Anticipating Challenges and Planning for Success with Our Children
1. 7 yo Anna is dragging her feet and not getting ready for school. Mum and Dad are getting annoyed and exasperated.
2. John has taken his 3 son yo to the Doctor’s with him and is having a hard time. Jake is not sitting still and is complaining and keeps moving away from his dad.
3. 5 yo Jenny is interrupting her mother whilst she is talking on the phone to a friend for a ten minutes and mum has had enough. She keeps telling her daughter to leave her be, but the daughter is not doing as she is told.
There are many things that parents can do to plan ahead for success, peace and harmony. If we can anticipate problems and take active preparatory steps, we will feel much more satisfied with our parenting and our children’s behaviour.
In the first example, we could have set up a school leaving routine. The child needs to know when we will be leaving, have her clothes and belongings ready the night before, and be given a reasonable amount of time to get ready. If the routine is consistent, the child learns how much time they have, and is in charge of getting ready, having breakfast and taking all belongings to the car, or whatever form of transport is ready. A clock can be useful as soon as they can understand how it works. A 7 yo is generally quite capable of getting up to an alarm or voice request, getting dressed with minimal assistance, toileting, helping herself to breakfast that is acceptable to the parents, packing her belongings and going out the door. She may even be able to help a younger sibling if she is co-operative. Positive behaviour needs to be encouraged every step of the way with specific, sincere comments and gradually lessened as the routine is established. Criticism is counter-productive. Distractions such as TV or computer may need to be unavailable at this time to help the process. It’s a good idea to always allow about 5 minutes extra for unexpected hold-ups. A kinder child, for example, that is dawdling can be told to carry her clothes to the car when it is time to leave. If she doesn’t start getting them, the parent can pick up the clothes and take them to the car. The child can get dressed when the car is outside the kinder. I used this warning many times, but my own children always got dressed in the nick of time. Again it is action, not nagging, that does the trick.
With the second example, Dad needs to let his son know, on the way to the doctors, that he will be waiting for a while in the room, and he will need to be fairly quiet and still so as not to annoy the other patients that are waiting. He can make sure that his son has something to play with, either from the waiting room or the car or bag, or read a book to him, or talk to him. When his son behaves well, it is important for John to make specific positive comments such as “Thanks for playing so quietly” or “You are really being considerate of the other patients here. Well done.” If he is having trouble sitting still, John could find out when the doctor will be ready and take his son out for a quick run or ball game or something physical for 5 -10 mins. If he keeps moving too far away in the waiting room, John needs to get up and take his hand, and lead him back to his area each time, explaining that he needs to stay close to keep safe. If he continues to move away a lot, then Dad could tell his son that he might not be able to come with him next time, because he is not co-operating.
In the third instance, Mum needs to tell her daughter that she needs to play on her own for about 10 minutes, while she talks on the phone. If the daughter interrupts, Mum can repeat this, and ignore her daughters interruptions deliberately (unless it is a true emergency). At the end of the 10 minutes (any longer would be an unreasonable time) she needs to thank her daughter for her help.
If we can tell our children what is coming in a positive and calm way, they will be more likely to co-operate. There are minor and major changes; exciting and scarey changes. The more profound the change, the more careful, detailed and prolonged the preparation needs to be to lessen anxiety of children and parents.