All parents of small children get frustrated every now and then.
While you may feel regret later on for getting angry with your little ones, remember that it’s totally normal, and it doesn’t make you a “bad parent”. At a certain point, though, many parents realize they speak to their kids harshly more often than they do with warmth. That can set up a contentious relationship, spurring your child on to disobedience and creating a downward spiral of parent-child antagonism. That’s no good.
So how do you stop these feelings of frustration even when your kid is being a little monster?
A self-proclaimed “angry mom” named Kelly Holmes, who blogs about parenting at The (Reformed) Idealist Mom, cracked the code. Her secret? Hair ties.
Holmes recommends wearing five elastic hair ties around one of your wrists. These will become your reminders—visual and tactile cues that can make it easier to break bad habits. Here’s how it works:
Put your five hair ties (or rubber bands, or bracelets—anything that will sit comfortably on your wrist will work) on your wrist before your child wakes up for the day. Every time you find yourself snapping at your kid, move a single hair tie from one wrist to the other.
Don’t panic if your “off” wrist starts to fill up.
There is a way to earn those hair ties back. You can return a hair tie to the original wrist simply by having five warm moments with the child you snapped at. Any positive interaction counts; a hug, a simple “I love you,” or a board game just for two.
The number five isn’t arbitrary. Holmes describes a parenting rule that she calls the “magic 5:1 ratio.” “Research shows that to have a healthy relationship, for every one negative interaction you need five positive interactions to balance that out,” she writes.
So even if you do lose your temper with a little one, five happy moments together will repair the damage, Holmes says.
But won’t you eventually get used to having those five hair ties around your wrist? Won’t this trick stop working, like so many other techniques that we use to change bad habits? Not necessarily.
Holmes tells us that we should only wear the magic hair ties when we’re actually with our children. When you go to work, or the kids are at school, or nap time finally arrives, take off the hair ties. This will build the association between the ties and your children, which will prevent them from becoming just another background element in your life.
The blogger insists that this trick has changed her parenting fundamentally. “Months later, the hair tie hack is still working wonders,” she writes. “I talk to my preschooler with love and kindness in my voice instead of annoyance and frustration.”
That sounds like a worthwhile goal. If you sometimes lose your patience with your kid (and who doesn’t?) try this parenting hack. You might be surprised how much more calm and collected you’ll be when your kid does what toddlers do, which is to destroy.