As parents, we’ve all had ‘those days.’ Times when our little ones just seem to be melting down, acting out, or just simply not listening to us. We’ve all been ‘that parent’ in the supermarket, juggling a baby in a car seat and trying to check out with a full shopping cart while having a toddler screaming and throwing a tantrum. We cannot help but wonder how to prevent this behavior and turn the little tantrum into the docile, happy child we normally see.
The fact is, children do best with structure, like a clear rules and a daily routine. Structure is about a child’s emotional and physical safety. It’s less about rules and discipline and more about helping teach children how to navigate their world, to know what they can expect, what’s expected of them and how to behave appropriately in certain situations. Children thrive in an environment where they feel safe, nurtured and capable. Structure helps a child learn how to handle their emotions. Developing self-responsibility helps children understand limits and making responsible choices on their own. These are important skills needed all throughout their lives and teaching them early on helps them grow intellectually and emotionally.
What’s the best way to make certain there’s enough structure in a child’s life? Start with their routine. Are they going to sleep and waking at about the same time each day? Eating meals and having play time at regular intervals? Do they listen and understand that it’s time to transition from one activity to another? If your child has a difficult time adjusting the change, try helping them countdown to the activity. For example, if they’re playing and it’s nearly time to leave for school, remind them they have ten minutes left of play, five minutes, etc. In addition, make certain they know it’s their responsibility to help get ready for the event, such as putting their toys in a basket to clean up, or get their shoes and coat out of the closet. Remember: part of routine is consistency! Try and keep to the same schedule as much as possible.
But what about those meltdowns? Of course they happen even to the best behaved and even tempered children. What should a parent do? One way parents can manage is to let children know there will be consequences for misbehavior. Lots of parents use the time out system. One of the reasons time outs work well and are so tried and true is because children who are upset and ‘melting down’ are removed from the situation which gives them time to calm down and think. Once a child is calm, then it’s the time to talk about the situation that just occurred in short, simple language. Mom or Dad can explain why that behavior wasn’t OK and ask the child to tell them what they would do differently next time. When children are older, or elementary school age, a good task is to ask the child to write down how their behavior was inappropriate and how they could handled the situation differently.
The bottom line is, keep your chin up, Mom and Dad! Good parenting is hard work, but with love and dedication, you’ll see your little ones thrive.