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I read a blog post a few weeks ago talking about how to talk to your kids instead of yelling to get them to listen. That same week M and I were at the library and I saw a mom really struggling with her toddler. They were in a power struggle over cleaning up the mess she made in the kids’ play area. After a few moments in the power struggle, the mom said something I am sure we’ve all said, “if you don’t clean up this mess I won’t bring you back to the library.” The little girl couldn’t have cared less and the mom, finally at her wit’s end, cleaned up the mess by herself and they left.
I know this struggle, it is one I have witnessed and been a part of many times over the years. It can be so frustrating when your child won’t listen, but it is on a whole other level when you are in public and your child won’t listen.
I have taken a few trainings over the years, as an Early Childhood Educator, about this exact thing and I want to share with you a few tricks of the trade to help you and your family work better together instead of against each other. I am going to share the tip and give you some examples. Feel free to take these tricks and make them your own. The most important part of this is being constant with your kids.
Trick 1: Schedule Out Your Day:
You can just do this verbally or you can do it verbally/visually. For younger kids, it is so nice to have a visual schedule to help them get into the groove. (There are tons of visuals on Pinterest, you can even just google in Pinterest boardmaker, social stories, or here are a few other links to some helpful visuals for kids. Here, Here, Here)
You can have a few different types of schedules. You could have a 24 hours schedule which would include 1st We Wake Up, Then We Eat Breakfast, Next We Wash Our Hands and Face, Then We Get Dressed, Next We Get Into The Car For School, etc. Or you can just do a schedule for the special things, for example, Today we are going to the library, then we are going to go grocery shopping, then we are coming home to take a nap, etc.
Having a predictable structured environment and schedule can make positive differences in your child’s behaviors. When a schedule is in place kids know what is coming next and what is expected of them.
What worked in my classroom was going over the schedule daily, we did it at the start of our day when we were having breakfast. Every morning the kids would come in and we would talk about what we had already done, then we would talk about what was still to come.
I have gotten so in the habit of talking about what comes next that I find myself doing it to myself now. And even though M is only 8 months old I find myself telling him what is coming next. Usually in the car and it goes like this: “First mommy needs to get gas, then we are going to the library, after the library we are going to go have lunch with daddy. After lunch, we will go home and then we will take a nap.”
Trick 2: Give warnings and reminders:
Let’s think of you as an adult. Let’s imagine you are working really hard on something or you are having fun or you want to get something done. Then out of the blue someone comes and tells you “We have to go now, clean up whatever you’re doing we are out of here.” Imagine how miffed you’d be. I hear myself tell my husband all the time, “ok, I will be ready in five minutes” or “let me just finish this one thing and then I will be ready to go.”
It is the same for kids. Your kids are working hard, having fun, or just generally in the mode of completing what they are doing. When you as the parent look at the clock and see, oh shoot we are going to be late, your child doesn’t have the same concept of time or the same list of to-dos in their head.
Warnings make a huge difference. In my library example, if the mom had told her daughter, “In five minutes we are going to clean up because we need to go get lunch” or “honey, in 5 minutes we need to clean up so we can go home.” Her daughter would have been prepared for when mom called clean up. She would already know clean up is coming and be prepared.
Sometimes giving the five-minute warning isn’t enough, so reminders are helpful too. For example; “honey, remember you have 3 more minutes until we need to clean up.” Then another reminder at 1 minute if it’s needed.
If you use warnings and reminders constantly and your child still isn’t making the transition you can try using a timer. I used timers constantly in my classrooms. Like I said before, kids don’t have a built-in clock and generally don’t know how to tell time. But some kids need a tangible thing to know/watch to know the time is running out. Sand timers work great for this. You would set the timer and say “ok, honey, when the timer goes off, that means it’s time to clean up.” Still give the reminders, “ok, in 3 minutes the timer is going to go off, remember that means we have to clean up.”
Trick 3: Give Choices
Giving choices is a way for you to offer your child the opportunity to make decisions and give them some control of the situation. It is important to ONLY offer choices that you are comfortable/happy with. Here are a few examples:
- You can clean up the orange or yellow blocks. GOOD
- You can put your shoes on or mommy can help you. GOOD
- Do you want to wear your sandals or slippers? GOOD/BAD (if it’s freezing outside and you don’t want them to wear their sandals, this is a bad choice.)
- Do you want to hold mommy’s hand or walk by yourself? GOOD/BAD (if it is unsafe for them to walk by themselves, don’t give them the choice.)
Offering choices is all about getting your child to do what you want them to do, but for them to feel like they are in control.
Trick 4: Get rid of the word OK
This was such a struggle for me when I first started my career, and I had no idea the word OK was bad. But it is bad! When you use the word OK you are basically asking a question that your child has the opportunity to say no to. Here are a few sentences to help prove this:
- Hey, clean up these yellow blocks, ok?
- I need you to put on your shoes, ok?
- We use our walking feet in the library, ok?
All of these examples can have a yes or no response. No, I don’t want to clean up the yellow blocks. No, I don’t want to put my shoes on. I use my running feet in the library. I know it sounds so silly, but if you have a child who fights you tooth and nail, try getting rid of OK and see if it helps.
Trick 5: Don’t make empty threats
You know the threats I am talking about… Do this or we will leave right now. Do this or I will throw away all your toys. Do this or we won’t ever come back to the library. When you make an empty threat you are teaching your child not to trust you. If you tell your child to clean up the toys or your never coming back to the library, and they don’t clean up the toys, but the next day or the next week you do come back to the library, your child knows they don’t have to clean up because they will get to come back to the library again.
Using the tricks I’ve shared let me show you some ways to use them for the little girl at the library example.
In the morning while we are having our breakfast: “Hey, honey, today is library day. Are you excited?”
“First, we are going to have breakfast, play here for a little bit, then we take a nap. After our nap, we are going to go to storytime at the library.”
“After story time we can play in the play area. But remember when mommy tells you it’s time to clean up we need to clean up because we are going to have lunch with daddy.”
In the car on the way to storytime: “We are on our way to storytime, I am so excited. I wonder who will be there.”
In the play area 15 minutes before you need to leave: “Honey, we need to clean up in 5 minutes. How many minutes until we need to clean up?”
Time to clean up: “Alright, honey, it’s time to clean up.” (This is up to you, you can make your child clean up by themselves, or you can help them. I like to help because sometimes the mess can feel overwhelming to kids and it helps it get done faster.)
If you choose to help: “I’m going to clean up the yellow blocks and you can clean up the purple blocks.” OR “You can put these books back on the cart or clean up these block.” (Notice, it isn’t a question. You are telling your child they can pick what they are going to clean up, but the WILL clean up.)
If you choose not to help: “Honey you can clean up the blocks first or put the books back on the cart first.” (If your child fights you when you ask them to clean up by themselves, help them, but don’t do it all.)
If this doesn’t work, and you need to resort to a threat/punishment make sure it is something you will stick to. For example: “if you won’t help me clean up we won’t be able to check out any books today because you’re showing me that you can’t be responsible.”
I know that these tricks might take some getting used to for you and your family. But the key take away needs to be consistency. Most children will fight you at the beginning especially if you’ve never implemented anything like this before. But that is what is so great about these 5 tricks–they don’t really leave a lot of room for fighting. Just remember consistency is key. You are trying to build a strong, trusting, relationships with your children and trying to teach them that they are capable and in control of many things, including cleaning up at the library.
I hope this helps, I know it can be hard, but it will be worth it!