Even if I could wish that raising children would be all about us kindly telling them what we want them to do and them ambitiously taking on the task of learning, with us applauding their efforts – we know this is not what reality usually looks like.
Even in a good relation there will be unappreciated initiatives, lack of interest, stress, tiredness or forgetfulness from the childrens part. From our part too, unfortunately. In a good relationship however, we strive to keep respectful to one another. To draw the line without, as an adult, crossing it yourself.
Here are some useful advice, but first of all: sometimes the trouble is really our lack of a children’s perspective.
Sometimes an urging need inside has a louder voice than the parents: tiredness, restlessness, hunger or general affection: sadness, anxiety – comes between us. They often do. If we try and see to those basic needs first, and strive for a calm, balanced mood in both parts, we have a far greater successrate when trying to educate the child.
A most important thing to keep in mind with the younger kids is their lack of understanding. They don’t necessarily understand all the words they are using, and even less of the words we use. They can’t grasp abstract words, like “not”. Words form pictures in their heads, and those that can’t be seen sort of disappears. When you say eg “Don’t eat that” your child will form a picture of it eating just that, which makes it really tempted to do so. Even when the child has experienced that eating something forbidden was not appreciated, it still gets confused by such instructions.
Keep in mind to be simple and clear in your instructions, and always tell the child what you want it to do, how you want it to behave – instead of what NOT to do – and you will get much better results!
Here is also where education comes in. The more we actually teach them, the more they will know. We need to show them how things are done, help them out in their first times practicing. We need to talk to them, explain things and prepare them for changes or new experiences. They will forget some things of course, and it takes time to fully understand any concept, but they will get a fair chance to actually do things right if they know what you want first.
When boundaries are crossed
In given order – with a sudden jump to the final stopping when necessary:
1) Ignore the bad behavior, if it’s not causing any damage. Perhaps there are more important issues to deal with at the time. If it’s not causing any attention, it’s usually not rewarding and may go away. This is tricky when there are other kids around, laughing at the clown, as this is highly rewarding even if scorning from you may follow. If you can shove away unwanted public, it’s easier to affect your child indirectly.
2) Try and point the child into a better way to act. Sometimes it’s just a matter of directing it’s energy onto something more acceptable or productive. Make a friendly suggestion, or offer to show how to use a tool correctly. Use a friendly, educational or almost secretive tone. A tone that says “I want to help, not degrade you. You keep your pride“. Avoid if you can – in this stage, when there is still time and you can hope for the trouble to be nothing but a slight misunderstanding – telling the child that he or she is flat out wrong.
When there is a conflict between kids, try to find and point out both parties point of views. Then help out by explaining common rules or suggesting good acceptable solutions until you come to an agreement. Sometimes this may be to take turns in playing with a toy, playing together with a different toy as complement or to play in different rooms. Perhaps one party need to rest in the couch for a while until they cool off, if common rules have been violated. Make sure they follow the agreement, keep an eye on them. This teaches the kids about rules, communication and diplomacy.
You can tell that a specific behavior may be hurtful or dangerous or what ever is the problem. Offer an explanation if the child is curious or argue, and involve the child in how possibly to solve the situation, what to do differently?
3) Tell the child to stop. Be calm and assertive, just like Cesar Milan (the “dog whisperer”) with the dogs! A stop must be firm – no time for negotiating here.
Complement the stop with an instruction of what to do instead. This is to help the child to let go of the thought, and replace it with something else. A stop still fixates the mind at the forbidden area.
4) Stop the bad behavior when there is a risk it does cause damage.
Stopping is perhaps to grab the child when it’s about to step away where it shouldn’t. It might be to lift it down from a table, or take away a toy or tool that is used wrongly. Perhaps it means holding it in your arms until it stops a wild protesting, or just grabbing the little hand when it flies out against something forbidden. Other times it is to show the child out of the room where it causes disturbance. Keep in touch and ask when it feels like being part of the group again. You can even tell your grumpy child that you really miss him or her, to show you want him or her to be with you. Remember the big picture, the insecurities of the little child. Don’t let it’s little pride get in the way too much…
If damage has been done, it’s really good to teach the child about consequences. It’s an opportunity to learn how to take on some responsibility, to mend things (if possible), or to pay ones dues. The problem is, no 3 year old will freely offer it’s help when they won’t get their way. And while you can stop an unwanted behaviour, it’s much harder to force an unwilling toddler to cooperate.
