As a hacker and bug bounty hunter, I spend a lot of my time optimizing and improving. So, as a father of three, I work towards being a better dad. And just like in my hacking, I like to collect simple tips and scripts that make parenting easier.
I am not an expert by any means. I just wish I’d picked up most of this a bit earlier so I wanted to share it in the hopes that it helps at least one other parent out there.
The tips below are really just explanations or some general parenting wisdom. The second section is “Scripts” and is word-for-word phrases that my wife and I have found really useful.
Dysregulation or Disobedience
First, let’s talk about dysregulation vs disobedience. Dysregulation is when a child is struggling to control their emotions or behavior. Disobedience, on the other hand, is when a child is intentionally choosing to not follow the rules. It’s important to understand the difference.
When a child is dysregulated, they often don’t hear, let alone understand, the coaching or correction we’re giving them. An example would be when they’re extremely angry or scared. They need help calming down more than they need to be instructed in that moment. And then you can coach them after they’re calm. On the other hand, if they’re just being disobedient, immediate correction and coaching might be more appropriate. An example might be when you ask them to clean up their room and they refuse.
One way to help with dysregulation is to teach regulation techniques. The most common one is taking deep breaths, but there are others such as a getting a cold drink, eating something, or even hitting a pillow. As a parent, it’s important to model regulation for your children. For example, if you’re feeling frustrated, you can say “Daddy is going to take 5 deep breaths because I’m feeling a little frustrated.”
Calm Pilot Analogy
This analogy comes from a parenting influencer, Dr. Becky. Imagine a hard parenting moment as if it were turbulence or a bigger issue on an airplane. Would you trust and listen to a pilot that is screaming “GET IN YOUR SEATS!! I DON’T KNOW WHY YOU ALL CAN’T LISTEN!”? Or would you feel much safer with (and be likely to trust and obey) a pilot who remains calm amidst the chaos? Of course it’s the latter.
It really helps me to view parenting as being like that calm pilot. When there’s chaos, children are like those passengers on the plane. They are looking to us to know if everything is going to be alright. If the pilot isn’t calm, they aren’t reassured. And they are less likely to listen. Can you blame them? As a parent, it’s important to be calm and in-control during hard moments.
Managing Expectations and Control
Expectation setting is crucial. Kids haven’t lived nearly as long as adults. They haven’t seen as much. So they are often unsure about what exactly will happen. When an adult says, “we’re going to get coffee”, other adults immediately know what a coffee shop looks like. They know about how far away the cafe is. They know how long it will take.
Kids don’t have a grasp of those things. This uncertainty can cause them to be nervous or hyper. It helps to explain what will happen for the day and ask your children how it might make them feel. It’s also helpful to explain specifically what will happen on the way to each place.
Transitioning to a new place or activity can be difficult for many kids. A fantastic parenting tip is to give kids a warning before a transition. For example, you can give them a five minute warning before leaving or turning off a show.
Another tip is to offer choices. Giving children a sense of control can help them feel more secure and make them more likely to cooperate. If you tell a kid to get their shoes on, they might say no. But if you ask, “Do you want mommy to put on your shoes, or do you want to do it yourself?” then they often don’t realize they are indirectly saying yes to putting on their shoes.
And, instead of using the word “no”, try to offer alternatives. For example, instead of saying “no, you can’t have that sucker”, you might reply with “You can have chicken now. You can have a sucker later or tomorrow.”
I’m sure you’ve heard the rule about needing three compliments for every critique. I think this is more true with cihldren. It’s important to praise everything good you see in your children. It builds trust and helps reinforce good behavior. Instead of just “expecting” behavior, create that good feedback loop. If you say nothing, they don’t know if it was tolerable, average, or really good. When always encouraging them, correction is often handled better.
And, when possible, explain the “why” to rules. There are many times kids might not understand why their unsafe behavior is unsafe. And if you tell them why, they might be able to extrapolate to other activities that aren’t safe or that you don’t agree with in your family.
Now, let’s talk about scripts. These are phrases that you can use when dealing with common parenting situations.
- “I won’t let you do xyz… because that’s not safe, and it’s my job to keep you safe.” This makes sense to children, builds trust, and makes them far less likely to “blame” you for not letting them do something they want to do.
- “I know you really want to X. You can do Y instead.” This script shows empathy and understanding of your child’s desires while providing a solution or alternative.
- “You’re a good kid having a hard time.” This script is a way of validating your child’s feelings and behaviors, rather than just focusing on their mistakes. This script is from Dr. Becky
- “I know it makes you REALLY MAD that you can’t… That really stinks.” This script shows empathy and understanding of your child’s feelings and acknowledges that it is frustrating for them.
- “In our family, we do X.” This script sets clear expectations and boundaries for behavior within the family while expressing that other families may do things differently.
I hope all of the above is really helpful. That said, every child is different, so it’s possible lots of these may not work.
Parenthood is the greatest adventure and gift. It’s also really hard. But it’s an incredible blessing. For those of you with kids, thank you for deciding to be parents.
I hope these have been helpful!
For more of my thoughts, bug bounty tips, and AI-generated hacker art, follow me on twitter.