I’m going to cut to the chase and give you the three steps to better behavior right now. Before you do any thing (go to the grocery store, get ready for bed, go to a friend’s house, etc) tell your kids:
- What it is going to look like
- What are the expectations
- What will happen if they don’t do what they are supposed to do
Ok, now that you know the 3 magic steps, let me walk you through some situations and why these 3 steps are so important!
Kids thrive on routine because they know what is coming next. If you always get dressed right after breakfast, then kids often run to the clothes dresser right after breakfast because they know what is coming. They know what to expect. So just take this same idea out into the world.
Are you going to the library? Tell your kids. Are you going to let them check out 55 books. Tell them that they get 55 books. Do they get to play on the computer for 20 minutes. Let them know. Do you only have space in your bag for 6 books? Then tell them they only get 6 books. Do you have time to play at the park afterwards or will your parking limit run out of time and you’ll have to head home? Let them know ahead of time.
Where else could you use this technique? The store, the doctor, grandma’s house, running errands, a playdate, going out to dinner, flying on a plane, road trip up to the mountains, getting ready in the morning. The possibilities are endless.
A lot of parents don’t tell children what is going to happen ahead of time with things that are unpleasant like going to the doctor or dropping them off somewhere. But we need to build trust with children and we do that by preparing them for the good and the bad. Before we go to the doctor, I tell them whether they are getting shots or not and then we talk about what we’ll do after the shot (go get ice cream or go to the park). This way they know what to expect and they are actually less nervous than they would be if they were guessing the whole time (Is this the place that hurts? What’s going to happen? Am I going to be safe?!?)
The second part is to let them know what the expectations are. This is true for adults as well. I mean, we all like surprises now and then, but what if you signed up for a hiking trip and then found out that it was a hard-core rock-climbing trip or maybe the hiking trip was actually walking a 1/4 mile. Both of those would be difficult to deal with because your expectations were totally different than what was presented. So if you are going to a friend’s house and they don’t mind if the kids jump on the couch, let your kids know. But if there are going to be fancy tables and maybe even a glass vase somewhere in the living room, tell your kids ahead of time, “no running around AT All at our friends house. We can run outside afterwards, but no running while we are there.”
I once met up with some college friends and their toddlers at a fancy hotel room that an out-of-town friend had booked. One of the friends walked it and said, “oh jeez, this place is nice, too bad my kid is totally going to tear it apart.” So the kid looked up at his mom right after she said that and subsequently began to tear the room apart. That was her expectation for what he was going to do and so he fulfilled that expectation like any kid would.
This works for bedtime too. If bedtime isn’t what you were hoping it would be and it is a mess of emotions, push-back, fussing and headache, then make a plan of what bedtime should be. Find a picture schedule online and use the parts that work for you. Add in other parts and take out what won’t work. Then let your kids know. Talk to them about what they need to do. Do you help them with their pajamas but they need to brush their own teeth? Let them know what the expectations are.
Finally, let kids know what will happen if they do or don’t do what is expected of them.
On long days with lots of errands or chores, I list the things that need to be done and then the last thing is something enjoyable, something outside, something relaxing or energy releasing. This way, kids have something to look forward to and know that they need to hold it together for such and such amount of time before they can release it all. And if there are issues, problems, etc, then the errands stop and everyone heads home. Now they can still run around at home, you can still take some space in your room if it was really bad, but the last stop at the park didn’t get added into the mix if the kids just couldn’t handle everything. And it’s ok. Your kids won’t always be able to run 3 errands in a row. They won’t always be able to sit while they eat at a restaurant. And if they can’t sit, then it means it is time to go home, maybe time to go to bed.
Time to start again new tomorrow.
And the next time, let them know ahead of time and chances are, they’ll be able to do it.