We can try to switch it into a more cooperative mode, by asking the child what it think could be done to make things better. Make it clear we would really like their point of view. Then perhaps point it into the right direction with a couple of viable suggestions, if your child clearly has no idea what to do.
You can also use a different approach: sadness, disappointment. “Oh no! It’s broken! I liked it so much, oh no, I can’t use it anymore now…” Then come up with an idea for a solution: glue or stich together what’s broken or ripped. If someone is sad or hurt, a “I’m sorry” and a hug may do. Perhaps to blow on a bump or arranging a band aid on a small wound.
Try to tickle the childs pride with the prospect of doing good and making you happy again. Always show relief and thankfulness when the child tries to make amends.
Make sure your words and body language reflect your feelings, as a child learns more from what it sees in you than what it hears from you. Your message will be clearer and more understandable when the languages correspond. Although some moderation and emotional balance is needed to stay reasonable and calm – not mad and scary.
But sometimes we just get annoyed: “I’ve told you a thousand times!” or stressed out: “Hurry up!” or frustrated: “Why can’t you just do what I say?!”
There is nothing wrong in telling your child that is has overstepped your boundaries. You should be able to tell the child how you feel, just as well as the child can tell you what they feel. You may be feeling angry, stressed out or sad, and let it show as disappointment perhaps. What we mustn’t do is use our authority to scare the child, by yelling or harshly maneuvering it, or by threatening it in other ways.
Keeping control of yourself is a great way of gaining respect – but also to teach the child how to solve future conflicts in a civilized manner.
If you can’t turn the bad mood around for any of you, you can order a Time-out. It´s also useful when a child seriously oversteps social boundaries and needs to stay away from the others for a while, cooling off.
Tell the child it will have to stay in it’s room then, until it will feel nicer again. You can also use a chair, or the couch (if there is no TV to watch) to place the child for a cool-off. This is basically to give you and the child a chance to calm down and think. (I see no meaning in timing the time-out, or, as some suggest, prolonging the punishment if the child throws a tantrum at first. The point is to calm down, not locking up the child in some prison-substitute.)
During the time-out you need to make sure the child stays, or is put back where you tell it to stay. Sometimes you may need to hold it in your arms to keep it from running about, and sometimes this is just as well as it needs comfort and love. Other times, space is a healer. A little alone time to gather yourself and collect your thoughts. If the fight seems to continue as long as you are there to fight, it’s better to keep out.
It’s heartbreaking, but quite common, that the enraged child falls into your arms for comfort, where it can cool down and melt into tears. You may be the wall it’s trying to push back for more freedom, but you are still impersonating trust and comfort and will have to play both parts (mainly comfort perhaps, but comfort doesn’t necessarily bend over backwards).
Stay in touch. There is no need to be so hard as not to speak to your child, or answering their questions. Seek contact and ask the child in a softer voice e.g. “What went wrong here? How do you feel?” or “I don’t like it when we are angry like this. I miss you out here.” or just “Come on, let´s clean this up and make it right again! ”
The Time-out can be conditioned. When the child has calmed down (and been kindly commended for this) the terms can be presented to the child. They should be quite easily achieved, as everything feels too hard at this point of a conflict. Sometimes the terms can be discussed, at least with a slightly older and more verbal child it’s smart to let them make a suggestion of how to make it right again. To think for yourself is to be encouraged, even if you may need to help out a bit.
Make it clear that you want the child to be with you, and you want to help it making things right. Add some flattering of the little ego, like “I know you are usually such a helpful boy” – if you think so. Otherwise some other compliment that better suits your child. To strengthen a more positive self-image than the sad, revolting child easily develops, is always a good idea.