As parents, our goal is to raise happy, well-adjusted adults. But when everyone’s tired and stressed out after a long day at school and work, sometimes we forget that how we act and what we say can influence our child’s development. Positive parenting techniques are key, and Gigi Schweikert is here to explain why. She’s an early childhood expert and author of the popular book series, Winning Ways for Early Childhood Professionals. As President and Chief Operating Officer of Lightbridge Academy, she’s also a busy working mom of four children. Gigi shares advice and positive parenting tips you can start using today, whether your child is an infant, a toddler, in elementary school, and beyond.
Listen to this episode to learn:
Positive Parenting Pro-Tips
Intro: Welcome to the Equal Parts podcast brought to you by Care@Work.
Emily Paisner: Being a working parent is hard, nobody can prepare you for it, but they can help you with it. I'm your host, an extremely sleep-deprived working parent, Emily Paisner. My guest today is Gigi Schweikert. She is an early childhood expert, author, mom of four, and the president and chief operating officer at Lightbridge Academy. We had a really great conversation about something called positive parenting, it seems like everyone is talking about it these days. Gigi breaks it all down for us and gives some super helpful advice and tips. Have a listen.
Emily Paisner: Gigi, thank you so much for joining us today on this episode of Equal Parts. We are so glad to have you. I'm really looking forward to our discussion today. Positive parenting is a term that I have heard a lot about. What is your definition of positive parenting?
Gigi Schweikert: My definition of positive parenting is to be as real as you can with your children and that means to be as mutually respectful as possible, to think about as Stephen Covey would say with the end in mind, "What am I doing today to grow that child adult that I want to see for tomorrow? How do I help my child interact in the world in a socially acceptable way?"
Emily Paisner: We have listeners with kids of all ages from infants to toddlers to elementary school age kids to even high school and beyond, can you share some examples of positive parenting in these different life stages?
Gigi Schweikert: Yes, absolutely. One of the things that really incorporates positive parenting with infants is making that bond with your child. Now, when you're a working parent, you often feel really guilty. You feel really guilty.
Emily Paisner: I know mom guilt very well.
Gigi Schweikert: Yes, exactly, that you're not spending that time with the child, but I'm going to suggest that you really do look at quality versus quantity. If you can spend some quality time with your child at every age and it's going to look a little bit different at every age, but making sure that you're with your child as an infant. It's sometimes easier as an infant because you have so many custodial things to do, you've got to change diapers and feed or-
Emily Paisner: Wash the bottles.
Gigi Schweikert: -breastfeed or wash them or all those things that are going to keep you in contact with your child. Being with your child, using the voice you want your child to use when he or she is angry and that leads us into what does positive parenting look like for toddlers. It's talking to your toddler in a way you want your toddler to learn how to speak. It's okay to be angry, but it's not okay to scream at people. It's okay to be frustrated, but it's not okay to hit people.
What we want to try to do in positive parenting is give children those tools to be able to do that. You might be saying, "What does that look like?" What it looks like with a toddler who's throwing something is that I realize you're really angry right now but use your words and say, "I'm angry, please don't throw things at people." So, you're validating the feeling of the child, be joyful, be angry, be whatever that is, but here's the way that you should show it.
When parents say, "That sounds great, Gigi," and you've written books. Well, I've also raised four children and parenting is the hardest thing that you do, but children will do more of what you say and how you act than what you tell them. It's guiding that child to be able to make sure that child is doing their homework or putting their shoes on or getting dressed in the morning. But it's also about being vulnerable enough as a parent after you freak out on your child, which I've done, and you've probably done, to be able to say, "You know what, sweetie, I'm so sorry, mommy shouldn't have yelled at you. Will you please forgive me?"
In that way, in that moment, I'm teaching, "Everybody makes mistakes. It's okay to say you're sorry and you can ask people for forgiveness," and even more importantly than that is try not to make the same mistake again.
