Monday, April 22, 2013

Toddler Tactic #1 - The Countdown

Many a toddler meltdown begins with a situation that I've seen repeated over and over.  It goes like this.

Toddler is playing happily, say with a train set at the library.  Mother checks her watch, realizes she needs to get home to get dinner started and swoops in and announces it's time to go.  Toddler protests and mother sees this as a sign of disobedience.  She commands that he put his coat on and when he stubbornly continues with his play she either picks him up kicking and screaming and hurries out the door or begins a series of threats in hopes of gaining compliance. 

Now imagine this from the toddlers perspective.  In his little head, he's the conductor giving orders and a whole fleet of little engines are trying to be really useful by hauling freight and passengers.  He doesn't like to be interrupted.  I don't know about you, but if I'm in the middle of writing a blog post for example, and my husband needs me to finish up so that we can get dinner started, I prefer to have a minute to finish the paragraph I'm typing.  I'd be pretty irritated if he came in, took the laptop out of my hands, picked me up and carried me into the kitchen.

This is a perfect example of where respect, mentioned in Positive Foundations, comes into play.  My solution?  A clear and concise explanation of the situation and a simple (non-threatening) countdown. "Riker, I want to go home and start cooking dinner for our hungry bellies.  I need you to finish up in five minutes."  Then I give a two minute warning and then a final, "okay finish up, it's time to go now."  Then, if he's still not quite ready, I might get down on his level and help him wrap up by finding a place to park his trains and saying goodbye to them.

All up, this process takes less time and is far more pleasant than the scenario given in the introduction. When conveyed calmly and clearly, a small child can understand the need to move on when there is an important reason - dinner preparations, looming rain clouds, etc. This tactic allows children to feel like their play was honored and by getting down on their level to help them finish up, the child will feel like you were involved and not just barking commands. In the next post, I'll talk more about being at eye level before making requests.

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