Over the years working with children, I’ve seen both good and bad parent-child interaction. Sometimes you want to take parents aside and give them a few tips for drop-off and pick up time in the church nursery. Last Sunday was such a time for me. Perhaps the following observations would help some of your parents learn better parenting skills.
Four-year-old Raymund had a reputation as a “handful,” as my mom would say. He had been disobedient, disruptive, and resistant to correction. But last Sunday when I served as a sub in his class, he was cooperative and fun to be around, until…. his mom came to pick him up, and then the former Raymund showed up—big time.
As soon as mom told him to pick up his toys, Raymund intentionally ignored her, finding multiple toys he just had to play with. He knocked things over and refused mom’s order to put on his shoes to get ready to go. It was awkward for me, as I tried to help Raymund obey mom.
What was going on here? What flipped the switch in Raymund’s behavior?
In my experience, there were five contributing factors; some of which this mom caused, and some which were normal for all kids.
- Raymund was having a good time, and now mom was calling a halt to it. Most kids naturally fight such changes. The mom should have slowed down and employed a couple of strategies to help the transition. I’ll share those strategies shortly.
- Mom felt compelled to give the orders here, but the caregivers would have handled it better. The more the mom whined and cajoled, the more the child rebelled. Knowing it was time to go, the staff was prepared to help Raymund pick up toys and put on his shoes to leave. By giving instructions when she couldn’t follow through*, the mom actually got in the way of the staff’s ability to help. *(we ask parents to wait at the door until we bring the child over to them.)
- The mom whined, effectively sending the message “I know you won’t obey. Why can’t you ever do what I say?” She lacked confidence and appeared desperate.
- Mom then complicated matters by badgering—saying too much. “Raymund do this. Raymund do that. Raymund don’t ignore me.” In the space of 1 minute, the mom gave 10-12 commands that over-whelmed and frustrated the child.
- It was the end of a long, busy morning for Raymund. He was tired from the active play with friends over the last 3 hours. Mom couldn’t help this, but she could give Raymund a little extra understanding. Mom was ready to go home– she had had a few minutes to prepare mentally for this transition. The child, on the other hand, had been surprised by mom’s sudden appearance and wasn’t ready to change his agenda.
What could mom have done differently?
Five strategies that would have helped:
- Let the staff do what they are trained to do inside the classroom. While the child is in the care of the staff, a parent should avoid giving instructions, if possible. In Raymund’s case, the mom could have said, “It’s time to go now” and the caregivers would have taken over. Mom had made rapid-fire and unrealistic commands to the child to put away all the toys on the floor. The caregiver knew what items the child needed to put away to do his part—mom didn’t.
- Relax and let the child have time to transition. Nobody likes to be rushed, and a child at play needs time to finish, or at least adjust to the thought of what’s coming next. Mom’s relaxed attitude was more likely to win cooperation than her demanding tone.
- Instead of giving orders, the parent could emphasize the benefits of the next phase of the day. “I’ve got a great dinner planned—your favorite!” or “Let’s go get your brother so we can read a book together.” You are using the carrot (something good ahead) rather than the stick (badgering) to motivate the child.
- Use a confident voice instead of a whining, defeatist tone. When you give your child an instruction, guard against sending a signal that you are afraid the child will disobey. Saying “please put your shoes on” with a firm, confident, matter of fact tone is far more effective than saying “Raymund, why are you ignoring me? Don’t you want to go home?” in a whining, fearful tone.
- Say your instruction once, then follow through. Don’t keep asking, cajoling, badgering, or whining. Too many instructions without follow through on any of them trains a child to ignore the parent. It undermines parental authority. In the case of Raymund, mom needed to allow the caregiver to give the instructions.
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