Emily Paisner: Right. I think you hit on a few really interesting things there. You mentioned quality over quantity. What do you mean by that? Should we be carving out a certain amount of time every day to spend with each of our children? Is there a time associated with that? Should we be saying, "I'm going to spend 15 minutes of quality time a day with my child"?
Gigi Schweikert: Well, it's a really hard question to answer, to give that definitive amount of time for each child. As they grow, certain children really want to be with you and certain children seem to be a bit more independent. As a parent, for me, it's important to spend time with every single child, each one of my children. I don't think there's a definitive time, I think it's assessing what's happening in their lives and making sure you're available, but I will tell you the number one culprit for keeping you from having quality time with your child is your cell phone. If we want to give anybody any advice that they're not going to want to hear is put your cell phone down.
In those few moments that you have when you're walking your child to childcare or you're driving your child to childcare is, what if you were to put your phone away just for five minutes or 10 minutes and what if when you went in to pick your child up or you got home to go see the nanny or you went into your family childcare provider. What if just for those few minutes, you left your phone in your pocketbook or you left it in your car and what if at dinner, you didn't take out your phone.
Emily Paisner: Guilty as charged. I think a lot of working parents probably struggle with that because they're trying to balance being always on at work and people expecting them to be always on and then trying to manage a household as well.
Gigi Schweikert: Absolutely.
Emily Paisner: You mentioned school and studying and we're at the beginning of the school year right now, which is always-
Gigi Schweikert: I hate homework. Go ahead.
Emily Paisner: -a very stressful time of year for everyone. There's so many changes, and I think for both parents and kids, it's just an incredibly stressful time of year. How can you bring positive parenting techniques into trying to help your kids be successful academically, successful students?
Gigi Schweikert: That is such a great question. In fact, that's one of the talks that I often give is giving children the academic edge, and it's a crafty little title that gets lots of parent participation, but the main message is that children are most successful when they're organized, responsible, and have accountability. If we look at children, and I call them children until they don't take my money anymore, my kids are in college, they're like, "You can't call me a child." I'm like, "As soon as you don't want my money, I won't call you a child."
The best thing that we can do when our children are young is to help them to start having responsibility for little things. Even toddlers can know that you take your shoes off when you come inside and they go in this basket. Elementary children can come home and put the things away in their backpack. They can know this is where the papers go for mommy, this is where my homework goes, here, and this is where my lunchbox, goes here. Those very few habitual things really help children to feel secure and comfortable in their environment. It's like when we park at work, we all like the same parking spot or we sit in this movie theater, we all like the same place that we sit in a movie theater.
Providing children with the security of what to expect and what those expectations are going to give them the framework for feeling comfortable in what they need to do. Let me speak a little bit more about it because it's so hard, I made a joke a minute ago, "I hate homework," and I really do because the last thing that I want to do at the end of the day when I come home is have to do math that I don't understand.
Emily Paisner: I was just talking about that earlier that I am no longer able to keep up with my child's fourth grade math.
Gigi Schweikert: And that I don't want to and I've got a million emails, and I just want to sit down, and I've got dishes to clean up and all those types of things, is that if we can start to help children just do a little bit, even when they're struggling. Knowing that this is the time that we're going to work on this. We're going to do it for 15 minutes and then we'll take a break. You're going to do two more problems and then we'll relax. It's one of my favorite positive parenting tips.
Remember this one, it works for everything, it's called first this, then this. "First do two more math problems, we'll take a break for five minutes, and we'll go back to the math." "First put your clothes on and you can come down for breakfast." First this, then this.
Emily Paisner: That's really helpful.
Gigi Schweikert: First pick out a book and then we'll read. It even works with other people. Do it at work.
Emily Paisner: Yes, we should try that in work and see what happens.
Gigi Schweikert: Little steps to a big goal.
Emily Paisner: Regardless if you're a working parent or not, being a parent tests our patience, but at the end of a long day, parents have been at work all day in meetings talking. Kids have been at school or daycare, and it's exhausting. I don't think I've slept in nine years. I've probably yelled at my kids, probably more than I should, and I always feel guilty about it afterwards. During these moments of chaos and exhaustion, what are some tips that you might have in order to stay positive and help the situation as opposed to making it harder for everyone?
