Recently, in my “Parenting is Heart Work” group, we talked about how some children have a VERY hard time taking “no” for an answer.
Anyone? Anyone else experience this with their child?
I’m wondering if there are parents who don’t relate to this?!?
Well, children don’t recognize that when they don’t say “Yes ma’am” or “Yes Sir” to our rules and expectations that they appear to “disrespect” our authority. They simply can’t comprehend why we would deprive them of joy…. ever. Kids are like “Wait you are my parent… you are supposed to meet all my wants and needs in my timing at all times” haha they are adorably mistaken.
But, we have a little of that in us as adults as well; so, instant gratification is not a foreign concept for us either.
Either way, we have a big responsibility to ensure that our children become civilized little beings who can communicate in healthy ways… and unfortunately sometimes we don’t exactly model healthy responses. As parents we can often be more reactive than anything else.
When Sean Patrick crosses his arms, throws himself on the floor, or loses his control, he doesn’t know that not only are his words destructive but his voice level and his body language also need to be replaced with appropriate responses.
So, I created a visual to show him how he communicates with me.
I talked to him about all the different ways we can communicate about something and I made up stories about the children in a few of the pictures. I strategically “make up” stories that are past examples of Sean Patrick’s impulsive responses.
For the picture of the demanding child crossing his arms I might say “This is Johnny. Johnny’s mommy said that he couldn’t have a gummy snack until after dinner, and Johnny said ‘NO! I want it NOW!’ Can you see what Johnny’s face and arms are doing? Do you think he is ready to listen and say “Okay mommy!” Or do you think he is going to make his problem worse? (Sean Patrick said he is not listening to his mom and he needs to get in control) . The way Johnny is speaking to his mom with a mean face and crossed arms shows his mommy that he is demanding she listen to him instead of using his words to talk about the problem. Can you tell Johnny that he can have a happy heart and wait until after dinner to get his fruit snack?”
We talk about the pictures and we also practice coping and fixing our problems AFTER we have a problem and he cools down I might say, “Sean Patrick what went wrong when we had that problem earlier? Did you try hard to calm down and talk about the problem or were you out of control?” (He usually is very honest about his emotions. After we talk about that then we practice our coping strategies: breathing, counting, walking out of the room for a minute, etc.
My kids often do things that are expectedly unexpected (if that even makes sense). If I tell my kids to do something and they have a reaction that I didn’t anticipate, it is unexpected… but since it happens every single day a bajillion times a day… really… how unexpected can it be? Expectedly unexpected.
Expectedly unexpect this, kids: MY reaction to above situation. I get annoyed. Punish. Yell. Throw a Mommy hissy fit if it is the umpteenth time I have told them to turn off the TV. Put the kids in timeout. Take away the TV for the day. Talk talk talk talk talk about how they disobeyed. Seriously, you’d think they’d learn. You think, I’d learn.
Well, I had this re-epiphany the other day. A re-epiphany is that ‘aha’ moment that has been tucked away in our heads. Sometimes we just need a little reminder. And here is my re-epiphany… I need to teach my kids HOW TO THINK!
Me: “It’s time to get dressed…”
Yet they continued to play with toys.
Me: “C’mon boys, let’s get dressed.”
Me: “Stop playing with toys and get dressed!”
Yeah, I’m not proud of those moments when I snap. So, I have recently started turning the conversation around by verbally thinking about and questioning the situation to give them a chance to make the correct decision about what is the important thing to do to accomplish a task.
Me: “It’s time to get dressed.”
They continue to play with toys.
Me: “We need to get to school on time, so which is more important right now: playing with toys or getting dressed?
Boys: “Getting dressed.”
Me: “What happens if we play with toys instead of getting dressed?”
Boys: “Then we are going to be late for school…”
and my little one added: “Then Mommy will be maaaaad.”
Yup… I guess I needed this little epiphany to get myself to chill out because fussing at my kids apparently sticks in their little minds.
I have been focusing my conversations with the kids on using guiding questions to help them discern how to behave. The things that you and I as adults do automatically in our heads do not come naturally to young kids, but we can teach them the thought process that needs to be going through their minds. We can verbally model that for them so they start doing it as well:
Is this the right thing to do?
Which is more important?
What would happen if I didn’t listen?
This type of teaching will help your kids learn how to think things through. If you notice, I talked about our goal: to get to school on time. Then I narrowed down the field of all of the possible things they could be doing right now to two things: playing with toys (the action they are doing) and getting dressed (the action I need them to be doing.
I then ask “What is more important right now?” The right now is important because we do not want them to think that the things that matter most to them aren’t important, but at that exact moment, which is the MOST important. With my 3-year-old, I sometimes also have to say, “We can play with our toys after homework today when it is play time,” to remind him that his own personal goal (to play with toys) will also be fulfilled, but at a later point today.
We have used this approach for many things this week – most of them have been in the format of prioritizing which activity will best help us to reach our goal.
Teaching how to think is cross-curricular. You already teach foreshadowing (what’s going to happen next) in reading and math (sequencing) and cause and effect in science. This is just taking the same conversational approach and applying it to behavior.
I recommend also having these conversations during regular play, not just when you need them to do something. Expect the unexpected. Try to anticipate how they might do something that you will have to fuss them for and start a conversation about it before it happens…
Mommy Teacher: “If we are going to play in your room which is next to your sleeping sister’s room, is it more important to talk loudly or quietly?”
Mommy Teacher: “Why do we need to talk quietly?”
Child: “Because we do not want to wake Sister up.”
And if you’re like me and have a little lawyer or politician on your hands who will try to argue his decision to choose to do something besides what you need him to do, just remind him to think about what is MOST important to accomplish the end goal.
