Does your child keep repeating an irritating behavior? Try this!
My 4 year old is going through a whining phase. Anytime she doesn't get what she wants she unleashes a high pitched noise, pushes out her bottom lip, crosses her arms, and even squeezes out a few tears if she can manage. Can you picture it?
Writing this now I can appreciate how cute she looks, but in the moment it triggers my jaw to clench, eyes to roll, and anger to brew. I know that if unchecked this will lead to reactive parenting - snapping, yelling, ignoring, etc. AND I know that reactive parenting will not help my daughter learn what to do when she doesn't get her way. Instead it's more likely that she'll shut down or continue the behavior.
Since this has been happening repeatedly, it's time to implement my go to strategy- make a plan together! This is what I do when something annoying is happening over and over (this could be hitting, biting, yelling, throwing, stalling, etc). And the key is that we work TOGETHER to find a solution, and PRACTICE the solution that we come up with. Here are the steps I use, they are based on the approach I found in The Explosive Child by Ross W. Greene.
Step 1: If your child is verbal, start off by talking to them to get the full picture. It's best to do this at a time when everyone is calm, however I have used it in the moment if they haven't completely gone into meltdown mode and are able to access their "problem solving brain".
Example: Hey honey, I've noticed you've been having a hard time when people don't do what you want them to do. What's going on?
Step 2: LISTEN! This is the hardest part. It's easy to think we already know why they're acting this way, or that is doesn't matter why, let's just solve the problem. But effective problem solving can only when you fully understand everyone's perspective. Repeat back what you heard, ask questions, and keep going until they've told you that you've got it right and understand what is going on for them.
Example: I hear you saying that you feel like you never get to do things your way. That's a yucky feeling. Tell me more..... And you really like doing things the way you want to do them. Is there anything else?
Step 3: State your value, concern, or problem. This is where YOUR needs get stated. Remember, positive parenting is NOT permissive parenting, we don't just give our kids whatever they want. Instead we work together to meet everyone's needs as best as we can.
Example: The thing is, if you stop listening when you don't get to do what you want, I'm concerned friends aren't going to want to play with you. And I want to hear what you're wanting, and help solve these problems, but I don't know what the problem is unless you tell me.
Step 4: Brainstorm solutions. Start by asking your child if they have any ideas. You are free to make suggestions too. If your child or you suggests something that isn't realistic or doesn't work for the other person, that's okay! Acknowledge the idea and keep going. It can sometimes help to purposefully suggest something ridiculous to keep the mood lighter (Maybe you should just always do what your friends say? No. That wouldn't work for you. Hmmmm.... maybe you should build a robot that tells everyone what to do and everyone listens to the robot?)
Example: I wonder what you can do when friends don't want to play the same thing as you, but will also help everyone understand what you're wanting to do?
Step 5: Agree on a solution and PRACTICE the solution together (especially with younger children).
Example: Okay! So you want to try telling your friends that you're going to play something different and they can come join you when they want? That works for me! Does it work for you? Let's practice! Do you want me to pretend to be your friend or you?
If your child is not verbal, you can still get curious about what might be going on for your child. Pay attention to what is happening before and in the moment. Take into account their basic needs, as well as social/ emotional needs. Give them the tools they need in the situation and have them practice these tools.
For example: You want to play with that toy, and your friend is already playing with it. Say, "Me next please".
THEN spend some time thinking about how YOU will react in the moment. Even if your child does this annoying behavior again, instead of following the plan. What will you say? Write it down, visualize how it will go. Our kids give us plenty of practice, so have a plan for what you will do when it inevitably does happen next time, and practice that plan so this will become your go to instead of your reactive habits.
If you need help with any of these steps, it's okay to ask for help! Sign up here for a 30 or 60 minute problem solving session.
I'm here in support of you!