Gigi Schweikert: Whenever we're in conflict or frustrated, our first response is to want to yell or scream or be in conflict, "Why are you doing that? What's wrong with you? Didn't I tell you to do this?" If you can take a breath, literally take a deep breath, which is what I do, or I turn around to start over. Instead of being confrontational, I am going to validate the feelings again, this is a really hard time, we're all tired, or it's time to get dinner on, we just need a few seconds.
The validation comes first and then being able to step away, if you feel really uncomfortable as a parent to say, "You know what? Mommy needs two minutes." I'm going to step over here and then I would come back, and I'm going to be that mom, because parenting really is being like the cruise director of a ship, is you've really got to be on. There's nothing more precious and important as your child. When you find yourself falling into that trap, is recognize the fact that at eight o'clock or nine o'clock, they're going to bed, there is an end to this.
Emily Paisner: Right. Maybe not without a fight, but there is an end to it.
Gigi Schweikert: That's a whole another podcast on how to get your kids to go to bed.
Emily Paisner: I'm going to hit you up for that one.
Gigi Schweikert: We can talk about that later. I guess what I'm saying is that oftentimes when I've put my kids to bed and they're finally asleep, there's a little bit of this pang of guilt of why was I so psycho? Why was I so crazy during that time?
Emily Paisner: The guilt never ends. Let's just be real.
Gigi Schweikert: I had my two-year-old say to me one time when I was trying to put her to bed, I was like, "Just go to bed." She said, at two, she has popped her little head up, and she was like, "You're crazy." I was like, "Yes, at that moment, I was absolutely crazy." Let me go back to your question and give you some really good tips for that.
One is the validation that I said, to say, "You know what? We're all tired right now. It's very frustrating." Then redirect, "Let's do something else. Why are we staying in the midst of the craziness? Let's just do something else. Let's go read a story. Let's go outside." Changing of your environment is the number one thing that you can do to redirect children and then doing a check on yourself to not raise your voice and to tell your children, especially elementary school children is, "I'm going to hold you accountable for not yelling at mommy and not screaming no at me, but I'm also going to give you permission to tell me when I'm raising my voice."
Emily Paisner: That's great.
Gigi Schweikert: It's very humbling when your seven-year-old goes, "Mommy, you're screaming at me again." I know, makes you want to cry.
Emily Paisner: That's sad. My kids have said that to me before, "Why are you yelling so much?"
Gigi Schweikert: Exactly. It's not that we're not going to do it. It's can we be conscious of it. Think about it like this. Let's suppose that that group of children at that end-of-the-day period and that frustration was actually a very adversarial meeting at work, would you treat the people around the conference room table the way you treat your children? The answer would be absolutely not, unless you want to lose your job, right?
Emily Paisner: Yes.
Gigi Schweikert: Can they be as important as the people that you work with?
Emily Paisner: Exactly. When you have more than one child and you are trying to reward or recognize one child for doing something the right way and not yelling or doing something the first time they've been asked and the other child acts up to try and get your attention, how do you balance that?
Gigi Schweikert: That's such a good question. Children are always vying for your attention. If we back up a little bit to what we talked about previously and we're intentionally giving children our attention, through the time that we're zipping up their coat or when we're waking them up in the morning, giving them a little snuggle or making a habit of it or we skip to the car or we do these silly little things, that will be the memories they will have forever, not the memories to these really fancy vacations.
It will be the little things that we did. When we do that, children are less likely to be demanding attention. Now, siblings are siblings. There's always going to be a little conflict between siblings. I think the most important thing is that we don't commend or praise one child to try to get the other child to emulate that behavior.
