As part of my work with SWParents.org, we produced a video for parents on how to talk to your kids about death. I also share a few basic tips for understanding and responding to the various ways that children can express grief. Please take a look if you think this topic might be helpful to you or a loved one. Non-members can watch up to 10 videos or read 10 articles per month for free. The link below will take you directly to the video.
Four year old Max isn’t very good at picking up his toys. His mom is working on this, but he’s slow and resistant and it really takes 10 times as long when she involves him than when she just does it herself. But his mom knows that it is worth it, in the long run, to teach him the big lesson, so she perseveres.
Tonight, when he was picking up toys as part of his bedtime routine, she noticed that he was walking back and forth from his bedroom to the laundry closet with One Sock Per Trip. One sock. Per trip. (He’s so four!) She thought about correcting his method, intending to ask him to carry the remaining things together, but remembered “One at a time.”
So, instead of interacting with him in a redirective way, she praised him, noticing how he was cleaning up his room independently and steadily. She smiled at him and thanked him for his work. He smiled back and continued cleaning.
In a few weeks, or months, picking up his toys at bedtime will be a more regular occurance for Max, and it won’t require as much supervision and adult involvement. That will be the right time to raise the bar by asking him to reach that goal in an improved way. But for now, his mom is supporting his positive behaviors best by focusing on One Primary Goal, and being more tolerant of imperfect ways of getting there. That’s what is meant by “One at a Time:” reminding us, the parents, to focus on one goal at a time, and to recognize the progress towards that single goal even when it is delivered imperfectly.
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.