One of the best parenting secrets I've discovered since becoming a parent is empathy.
And it's no coincidence that empathy is a major quality I want our children to have.
Sometimes, I think parents get so caught up in trying to be firm and strict when raising their kids, they forget to be empathetic. They forget that everyone, adults included, work better when they feel understood and not shamed.
So often when dealing with Cole I feel like saying, "Well, too bad. You should/shouldn't have done/said/made that choice!" But you know what? That's shaming. It doesn't get anyone anywhere but feeling bad - and often feeling bad about himself.
I always think of it this way: If there's something that I want to make happen, and either I accidentally mess it up some way, or it's out of my control in some way, I would be upset and hurt if Chris simply said, "Welp, too bad! Suck it up!" But if he gives me a hug, and empathizes with me - "Gosh, I'm so sorry it rained and we couldn't have our picnic! I seriously wish we could have gone outside too!" - and then brainstorms a solution with me - "Let's go out to eat instead, would that help you feel better?" - then we all have an amazing opportunity to help each other be successful and feel good!
So with Cole, I always try to remember the gentle approach. I don't have to back down from our family rules or go back on limit I've set, but I can empathize with him during his very real-to-him struggle, and help him find a solution.
While waiting for a pizza to be delivered:
Cole: "MOM, I'M REALLY HUNGRY."
Me: "You are? Good news, our pizza will be delivered in about five minutes."
Cole: "I'M SUPER HUNGRY!"
Me: "Yup, I heard you. Pizza will be here soon."
Cole: "BUT I'M HUNGRY NOW! I WANT SOMETHING TO EAT NOW!"
Me: "I wish the pizza would be here right now too! I'm not going to give you anything to eat right now because our pizza is coming in five minutes... but would you like to go up to the guest room and watch for the pizza deliverer? You can call down to me when he comes!"
Cole opens the freezer drawer and sees a leftover ice cream from a couple days earlier.
Cole: "MOM, I REALLY WANTED THIS ICE CREAM FOR MY SPECIAL TREAT TODAY!"
Me: "You did, huh? But you already chose a candy from your treat jar for your special treat."
Cole: "I KEEP FORGETTING! AND I REALLY REALLY WANT SOME ICE CREAM! CAN I HAVE SOME?"
Me: "No, you already chose your special treat. Maybe the ice cream will still be there tomorrow though!"
Cole: "BUT I REALLY WANT ICE CREAM! AND I KEEP FORGETTING!"
Me: "I know! How about we write a note and stick it to your treat jar reminding you there's ice cream in the freezer if you want it?"
Cole: "HMMM. OK."
(he painstakingly writes "IS CREM" on a post-it, sticks it to the candy jar, and remembers to have ice cream the next day.)