File this one under ‘simple techniques, that, when taught & role modeled 1000 times, will produce a life-long benefit for your child.’
The scene: your 4 year old is upset because you have brought her the pink shoes instead of the purple ones. (How could you?!) Whining, crying, yelling and more fun stuff are starting to rear their heads.
Try this next time:
- Take a deep breath yourself
- Tell your daughter to take her own deep breath and then to use her words to ask for what she wants.
- The (deep) breath is important, don’t let either of you skip that part
- Say something like: “We can use our words to solve this problem.” (or, “YOU can use your words to get what you want here.”)
- When she does take a deep breath and ask for what she wants (even if it’s not perfectly done), praise her for using her words SO WELL! and immediately bring her the purple shoes.
- Talk about it afterwords with her, in order to review the experience & strengthen the teachable moment… this might sound something like “You were so upset when I brought the pink shoes. I was so proud of you that you took a deep breath and used your words to ask for what you really wanted. And it worked! You got exactly what you wanted and we could go back to playing right away. I’m so proud of you!”
Rinse, lather, repeat x 1000, and eventually you’ll start seeing the time that lapses between (a) the beginnings of upset and (b) self-regulation and calmly talking through problems, begin to decline. This is huge! Give yourself and your kid a pat on the back and a lot of credit. Huge!
Note: It’s good to start with small stuff where she really can have whatever she wants–not situations where what she wants is a pony or to skip school, etc.
Question: My child keeps unbuckling his carseat, what should I do?
Answer: This is a great opportunity to fabricate a teachable moment. Make sure to do these things ahead of time:
- Talk to him about the reasons for staying buckled in
- Completely clean the car out ahead of time–no toys, etc
- Set your own emotions to the side here. They will sabotage your plan.
- Set up an event where he’s likely (and then does) unbuckle.
- When he does, pull over as soon as you safely can. Don’t react.
- Let him know that you were going to go to ‘x’ (must be somewhere he would want to go) but that you can’t drive him places when he isn’t being safe.
- Sit (have a book or magazine for yourself). Pretend to read the book if you have to, your goal is to not interact (ie, reinforce) his behaviors. Be boring. The car should be boring. You want him to get bored.
- Wait until he gets back in the carseat, buckles as much as he can. (this may take a while. Be prepared.)
6. Now go home–not to the desired destination.
7. Talk to him about safety and that if you can’t trust him to stay in his carseat, you can’t drive him to fun places/events.
8. Plan to repeat this a few times.
Be extra sure to be totally on your game. Don’t feed/reward the behavior by providing ANY excitement. Don’t even talk (after your initial request) until he’s back in the seat. He needs to learn that cars are a method of transport, and that the supercool stuff happens once you get where you’re going. Chances are he needs to unlearn that there is a lot of (parent-provided) excitement (conflict, power struggles, yelling, strong emotions, oh my!) to be had when he removes his seatbelt.
After you’ve done this at least once, you can ‘front-load’ for success by talking to him ahead of car rides, reminding him of how hard it can be for him to choose to keep his body in the carseat, but also reminding him that when he does not choose to keep his body buckled in, he really feels upset and disappointed when he doesn’t get to go to the fun places he likes going to. You can also ask him–again: ahead of time–if there is any way you can help him make good choices during the ride, offering a suggestion if necessary (play his favorite song, sing something together, bring a favorite book in the car…)
This isn’t a foolproof plan (what, in parenting, ever is?) but it’s a great jumping-off place. Good luck!
“Is it okay for me to do that?”
Parents ask me this question from time to time, and while I feel awkward answering it* (My job is not to judge!), I can totally understand where it comes from. Modern parents are bombarded by advice, books, judgments, and conflicting opinions about how best to parent. We are often weighing Expert A’s opinion against Expert B’s, and they both are different from how we were parented, and different still from how our friends are all doing things, too… no wonder we’re left confused about what’s right.
Setting physical limits** is a particularly sticky area for many of the parents with whom I work. When our toddlers are 18 months old, we’re confident that steering them away from the electrical outlet is “right,” but the water gets murkier when they are 3 and refusing to walk to the car after music class. Don’t even mention the bane of children (and parents) everywhere: the carseat.
But, yes, I advise parents that it is okay to set a physical limit, and–as with all things in parenting, there are a zillion contingencies to consider. Here are two:
- By far the most important… in fact you could stop reading after this it’s so critical–is YOUR emotional state. If you are upset, don’t do it. Period.
- A very distant second consideration: can you avoid it? Let it go? Use a different tool? Be playful? Talk it through? Wait patiently? If the answer to any of those is yes, try those first.
After weighing your options, and perhaps trying a few other tools, let’s assume that you do have to set the physical limit. As you proceed, here are a few things to consider including in the process:
- Describe to your child what needs to happen.
- Remind your kid that if they can’t make the right decision, you’ll have to make it for them.
- Take your next steps more slowly than usual.
- Later, talk together about what happened. Be a problem-solving consultant to your child: “What could Mommy do to help you make the right choice next time?”
- Next time, remind child about this time (“Remember the last time you & I came to this library, you couldn’t keep your body from going up those stairs, and I had to pick you up to keep you from doing it–and you really didn’t like that.”) Play the role of the problem-solving consultant again: “What can I do to help you make the right choice this time?”
So, the next time you’re faced with a (parenting) problem that you can’t solve with talking, I hope some of these suggestions will help.
* For the record, with few exceptions, I always say the same thing: yes. You can parent the way you want to. Of course, I am direct with my clients about things I advise against, like spanking, losing your temper, being inconsistent, etc, but the parents who take the time & energy (and money!) to come in to see a therapist/parenting coach are conscientious, caring, proactive people who are working on fine-tuning their already loving and thoughtful skills.
** Obviously, I’m excluding those times when your child’s immediate safety is in jeopardy. You do what you must in those situations, and that’s what’s right.
Chris Heidel, owner of Libra Fitness, wrote a good post the other day about New Year’s Resolutions. While I do believe in the power of setting intention and having positive goals (which is really all that setting resolutions is), I’ve found that doing them once a year in early January isn’t for me. I’d like to share with you what we do in our house instead.
We get together for a special family date, with paper and pencil, and spend time remembering and recording all the things we accomplished in the previous year. We “brainstorm” the list–so everything that’s said gets written down. The list covers both personal, familial, and professional sucesses, and no success is too small. (We always include our vacations–those are the result of hard work!) We love remembering all the good things, it’s fun to review the year and see how far we’ve come. Remembering some successes reminds us of how things are better now than they were–a reassuring feeling. Some successes mark the culmination of lots of hard work, and other remind us of a time or two where we just got lucky. I save the lists, too, and when we’re done with the current year, we sometimes go back and look at previous ones.
So, what can you give yourself credit for in 2009? Did you tweak something in your parenting that has had a positive effect? Pay off the car? Go for a walk 3x a week? Lay on the beach for a week? Leave a comment with one of your successes, I’d love to congratulate you!
My computer died in October (boo!), and while I did get a replacement that same month, some technological to-do items got really, really back-burnered. I finally dug up the login page for this blog, and have sorted through the mounds of sp*m comments (delete, delete, delete) and am able again to post. So, if anyone is still reading, thank you and stay tuned! :^)