Last spring I wrote a couple of blog posts about how to build social skills and what expectations are appropriate at different ages; you can find those posts here and here. At the time, I promised to write about guidance strategies. I’ve, um. . . . . .
been busy . . . truthfully I’ve been putting it off. As you can imagine, it is probably one of the most frequently broached subjects parents ask me about. It is a huge topic with a variety of aspects involved. I find it easier to talk about on an individual basis. But, here goes. I’ll try to break it down into manageable bits. As with the social posts, I may end up breaking this into a couple of articles.
Avoid the problem
Just as I mentioned in the post about social expectations, behavioral expectations can be stated in advance – especially if you have a particular behavior you are working on. As you drive to the library you can say, “Remember we walk in the library. We use our quiet voices. You can check out 4 books so even though it will be hard to choose, only 4 books. We can come back and get other ones next week.” Sometimes I will even ask the children for their input with statements like, “When we sing for our families we are going to use what kind of voices?” As you head to the grocery store you can talk about expectations with phrases such as “You can ride in the cart.” “We can talk about things we see.” “Maybe you can tell me when you see the color green.” “I have a list and we can only buy things on my list.” If she starts begging for a special snack then you can easily remind her that we are only buying things on the list. By the way, the grocery store invites a host of behavioral “situations.” I may do a post focusing on grocery store issues all by itself.
You can also avoid the problem by planning ahead. If he hasn’t had a nap it is probably better wait and do the shopping once dad comes home. Maybe you’ve notice it – parenting isn’t always convenient. In fact, often the most effective parenting strategies are the least convenient. Bummer! Try to schedule your day so that shopping or other stressful situations happen once in a while and preferably when your child is at his or her freshest.
Finally on planning ahead, it is helpful to have items that are only available during certain times. I always had a basket of toys we had in the car only on long car rides. What a tremendous help. No, it didn’t solve ALL behavioral issues but I firmly believe it lessened them.
Say what you want
Try to avoid using negative phrases such as: don’t, won’t, no, can’t, . . . Instead say what you want. Think about it this way. When you tell a child, “Don’t push your food onto the floor” it leaves a world of other inappropriate options available. Does that mean he can fling food from his fork? Can he hide food under the edge of his plate? Instead try saying, “Please keep your food on your plate.” Think about the ultimate goal, what you really want to happen.
With toddlers I often use the phrase, “Touch gently.” I say this as I’m demonstrating what gentle touch means. This is much more clear than, “Don’t hit.” Giving the children a chance to practice gentle hands is a bonus. As he or she works with a toy say,”You are using gentle touches.” It doesn’t come easily. It’s something our staff have focused on over the years and now I am proud to say I rarely hear a negative statement. Kids know what we need them to do.
As children approach a situation ripe for conflict (such as child approaching aanother child with a toy he or she may want) give the words to manage that successfully. State what action you want to see. “You want the cup. Say, ‘Can I have the cup please.'” Or “Cup please.” for the child with limited language. We often have the children hold both hands cupped in front of them as they ask for the item. (This gives their hands something to do rather than grab or hit!) When approaching a child playing on a slide, “She’s going down the slide now. Walk around to the ladder for your turn.” For the child that is resisting sharing toys, also give the words, “Say ‘I’m using it.'” For the child that often resorts to hitting as his or her defense of toys you can even remind them before the conflict, “Remember gentle hands.” “Use words and say …..”
As I said, this is a huge topic and these are just two of the pieces of the guidance puzzle. I’ll talk in an upcoming post about additional aspects about guiding behaviors. I hope these two areas are somewhat helpful.