I see you, mama. You want to be calm and connected with your child. You want to be able to respond to your child’s struggles in a respectful way. You want to be able to give your child whatever they need in a moment of distress. The problem is, you don’t just have one child.
You have two, or three, or four (or more!) tiny humans who need you what seems like EVERY. Single. Moment.
One of the biggest challenges about mainstream positive parenting advice is that it doesn’t always account for the fact that a mama doesn’t just have one child to deal with. We are managing multiple children with different needs and feelings all at once!
Sometimes it’s just not possible or realistic to be able to dedicate 100% of your attention to the one child that is having a hard time. I know. I totally get it. In fact I am right there with you. I have 3 little ones 5 years and under at home.
First things first, I’m going to let you in on the biggest secret about being a positive parent with multiple kids…
When it seems impossible to meet all your children’s needs all at once, it’s because it IS too hard. Sometimes, your only goal is to survive the difficult moment without adding to the chaos with your own dysregulation.
What does this mean? As parents we simply need to admit that there are times in our day when things are calm and we can do some great work. When things are calm, we can set boundaries and meet our kids needs with love.
But when we have multiple children melting down at once, it’s not going to be pretty. There’s no magic way to get out of it. You are only one person. In these moments, your only goal is to survive it and to not make things worse by letting yourself get just as worked up as your children.
I’m not here to give you “pie in the sky” ideas about how to make this positive parenting thing a reality. I’m here to share ideas that can help get you started. These are some of the strategies that have helped me to take a lot of these big parenting ideas and apply them to real life with multiple children. Most importantly, when I fall short (it happens a lot!), what I do to make amends. No one here is perfect. Everyone’s on a journey.
Here are my top 7 recommendations for positive parenting with multiple children:
You are in charge of your emotions. Your emotions and reactions are completely separate from your children’s behavior.
Having lots of kids doesn’t mean you necessarily have to resort to yelling. When you have other strategies in place, you can still maintain your cool even when it feels like your home is a WWE Smackdown arena.
In a heated moment, instead of trying to immediately “fix” everyone’s problems in order to restore the peace, take that time to focus in on your own emotions so that you can stay calm. Remind yourself that your children can only calm down if they have an adult modeling it for them.
Your children’s behavior (no matter how terrible) doesn’t have to dictate the reaction you give them. You can be calm, even if your children are not. In fact, that’s exactly what your children need you to be.
If your children learn that their behavior dictates the reaction that you give them, it’s actually unsettling for them. You might even notice them exhibiting certain behaviors to TRY and get a certain reaction out of you.
The more un-phased you are about your children’s behaviors, the more in-control you are.
Controlling your emotions amongst noise and chaos is a LEARNED skill. We gain it over time. Chances are you can handle a lot more now with multiple children than you could with just one child. Imagine how much more you will be able to control your emotions a year from now with an increased awareness for it and the daily practice that living with little kids provides.
Have realistic expectations. Children are just that, children.
Expecting young children to be calm, quiet, and keep their emotions in check at all times is simply not feasible. It is important to remember that the emotional work your children are doing every day to “keep it together” is hard work. Sharing is hard work. Taking turns is hard work. Solving problems, facing disappointment…. All very hard work for your children.
And the more children you have, the more your children have to work in order to stay regulated in an environment where they literally have to share everything. This isn’t a bad thing! Resiliency, empathy, and self-control grows in all of these sharing experiences.
But just knowing that its hard sets you up to meet your children at their level, and to respond to them with more kindness and understanding.
So just because your children “lose it” or melt down multiple times a day doesn’t mean that they are not “well-behaved.” It simply means that they are working really, really hard.
When you can’t be 1:1 with your kids, be honest and sincere.
Let’s say your 4-year-old is having a tantrum and is needing some help. You bring him into his room to help contain his emotions and plan to stay with him for a “time-in” to help him calm down (more on time-in in this post). Meanwhile, your 2-year-old is in the other room starting to melt down as well. You can say to your 4-year-old, “I know you are having such a hard time right now. You are a good kid having a hard moment. I want to be with you. Your brother also needs me right now. I wish there were two of me! You are not in trouble. I am going to go help your brother and I will come right back here.”
There’s no shaming, no punishment, just an honest explanation of what needs to be done. Your loving tone lets your child know that they are safe and cared-for even if you can’t be physically present in that moment.
Later on, when your 4-year-old is calm you can circle back and talk about ways to problem-solve to avoid the tantrum in the future.
Remember it’s not always WHAT you do, it’s HOW you frame it.
You want your kids to know that you are always looking out for their best interest, even when you need to make choices for them that they don’t like. A lot of times kids just need a private moment to collect themselves or the opportunity to play by themselves for a while. You can separate your kids with love. The answer doesn’t have to be time out.
Here are some examples of the problems you may face and some of the positive parenting solutions using natural consequences:
Natural and logical consequences are the answer to helping your children learn right from wrong without resorting to yelling, punishments or time-out. If you need more examples of parenting with natural and logical consequences, check out my eBook here.
Make independence a priority
When you are a mom of many, teaching your children how to do simple tasks for themselves is ESSENTIAL. The best investment of time you can make is to teach your children to do things for themselves, and for each other. Empower your older children by letting them help younger children with tasks like putting on their shoes or getting them a cup of water. Teach your older children to fill a need when they see it! Not only does this help teach them practical life skills but it also makes them to feel important and helpful within the family unit.
Children as young as 3 and 4 can be starting to learning to do their own self-care tasks like washing their hands and face, getting their own plates, peeling fruit, and opening containers (this takes practice). They can be cutting soft fruits and vegetables with a butter knife, with supervision. Children thrive on the opportunities to do things on their own. While it may take longer at first to teach your child how to do something for themselves, they will ultimately experience less frustration waiting for your help and you won’t feel as frazzled trying to meet everyone’s needs.
In conflicts, resist the urge to solve the problem for them…or dismiss the feelings involved
When conflicts arise between siblings (as they always do), try your best not to be sucked into the role as the “problem-fixer.” A child’s ability to negotiate, see another person’s point of view, and initiate solutions to problems are incredible skills that your children will only learn if you give them the space to figure out some issues on their own.
For example, let’s say your kids are fighting over a toy and they both want it at the same time. Instead of immediately jumping to “You two need to take turns with it,” try narrating the problem to them instead. Say, “Hmm, it looks like you both really want this toy, but there’s only one. What might we do to solve this problem?” See what your children suggest! If they are stumped you can ask them “Would you like some tools or ideas of how we might solve this problem?” Then give them some options. “We could use a timer/write down a list of who will go first/make up a game to play it together, etc.” See which of the options is most agreeable to both children and let THEM decide how to proceed.
The goal is to provide your children with the tools they need in order to solve the problem themselves, so that the next time they are faced with a similar issue, they won’t need to come to you to “fix it.”
When you lose your cool, apologize.
When you act in ways you are not proud of, model for your children how to make a genuine apology! Your children need to know that they aren’t the only ones who mess up from time to time. Grown ups also get angry, make mistakes, and need forgiveness.