5 times more love is a really exceptional parenting book that tries to summarize the existing research about how to build a great relationship with your children and provide straighforward, actionable feedback to parents. The book is in Swedish so I’ve taken some time to write down some notes in English (mostly for myself - these things need constant refreshing) but also in the hopes that they’ll be useful to you too. The advice is meant for parents that want to build a great relationship with their children but it is also great advice for nurturing any type of relationship.
- Play and have fun with your children
- 5 times more positive experiences than negative ones
- Listen to your children the right way
- Learn how to handle conflict the right way
Play is a fundamental building stone in your relationship with your children (Here we are using the work play in the broader sense of the word, it is interchangeable with spend quality time together). It is important to be fully present with your children. The biggest problem with play stems from the fact that a parent has expectations about things that need to get done around the house, or expectations around the outcome of playing. The most important goal should be to have some quality time where the parent is fully present with their children (put your phone away - oftentimes mobile phones are the main distraction - and just be with your child). It is helpful if the parent has set some time away for themselves to accomplish anything they need to accomplish so that they can be fully present when they are with their children.
Some helpful strategies:
- Generally you don’t need to ask too many questions. Questions can be seen as full of requirements, and they break the child’s play
- Playing with small children can be boring. It is easier if you mentally prepare to set aside the time. You can try to find activities, places, or games that you enjoy. If you think that it is nice to draw, play legos or go for a walk in the forest try to share that with your child. The more you enjoy the activity, the more your child will feel that as well.
Use appretiation more often than you command or complain to your children. Humans are more affected by negative experiences than positive ones (this is known as Negativity bias). So when interacting with your child you want to offset all these negative experiences with a lot more positive ones (5 to 1 is a good rule of thumb). This doesn’t mean that we have to continuously show appreciation verbally, it is enough with being present and interact with your child so you can have a pleasant time together.
Some useful strategies that can help parents have more positive experiences with their children are:
- Set aside more time to spend with your children. We often have too much on our plates. This leads to stress which is never a great ingredient for a pleasant and positive time with your children. Stress leads to a short temper, irritation and can easily spiral out of control. Take a look at your schedule and find out if there’s things that can be removed so that you can create more space to be with your children.
- Don’t complain to your child about things that aren’t really important. Choose carefully when you decide to complain to your children. Pick your fights to only those times when it is really important, when you’re setting boundaries save it for when it’s really protecting the child from something that is harmful. If you complain about whether they don’t focus at lunch, or don’t clothe themselves too fast, or something like that, they won’t listen when you tell them to be careful when crossing the street. Reflect on those things you normally complain and stop complaining about things that aren’t really important.
- Distracting or steering away. A great way to handle what could be the beginning of a conflict with your child is to distract them or steering them away of an unwanted behavior. Instad of telling your children what not to do, focus on what you want to happen instead.
People today are a lot more interested in taking care of their children. They also spend a lot more time with them and are more democratic in their interactions (being more open to listen to their children thoughts and feelings). This can sometimes be referred to as “curling parent” (or helicopter parent) today. We normally refer to curling in two aspect: serving your child and worrying too much about your child. In regards to curling where you serve your children, there’s no research that shows that it leads to lazy adults. This is however harder on the parents. What really affets children is when they aren’t taken care of. Curling where we show worry or anxiety for our children (*“careful with this, careful with that”), can affect negatively to children who are themselves anxious to begin with. Avoid verbalizing words of worries when it isn’t strictly necessary and create a situation that is safe for the children instead. Reflect and thing about situations that are really important.
- When interacting with a child, statements work better than questions.
- When a child says something, listen to them, show that you are taking in and understanding what they are saying and follow up with questions or sharing your own experiences.
- It is really important to affirm your children feelings. Listen and affirm their feelings. Don’t jump to give advice or judge immediately.
- Avoid interrogating your child. It should be a conversation not an interrogation. As soon as your children feels they are being interrogated they’ll stop talking.
- Take a step back. Listen more. Ask less questions.
Sometimes in your daily life you (and your children) need to contend with things that one must do even though one might not want to. Stuff like brushing one’s teeth, putting on your clothes or going to daycare. These situations are often the causes for conflict between a parent and their child, specially when children are more independent and take a bigger part in these activities. When that happens:
- Set clear expectations: “We are going to the daycare now”. This is important so that the children is aware of what the focus in and you don’t end up doing other actitivies like reading a book. Starting other activities will likely lead to delays that make the parent more stressed and frustrated, which makes the conflict more likely to escalate.
- Put a rein in your own feelings. This situations can be full of frustration and irritation. Put a lid in your own feelings and keep calm. children mirror our own actions and feelings, irritation will be meet with irritation, anger with anger, screams with screams and so forth. This is how children learn how to behave in different situations. In this case, your child will learn how to handle a conflict from your own actions. It is OK to be angry, it’s a feeling that we have and we can’t do anything about whether we’re angry or not. What we can do is to decide how to act when we are angry. In a conflict with a child we need to rein that anger and keep calm and resolute. Otherwise, it is possible that the conflicts escalates until you have to carry a screaming child to daycare. A good way to prevent the rise of anger is to go into the conflict with the right mindset and enough time (e.g. you may need to wake up earlier, go to bed earlier and drop some other stuff)
- Use few and simple words. Don’t over explain. It is very common when one gets angry and irritated to start narrating your own frustration to your child, or repeating the same thing over and over. This makes it more likely that the conflict will escalate. If you use few and simple words it is easier to keep calm yourself, and not overwhelm your child. The more words you use the easier it becomes from anger to spill out. The same goes for complaining after the fact about how bad things went.
- Use distractions. Focus on you want the child to do instead of focusing on what they are doing wrong or they shouldn’t do. Don’t pay attention to behavior that you don’t want to encourage.
- Be kind to yourself
- It is really hard to be a parent and keep calm all the time
- It is OK to be angry, the important thing is what you do with that anger
- It doesn’t matter if now and then you make a mistake with your child, or if you feel like you help them too much. Research shows that, on the contrary, children that aren’t looked after by their parents are the ones that develop with problems. There has to be a very high deficiency in parenting for it to affect the child. We all make mistakes and you can learn from them and do better next time with the certainty that you haven’t scarred your child for life.
- Five times more love (Fem gånger mer kärlek)(Swedish) book
- Martin Forster on Rulla Vagn Podden (Swedish). This is a great 30 minute interview with Martin Forster where he summarizes many of the most fundamental parts of his book.
- Martin Forster website (Swedish)
Written by Jaime González García , dad, husband, software engineer, ux designer, amateur pixel artist, tinkerer and master of the arcane arts. You can also find him on Twitter jabbering about random stuff.