A parent wrote in the following scenario:
During a casual dinner, a neighbor’s daughter got up from the table and my friend said, “sit down we are not finished yet.” The little girl proceeded to walk away and come back with a yogurt smoothie and my girl friend said, “Do not drink that or you will be in trouble.” The little girl proceeded to turn the smoothie over and dump it on the floor. (She is almost 4.) My friend then grabbed her and put her in a time out. I thought, HMMM…I know that didn’t seem to go well –what would YOU DO?
-Perplexed Spectator Parent
I always: think, look, plan- then DO.
It’s important to stop and think: parenting problems are not really problems, they are SYMPTOMS of either a fractured relationship or a lack of training or both.
So, in this case these are the symptoms: girl shows complete disregard for mom by walking away, dumps yogurt, doesn’t listen to mom, won’t stay in her seat and shows a lack of respect for both herself and her mom.
Then, I’d walk through a couple questions- what is my reaction? What is the goal of the behavior?
In this case, mom gets pissed, and asserts her power by saying NO. She tries to win. Her clever and powerful daughter pushes back and eventually mom takes the child to time out. She may have quick fixed it with a “bandaid” but it sure didn’t heal the underlying “bulletwound” – which is a combination of relationship and training problems.
Hint: because mom is emotionally charged and angry, there is evidence of relationship stress and because the child carelessly makes a mess and is physically moving around, there is evidence of a training problem.
Look at the relationship. How close am I to my 4 year old right now? I’ve been annoyed at her lately and a little checked out.
Look at the training. She didn’t understand the proper way to stay seated or clean up a mess.
Look at the behavior. Ok, she’s engaging me in a power struggle so the goal of her behavior is power – not to take mine- but have her own. For more on identifying the Mistaken Goals of Behavior, click here.
Once the entire situation has been put into perspective, I’d plan to work on the relationship and training the child.
Relationship Plan– (Mom and daughter are definitely in a classic power struggle so here are my recommendations)
- Invite the child to participate vs. shutting her down and making more conflict.
- Invite her to make decisions with me- which drinks do you think are ok to have at dinner? Peach smoothie or milk?
- I’d also increase the respect I show toward her preferences, since her pure disrespect is reflecting something important: the mutual respect is running low- on both ends.
Training Plan: (Obviously, if the child knew what a pain it is to clean the smoothie, she wouldn’t have thought it was a good idea to chuck it on the ground.)
- Before showing her how to CLEAN the mess up, show her how to master some simple kitchen tasks. The more included she feels and the more confidence she will have around cooking and cleaning.
- Begin to train her in self skills, picking out her own clothes, getting dressed, setting the table, etc. When children feel competent, they work WITH their parents, not against them.
- Plan to do the training when you and your child are both relaxed and in a cooperative mood.
After I’ve thought about the relationship / training problem, looked at the realities, and made a plan, I’d DO THIS:
- Refrain from quick-fix responses to her behavior. (No bandaids on bulletwounds)
- Take time to implement the relationship plan. (Invest in the relationship)
- Practice dinner routines, but NOT during dinner. (Take time for training)
- Be patient and celebrate success. (Focus on what I want more of)
- Train to clean up her own spills. (Quit being the maid)
- Encourage her to participate authentically in family dinner. (Prepare her for departure)
So, there you have it folks- as you can see, this process can work with any behavior challenge you face! Duct Tape Parents refrain- they think, look, plan and then DO. They have learned to stop before slapping a bandaid on a bulletwound or disciplining a kid who hasn’t been trained properly. Duct Tape Parents put the relationship first (fix that, worry about spilled smoothie second). YOU have this in your mind so have courage to think this way when it starts to slide into the rabbit hole. 🙂