent time browsing through them and reminiscing.
I found myself reliving specific incidents we’d captured on film, which then led – via the rabbit trails on which our minds so often take us – to remembrances of other events and activities. And before long, I was mentally transported back 10 or 15 years to the season of life when I was in the very busy throes of parenting our active “Irish twin” girls as well as caring for several other children via the in-home childcare business I owned.
At the time – and still now if the topic comes up – people asked how I wrangled so many children all the time. Of course, my life wasn’t really that unusual, as plenty of moms have a handful of their own children and in-home childcare businesses are common. And I definitely had my fair share of hard days. But when things were going well, I truly believe it boiled down – on a human level – to communication. Clear and positive communication.
For example, I remember consciously choosing to avoid asking questions of the children when I intended to give direct instruction. Thus, I didn’t say, “Would you like to come to lunch now?” when coming really wasn’t optional. Instead, I calmly but firmly said, “I need you to come to lunch now, kids.” Likewise, I determined not to say things like, “You want to come here for story time, right?” That sentence combines a command with an odd question and confuses children (i.e., making them wonder if I was telling or asking) and opens the door for unnecessary conflict. So I’d say something like, “It’s story time, kids. I need you to come over and cuddle up now.” Just that simple shift in word and “tone” – from asking to calmly telling – made a world of difference because the kids were able to clearly discern my expectations.
I believe many parents struggle with the notion of telling versus asking. Because we love our kids, we want to help them feel completely accepted by us, which is, of course, a wholly laudable goal! And giving kids realistic choice whenever reasonably possible – i.e., “Would you like to wear the red dress or the blue, Sally?” – is a very good thing. But we must remember that our children are immature by virtue of their youth and, thus, need (and subconsciously crave) clear direction. Commands delivered in love – firmly but positively – are not bad. In fact, just like the fences we have around our yards, purposing to communicate without ambiguity in the early years keeps kids physically safe and emotionally secure, and lays the foundation for a beautiful lifelong parent-child relationship.