In some cases, sometimes we often say, "Look at your sister, she is listening." Is that really what we want to say? We can say to that child, "I appreciate you're listening to mommy." We can say to the other child, "Here's what we need to do. We need to get in the car. I need your cooperation. You can either get in the car yourself or mommy is going to pick you up and put you in the car." If we are able to separate that sibling comparison, I think it helps each child because every child is different. It's shocking for those of us who have more than one child, how these children came to be and how different they can be in one family.
Emily Paisner: Everything my kids do is a comparison to the other. They make it that way even if we try not to. It's quite a struggle.
Gigi Schweikert: For sibling, Play Switzerland, and they'll work it through just like you did with your siblings.
Emily Paisner: Exactly. As you've mentioned, you're a mom of four, your kids are a bit older now. I'm sure you have many stories to share. Is there one story that you have that you've used with your children that sticks out on the top of your mind where you've used some positive parenting techniques that have--?
Gigi Schweikert: There are two of them that I'm going to share with you. The first one is, everybody has this toy room or a section of the room that just has a lot of plastic stuff that gets all crazy and wild that you just wish you could shut the door on that, right? I always did what I call the 10-second tidy. For 10 seconds, we're going to pick up as much as we can, everybody. Actually, at one point in my life, I had a rake, and I literally just raked it across,-
Emily Paisner: Now, that's a good idea.
Gigi Schweikert: -the carpet into the corner.
Emily Paisner: I think you just thought of a new product idea.
Gigi Schweikert: [laughs] The toy rake. The other thing that I did is that I would put post-it notes out. When they were young, they were pictures, but as they were older and they could read, they were words and then pictures of words at times of what their responsibilities for the day were. If they had to, say, empty the dishwasher or they needed to feed the dog or whatever they needed to do. When they came down, first one down got first pick of these sticky notes. Then at the end of the day, somebody had put their name on it and that had to be completed. That's how we got things done in a family of six.
Emily Paisner: I love that idea.
Gigi Schweikert: I know. It's great, right?
Emily Paisner: Really.
Gigi Schweikert: Here's what's super cool about it. My daughter, my oldest, went to George Washington. In her first dorm, there were six girls in the dorm and parent weekend was approaching. Their dorm was less than presentable to the parents who were going to be spending the weekend with them.
She said, "Do you know what I did, mom?" I'm like, "What?" She goes, "I took post-its, and I put it on the door of all six things that needed to happen, things that we needed to do to get our space ready for parents to come." Clean the bathroom and taking out the trash and straightening up this, et cetera. She goes, "I put all the post-its on the door, and I told everybody, you have to choose one and get it done." You know what? She goes, "They did it."
Emily Paisner: This is an amazing conversation. If you could leave listeners with three key points that you want them to take away. I've learned so much. I could probably list a few off that I'm going to go home and implement myself, but what are the three pro tips?
Gigi Schweikert: Okay. These are three tips that I live by every single day as a mom, no matter how old my children are. One is unconditional love. I love them no matter what. The next one is patience, parenting takes patience, the kind of patience that most of us have never experienced till we become a parent. Parenting reduces us to our lowest common denominator, at least it does to me.
The last one is time. Parenting takes time and time is a precious commodity. People have often asked me, "If you could purchase something, what would you buy?" I would buy more time. You have to make that time. I would say that it's unconditional love, extreme patience, and making sure that you give your children the time they deserve.
Emily Paisner: You said earlier that being a parent is the hardest but most important job. I think that that captures it extremely well.
Gigi Schweikert: Yes, absolutely.
Emily Paisner: Gigi, thank you so much for talking with us today. I know I learned a lot about positive parenting, and we'll be using some of the suggestions you shared with us today.
Gigi Schweikert: Thank you too, Emily.
Outro: Thanks for listening to this episode of Equal Parts. See you next time.
Emily Paisner: Wait, before you go, I just want to tell you a little bit about care-at-work by care.com. They work with some of the world's largest companies to offer family care benefits to their employees. If you're one of the lucky ones who already has care benefits at work, use them. If you don't, ask for them. It's a real lifesaver. To learn more, visit care.com/careatwork. Again, that's care.com/careatwork.