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Sweating the small stuff

Sweating the small stuff

People will tell you not to sweat the small stuff, and that’s generally good advice I think. Especially as a parent, there are so many big things that need your attention that getting wrapped up in the details can be really counterproductive. Expending your emotional energy in being frustrated when a kid doesn’t bother to replace an empty toilet paper roll (again and again) only makes it more difficult to find the patience and self-control to deal with bigger issues, like stealing from a brother or egging the school.

It’s also important to prioritize what we discipline as parents because some things really do matter more than others, and kids need to see where our priorities actually lie. If we tell them that treating others with respect is important but then spend more time stressing about clean rooms, we end up sending them mixed messages. Sometimes dealing with the important issues adequately will mean that we don’t get around to dealing with toilet paper rolls or dirty clothes on the floor, but that’s not the end of the world, so let’s not behave like it is.

On the other hand, there are times when the little things matter quite a lot, particularly with respect to positive reinforcement. For example, it might seem like a little thing that my younger two sons got out of bed, got dressed, and came downstairs for breakfast yesterday without any parental prodding, and for some kids that really would be a little thing. For my kids, however, it’s a pretty big deal. Most days it takes a half hour just to get them out of bed.

So when they make that little step, when they do that little thing, when they grow up that little bit, I make a big deal of it. I thank them for not making me drag them out of bed. I let them know that it’s a sign of growing up and being mature that they can do things on their own without a parent telling them what do do. And yesterday evening (getting back to the toilet paper), when my eldest actually did replace an empty roll, I made sure to mention it. I didn’t make a big scene, but I certainly do sweat that particular small stuff – the good small stuff.

The difference is this – sweating the little annoyances only drains our energy from the bigger things, but sweating the little successes gives us more energy. When the kids see that we notice when they do well with the small things, that we celebrate those accomplishments, it motivates them to grow and mature in the bigger areas as well. The key, I think, is to focus your discipline on the big issues, but take every opportunity to celebrate success, even in the littlest things.

There are always exceptions of course. Sometimes you do need to deal with the small annoyances, and sometimes you have to let even big issues go for the time being. But most days, when the small things are good things, it actually does pay to sweat the small stuff.