Have a little Faith
What happens if you tell a child carrying a glass of milk or a plate of food, “Be CAREFUL! DON’T drop it!!” ? – Chances are you’ll be cleaning a mess off the floor within a few seconds. The child hears “drop it” and your tone of voice, that suggests anxiety and complete lack of faith in their ability. They get anxious too and deliver what you expect from them. But if you say calmly, “You can carry the milk. I know you can do it carefully and safely.” or “Two hands, keep the plate level, that’s it – I trust you to get it to the table”, then, guess what? (I have sent the 2 year old off through a crowded hall of toddlers and mums with a plate of cakes and grapes, and he has got it safely to our table.) They don’t know if they can do it or not – all they know is what we believe of them. If we say they can do it, they believe us and do it!
I’ve seen tiny children scale a climbing wall regardless of whether their little legs can stretch far enough to reach the foot holds. Their older friends are doing it and so they believe they can do it too.
I have noticed that small children understand us through our voice tone, body language and the tail end of our sentences, rather than listening to everything we say. For instance, if I say to one child, “Stop kicking the table”, every child suddenly starts kicking the table! All they hear is “kick table”. If I get cross, they all want some ‘cross attention’: Oh look, she’s putting on a show! Let’s do it some more! So I have to remember my child psychology, and instead grit my teeth, ignore the table-kickers and lavishly praise the child who’s sitting still with good manners.
It’s taken the 2 year old a long time to understand “first eat your dinner, then you can have pudding”. All he hears is that he can have pudding, he sees the others eating pudding, and the fact they have empty plates and he doesn’t is utterly irrelevant. (We’d be waiting till Christmas if I made them all finish before anyone got pudding).
Being a non-confrontational type, I tend to try and avoid the word “no” unless it is absolutely essential, ie when someone is getting hurt or is in danger. But that doesn’t mean I’m a pushover (although I can be fairly soft-hearted.) It’s just that if you say No all the time, it loses its edge and they stop listening. Direct confrontations are a sure way to elicit tantrums and tears from little kids anyway. Instead, when they ask to do something that’s impossible today, I sidestep and say, “Oh yes, what a good idea – we’ll do it tomorrow.” Or, if they want everything in the toy shop, I get even more excited than them and reply, “Oooh yes, that IS a lovely giraffe isn’t it? I wish I had one too! Let’s take a picture of him to show to Father Christmas. Ohh and look at this adorable teddy!!” Then I point my camera, phone or imaginary hand-camera at it. Once the excitement is shared and photo taken, the child is able to happily let go of the actual toy. Toyshops are lots of fun this way.
If something has to be done, I try to offer a choice. “I’m afraid your eczema cream really does have to be put on. But you can choose which cream we use today. Shall we have the little pot, or the big bottle? And would you like to put it on your tummy while I do your back?” If she still screams and runs away, I tell her I’m not playing the chasing game today, and it’ll be over much quicker if she stands still. I offer stickers for compliance. Or I offer to give her a lovely ‘posh lady massage’. If she stands reasonably still but wriggles and protests, I keep calm and tell her, “Well done, almost finished, good girl.” Then I reward her for cooperating. “Have I told you the story of how I used to massage cream into posh ladies all day?” Above all, I stay as calm as I possibly can and aim for kind but firm consistency. It’s a pain, but leads to less aggro in the long run!
Firm about Bedtime
The 2 year old knows that when it’s bedtime, I won’t back down, and even if he refuses to get into bed and throws his pillow on the floor, I still give him a cuddle and story, then tell him, “It is night time now. It’s time to sleep. Listen to your lovely sleepy time music. I love you very much and I’ll see you when you wake up in the morning.” He very rarely comes out of his room after that, although I did once find him fast asleep on the floor!