Teaching Positive Behaviors – Dramatic Play

The other day I observed a two year old hit his 8 year old brother in the face while playing at a toy table in a waiting room. I thought to myself “Okay, that’s pretty normal for a two year old to communicate with hitting (initially) because the two year old hasn’t had many opportunities to LEARN how to communicate in other ways (yet!). When I see things like this happen I think about what I would say for a consequence and then what I would do or say later to make a teachable moment out of that occurrence.
But in the waiting room, before I could really think about anything, the child’s mom (or grandma) JUMPED up and got in the little boys face, hovering over the little boy yelled, “I’m going to hit you in the face!” Then she picked him up by the arm and plopped him down in the seat, and told him something about being bad. When I looked this BABY in the eyes all I saw was a product of what behaviors he will CONTINUE to learn (from his mom) and practice, the “unwanted” behaviors, because he really hasn’t learned any other way to respond when he wants something.

This COULD HAVE been the first of MANY lessons on how to share, play nice, take turns, use words instead of hit, ANYTHING, but instead it was a lesson on how to respond in frustration and impatience, as modeled by the mom.

Please don’t get me wrong Mommy Teachers, I DO NOT want this post to be filled with momma-bashing comments and harsh judgments on moms that might have been caught on a bad day. I want this discussion to be one where we talk about POSITIVE approaches to teachable moments like these.

So, here are some tips for teaching 2’s,3’s, and 4’s when they make poor choices:

1. In the instance, approach it Super Nanny Style:

Get on their eye level, firmly but not volatile telling them “We do not hit our brother, we use our words. So if you hit or you are ugly to him again, you will sit in time out while your brother plays and you will not be able to play at all.” And then, FOLLOW THROUGH with this consequence if the behavior occurs.

2. LATER ON that day, in your own home, use a stuffed animal, puppet, doll, etc. to teach your child a lesson about their behavior. Just as adults learn the right approach to communication through the advice or instruction from a counselor (someone from the outside looking in), you will set up (the SAME scenario) with the puppet/stuffed animal to TEACH your little one the right choices to make. Kids have to learn these appropriate behaviors through teaching and EXAMPLE.

Below is my video EXAMPLE of a scenario you might create with you little one and a puppet to help teach your little one how think of other ways to solve the problem. I chose the scenario of the hitting sibling. James, Casey’s little one, was such a GREAT contributor to this video. I wish they lived close by because I wish I could film every video with him! This was the only video we took of this puppet show so I didn’t correct any of my word choice or dialogue so that you could see an unscripted,  authentic interaction.

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