I have taken graduate level courses in child psychology and behavior management. I have spent countless hours in classes, seminars and meetings about how to set rules, boundaries, and expectations and how to discipline effectively using positive reinforcements – and had a few years in the classroom using those practices that I was taught. I have read books and manuals and blogs and magazines and read and read and read and studied about how to get my students to do what I need them to do, when I need them to do it.
And my expert, degreed self had a vision of how I would teach and discipline my own kids one day (as if MY kids would ever need it). Here’s how my perfect mommy self would “handle” (for lack of a better word – where’s my thesaurus???) my kids.
1. I would always explain why I needed them to do something. “The reason I need you to be quiet right now is because Mommy needs to make a phone call and I can’t hear the person on the other line when you are also talking.”
2. I would always use positive speak (i.e. “Walk” instead of “Don’t run.”)
3. “Because I said so” would NEVER be a spoken from my mouth. Instead I would always do #1.
(Ok. You can stop laughing at me now. We are always better parents before we are actually parents, right?)
So, then I became a real parent, and you know what I learned when my first born was a toddler? “Because I said so” sometimes IS the reason I need them to stop what they are doing. Maybe because they wouldn’t understand the real reason, or maybe because I just don’t feel like giving a reason (I’m not alone here!), or maybe because there isn’t any time to explain. For example…
When my oldest son was a little over two, I took him and his baby brother to the park with some friends. Up to this point, I believe I had stuck to my ideal vision that I stated above – pretty easy to do when they are in the baby and new-toddler phases.
I was sitting on the picnic blanket nursing the baby who was still in “blob mode”(around 2 months old) and my two-year-old was running in the open field between me and the parking lot. At one point, he decided to chase some older kids who were closer to the parking lot.
Realizing I was a little tied up at the moment (bare breasts under the nursing cover), I decided to raise my voice (not yell… no, never yell) at my son to come play closer to me…
“James, come back!”
Haha, yeah, like that worked. The two-year-old ran a little farther away.
“Jaaaames! Come back over here, please!”
And to my naive astonishment, the kid didn’t even slow down. In fact, I believe he sped up!
Then, it hit me. I had always been close enough to him to be able to explain to him WHY he shouldn’t be doing something. This insta-command thing was new. He had never heard it before. So just as he was nearing the parking lot, I yelled,
“JAMES! YOU NEED TO GET OVER HERE RIGHT NOW BECAUSE YOU ARE ABOUT TO RUN INTO A PARKING LOT AND THERE ARE CARS AND YOU COULD GET HIT BY A CAR BECAUSE YOU ARE TOO SHORT AND THEY WON’T BE ABLE TO SEE YOU AND THAT WOULD HURT A LOT!”
Or something to that effect.
That moment right there, the first time my son completely ignored me. It wasn’t until I gave him that explanation of WHY he shouldn’t do something, completely changed my ideal vision of parenting. Why did he do that? Because up until that day I had explained every.little.thing to him… and don’t get me wrong! That’s how they learn best how to not just DO, but understand right versus wrong.
But in an emergency… when they truly truly need to stop what they are doing. They need to STOP. NOW. There is no time for an explanation. They need to understand that you mean business.
That’s when I invented the “code word.” I needed a shortcut to get my child to listen without question.
We went home and practiced it. FREEZE. When Mommy says that word, it does not matter what you are doing, what you WANT to be doing or what you were ABOUT to do; you are going to stop, put your hands on your head, and turn to look at me.
Now, the “put your hands on your head” part may seem a bit extreme, but trust me, when they are playing with a toy, the only way to get their undivided attention is to make sure their hands are empty.
I recently noticed my 3-year-old doing the same thing as my older son had done years before. This week, I brought back our old friend, FREEZE.
The kids have a great time playing our FREEZE game where they get to cut up and act crazy, then Mommy yells “FREEZE” and they immediately stop with their hands on their head. They also like playing Mommy’s role and telling me when to FREEZE.
With some short reminders in the car when we are about to go into the store or play at the park, the kids remember to respond immediately when I yell the code word. It’s also a great way to get both of their attention when I need them to switch activities. It gives me time to explain how we are going to transition into the next activity.
Do you have a code word? What do you use? Comment below to share!!!
The hot topic of the day….. self-control. There are about 50 posts I could write (and read to learn about) the topic of self-control. In fact, aren’t we all still learning to practice self-control?
Our little one’s brains are doing so much. Their little brains are learning to communicate with their body parts, learning to control their emotions and harness their impulses, and lets face it….it’s hard! I may WANT to push someone who is frustrating me to the extreme, but I have learned to harness my emotions, and CHOOSE to behave appropriately and sometimes even helpful in circumstances when someone flat out deserves the worst. But our little ones have quite the learning curve when it comes to anger management in accordance with their body language. My little two year old threw a fit at the end of storytime today and was flailing and kicking all over the place. I realize that is his impulsive expression of disappointment, and I need to HELP him develop appropriate behaviors so they become a controlled response.
I found a GREAT article (and website) that addresses a FEW ways to reinforce acceptable behaviors at different ages and stages. There are many other ways to develop little children’s understanding of appropriate responses, but I liked the mentality that is communicated here.
I am posting two videos below….please don’t judge me….I am a hot mess and so are my kids, but at 8:30 in the morning what do you expect? They are simply an explanation and demonstration of a little technique that I came up with on the spot the other day to help Sean Patrick become aware of his body language. I used techniques like this in my Kindergarten classroom so this teachable moment should apply to ages 2-5. Hope it helps you!