We’ve all been there: You bought your kid a toy yesterday, but he already “hates” it and needs something new. Or you poured blood, sweat and caramelized mushrooms into the risotto only to have it repurposed as finger paint and moisturizer. The good news? There are simple ways to shine a light on our kids’ good fortune—and to help them find calm in the process (no promises about the risotto, though).
GIVE THEM CHORES—THEN DON’T GIVE UP
Psychologist Nancy Darling explains why household chores should be an essential part of childhood: “You’re part of the family,” she often tells her kids. “We need you to help.” What better way to show a kid he belongs and matters? Of course, no preschooler is going to willingly or decently set a table. But with enough parental persistence, in time the payoff—ingrained gratitude, instinctive helpfulness—will mean everything.
Whether they’re glue-sticking backyard nature bits, drawing pictures or responding to creative writing prompts, journaling as a family first thing in the morning, after school or before bed is a surefire (and screen-free!) way to find your collective moment of zen.
START A DINNER TABLE RITUAL
At dinner, ask each family member to share “the rose” (the high point) and “the thorn” (the low point) of their day. Within this framework, kids reflect on their positives (She learned to play “Mary Had a Little Lamb” on the piano!) and families can troubleshoot problems (“What would have been a better way to respond to Julian head-butting you on the seesaw?”) when the adrenaline is no longer pumping. P.S.: We all know the table should be a phone-free zone (and we ALL slip), but try having a meal without cars, creatures or crayons near their plates.
SET AN INTENTION AT BEDTIME
One mom we know tucks her kids in by asking each one to tell her about an opportunity they had to be kind to someone else that day. The kids now anticipate her nightly question and internalize those values. And here we were, rewarding good behavior with M&Ms.
CHOOSE MINDFUL MEDIA
Self-regulation is a skill most parents are dying for their kids to develop. And studies show mindfulness (taking a break from whatever you’re doing to simply notice your breathing and focus on the present) can help. Sites like gonoodle.com offer kid-directed guided meditations on themes like kindness and “From Mindless to Mindful.”
SHOP WITH A PLAN
How to sidestep the materialism trap when every errand includes a potential toy purchase? (Just ask anyone who now owns three Lightning McQueen-shaped bottles of hand sanitizer.) We picked up this savvy tip from PBS: Explain to your kids in advance which shopping excursions will be “Look” days and which will be “Buy” days. When expectations are established ahead of time, kids are less likely to go Veruca Salt in every store.
As the Pinterest-ready saying goes, “Children are great imitators, so give them something great to imitate.” When we tell our kids specifically why we’re grateful they cleaned their rooms—“I noticed how hard you worked scooping all those Legos into the bin”—they connect positive feedback with worthy effort. On a related note: Try to practice being presentin their presence—and invite them to join you.
This article first appeared on PureWow