There’s Always Something, Right?
With the environment and daily routines in order, many behavior issues are suddenly resolved. With independence built into the day, calm and success begin to overcome stress and frustration. However, there’s always something, right? Think of your toughest behavior problem…bedtime, whining, tattling, helplessness, not eating, tantrums, getting dressed, picking up toys, fighting with siblings, sneakiness, listening the first time, separation anxiety. Go ahead—-fill in the blank!
- Regardless of the problem, the most important thing to remember is that all people want to he heard. So the key is to communicate (talk and really listen). You are modeling respectful communication.
- On a different day (not in the heat of the moment) tell your child that you have a problem and really need their help. (Watch them immediately give you their undivided attention!) You are modeling healthy conflict resolution.
- Tell your child about your problem and tell them how it makes you feel. Ask them how they feel when it happens. Keep in mind that identifying feelings with words is very difficult. You may get some insight into why the behavior is happening, but probably not. The most common goals of misbehavior are to gain power or attention (negative attention is better than none, as we all know).
- Then brainstorm as many solutions and ideas that you both can think of. Write down every idea. During this process, you can try some silly ideas to lighten the mood. Then read all the ideas and select the ones you want to try. Make sure they are acceptable to both of you. Then write the agreement down with them and tape it to the refrigerator. (Yes, I realize they can’t read, but if it is in writing it is “real” and you can refer to it).
- Thank them for their help.
How to Work It
- After you have made your written agreement about bedtime for instance, another important tip is to give choices within the firm boundary. Let’s say that after a respectful ten minute heads up you say, “It’s bedtime.” (state the fact).
- “Let’s go see what we do first. Number 1: Pajamas. You get to pick red pajamas or blue ones!” Your clever child says, “I want my pink ones!”
- You say, “So sorry, they are in the laundry. I will try to wash them tonight so you can choose to wear them tomorrow.” Keep it moving. Don’t get into a back and forth. They are little scientists trying to see if the boundary is soft or firm. (The answer is FIRM).
- They may cry. They may beg. They may get very mad. These are variables that they are testing you with. They will learn very quickly if they never get you to cave in and allow a third choice. This requires a lot of patience upfront from you, but it is worth every minute!
- Stick to the technique. They need to get a consistent result every night to learn that the boundary is indeed FIRM.
- Be firm and respectful. Use a calm and friendly voice, “Would you like cereal or pancakes for breakfast today?” Your clever child says, ” I want a chocolate doughnut!”
- You agree! Say, “Oh, wouldn’t that be great if that was one of our choices? I wish we had a giant stack of them with sprinkles and we could eat them all and lick our fingers!! I wish I had a chocolate doughnut as big as my head!! YUM.”
- You hear them, agree that the idea is great, but stick with the original choice, and cleverly sidestep a power struggle.
- Even if they suggest something reasonable, like toast, do not negotiate with a third choice.
- Move on quickly to more choices within the firm boundary: a little or a lot, what color bowl, juice or water, etc. After time has passed, and they are done testing the boundaries with an option that is not offered, it is OK to allow a reasonable third choice, but not in the beginning.
- Also, if they refuse cereal and pancakes, they really can go without until the next food is served. Don’t be mean about it. It’s their choice.
- Yes, they will be very hungry and probably very mad. It’s called both a consequence and a learning opportunity.
Remember that we do children no favors when we let them control the family. We need to rise to the challenge of being effective and encouraging adults.
Here are some of my go to sources and old favorites:
Dreikers, R. (1964). Children: The Challenge. New York, NY: Hawthorn/Dutton.
Faber, A., Mazlish, E. (1980). How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk. New York, NY: Avon Books.
Lillard, A.S. (2005). Montessori the Science Behind the Genius. New York, NY: Oxford Press.
McFarland J., and S. (2011). Montessori Parenting Unveiling the Authentic Self. Buena Vista, CO: Shining Mountains Press.