Do you feel like your child is more difficult than other children? Guess what? Lots of parents feel that way! So, chances are yours is not actually the most challenging ever, but that doesn’t help much when you are in the thick of things and you are at the end of your rope.
So what does help? You never know! But here are some ideas that have worked for me over the years:
Lots of paths can be smoothed by inviting the child into an imaginative state.
I was recently with a five year old who was refusing to eat his oatmeal. I looked at him and said, “What oatmeal? You mean this bowl of newts and slugs?” Of course, he immediately looked at me like, Lady, you’ve got to be kidding me! But he took a bite. Victory. Then he said, I don’t want newts and slugs. Not to be foiled, I tried, “What newts and slugs? What you have there are fish eyes and blindworms. Try some!” He did. By this time he had entered into the game and asked me, “What’s this bite here?” Fried ants and crickets, said I. But what got this five-year-old to finish his breakfast? Moose poop. Yes, you heard me right. He ate his lovely bowl of moose poop all up.
Now, I am not generally in favor of forcing kids to eat (I prefer to let them suffer the natural consequence of going hungry), but when I am caring for other people’s kids, I try to honor the house rules. As the “substitute” parent, I didn’t have time to get compliance through consequences. I needed results right then. By shifting the conversation from You have to eat your breakfast to imagining eating all sorts of gross things to eat, the oatmeal got finished up in five lively minutes of laughter and rich vocabulary.
Silliness can be another great way to go. With older kids, they just think you are weird, but as with younger children, being weird can often get you where you want to go and the only thing it will cost you is your dignity. I was babysitting a sixth grader who refused to talk to me. I could have just ignored her and used the time to get some work done, but I could see this girl was unhappy. It was going to be a much more pleasant evening if I could get her to give up her stance of silence. I went into reporter mode and took up a wooden spoon as my microphone: Ladies and gentlemen, I started my best Access Hollywood voice. Tonight we have the first actual documented case of the cat who got her tongue. I am here with Veronica Lopez, a sixth grader at Shady Oak Middle School. This morning when she woke up, she found she could not talk. She looked over to see that her cat, Justin Bieber, was actually playing with her tongue as if it were a dead mouse. I went on in this vein for a while until she couldn’t stand it any more and she finally asked me could I please shut up? That was enough. All I needed her to do was say one thing to me. Sure! I readily agreed and then I switched to asking her about how her mom generally defrosted the chicken needed for making dinner. Having established my capacity for being annoying and weird, she decided it was easier to talk to me than risk spending the evening with a deranged loony.
Lots of times we have problems with kids because we do not respect their need for movement. Instead of getting a child to stop wiggling in his chair, sometime it is easier give him the physical outlet he needs. You are trying to have a peaceful dinner and all you want to do is sit quietly and eat, but you are never going to get peace if your child cannot sit still. Sometimes it is better to acknowledge that, get the whole family on their feet and have two or three minutes of physical activity. That might be cranking some tunes for a quick dance or doing the hokey pokey or playing Simon says. With older kids it might mean sending them out to take the stairs to the top of the building and back down before returning to your apartment or having them run to the bottom of the driveway and back. If it is really cold and they don’t put on their jacket, that will just make them run faster!
You might resent having to put aside dinner for five minutes. It is going to get cold, after all, and you are hungry. It might work to firmly ask your kids to sit still or stop rocking their chair. If you are good at being consistent and your kids know that if you give a consequence you will follow through, they may well make the effort to comply. But you put less stress on everyone by giving them a chance to get the ants out of their pants and go from there. This is especially true if your kids are transitioning from some sedentary activity like doing homework. Given the chance to expel some energy, you might just get that happy family dinner you were hoping for!
What are your best tricks?
Remember, no approach is going to work for all children all of the time. That is why the bigger your bag of tricks the greater the chance you’ll have the one you need. So share with us! What are the techniques that work well for you?
Feeling like you need more tricks in your bag? I’d be happy to have a complimentary Tricks for Your Bag coaching session. Let’s brainstorm together what might work for your hard, high energy or challenging kid. Sign up at https://elisabethstitt.acuityscheduling.com/.
Can’t wait to talk to you!