Set Yourself Up for Success!
IT HAS HAPPENED TO US ALL...
You pack everyone up, drive, arrive, unload, and with hopeful expectation, dive into an activity that is sure to be fun and enriching! ....promptly, your kid bee-lines it for the corner of the room and sits, refusing to engage with a living soul, or worse, has a full-tilt melt down in the middle of the library. There are a million variations to this story, all with the same pending question: What should I do when an event goes south? And more importantly, what can I do to help prevent it?
The answer to this important question varies wildly depending on who you ask. Some parents might say; "What's the big deal? Let kids be kids!" While others, who were themselves parented in a more punishment oriented style might impose consequences on kids for perceived "behaviors" which they may have actually unknowingly encouraged. There is a healthy place between these two extremes. One great tool to arrive there is something called; Setting Yourself Up for Success. The idea is to take certain strategic things into consideration before you engage in an activity, in order to set up the best possible outcome for everyone. Some of these things seem like no brainers. But sometimes no brainers are so simple, they are taken for granted or forgotten altogether.
I'd like to share, what I consider
to be the TOP 5 Set-Ups for Success!
#1. The Child is best, who's had their rest.
It's surprising how easy this is to miss. Imagine it's eleven a.m. and the kids are underfoot. You mistake tiredness or boredom for an over-abundance of energy, and announce an unplanned trip to the playground. Upon arriving you just can't figure out why the same child who was "full of energy" a moment ago is now throwing a tantrum! After failing to talk sense into him you wrestle him out of an incredibly long tube-slide, back into the carseat and he immediately passes out cold. Admittedly, this seems like kind of a relief, except that the car-ride home is only eight minutes. In this, he trades the "real nap" you and he could have shared after lunch, for a few useless zzz's - that were unfortunately just enough to rejuvenate him all the way till dinner...talk about a lose/lose!
Set-up for success by staying connected enough throughout the day, to have awareness of where your kid is "at." Take nap and bedtimes well into consideration before you venture out. Afternoon outings are great for school age kids, but for the little ones, I always favor morning outings; after breakfast & chores, no more than and hour and a half. This allows you to come home, make lunch, read a book, take a snooze, and as the new Mrs. George Bailey said in, It's a Wonderful Life; "...after that, who cares!"
#2. Give them real food, to secure the mood.
This isn't about packin' in animal crackers just to keep them quiet. This is about making sure they are adequately and nutritiously fed - beforehand - to meet the needs of the activity at hand. Despite popular ideologies, two bowls of corn flakes alone doesn't qualify as adequate or nutritious. See our WHOLE FOODS page for meal ideas with real food value. At any rate, a low blood sugar freak-out between meals is a real thing so, if you notice odd behavior all of a sudden and its closer to meal time, you may have waited too long.
Set-up for success by realizing that timing is everything. Place an outing shortly after the meal when digestion is well underway, yet can still fuel longer playtimes. Pack a small snack and water no matter what. If you plan on having a picnic lunch on your outing, keep in mind that full tummies make drowsy kiddies. Be sure to start lunch early enough if you want to avoid that ride-home catnap, I mentioned in #1. Or even better, plan for it. Bring a book for you and let 'em snooze right there under a tree!
#3. Set the stage, to be engaged.
Being a parent is exhausting work and while there's nothing wrong with feeling the need to shoo them into the yard to play "by themselves," PLEASE, do be alert to the signals that your participation is needed. By this, I mean ACTIVE participation, which is a purposeful, healthy balance tucked (again) between two extremes:
From the pulseless, non-response: "Honeyyy....take turns okaaaay?" ...Seriously?!?
To the near stroke-out: "For cryin' out loud, JUST GIVE HER THE BALLLLLL!" ...Yeeah, Time-out anyone?
If squabbling between playmates persists, set-up for success by remembering who the adult is and take ahold of your role! Don't get overwhelmed - get involved, by taking this as an opportunity to model appropriate behavior:
"I understand you'd like the swing, but we would always take turns wouldn't we? Try saying; 'May I have a turn next?' Go ahead, now you try it..."
Don't make the mistake of assuming the kids "should know" or "will figure out themselves," how to negotiate or effectively ask for what they want or need. Really, don't most adults have a hard time with that? Children three and under are obviously still in the developmental phase where direct supervision IS necessary, but also through the "age of exploration" at four, five and sometimes even six, guidance is still totally appropriate. Being diligent about modeling correct behavior now will help build the foundation for great problem solving later on, when they'll want you to be a little more scarce with "butting-in."
#4. Let them explore, without pushing for more.
Let's say you're a mom who's really got your game. Your group is well rested, well fed, and ready! You arrive at the art museum for some free activities, using say...some oil pastels. You get everyone seated with with the five primary colors and a canvas. You stand back, camera poised. He draws some dots on the canvas...a line...a squiggly or two and suddenly abandons the project to go to the sand table. You try to "guide" him back to the canvas:
"Look here honey, see how many colors there are? Try a green one! ...Hey, let's draw a tree!" You help him scratch out a tree with his limp, uninterested hand. "Aww, come on, you made such a pretty drawing the other day. Let's draw a pretty yellow sun!"
While you finish what is at this point, YOUR art project, the boy slinks down off his chair and belly-crawls toward the sand table and some nearby seashells. This story could go in any number of directions. The point is this: set-up for success by getting your expectations in check. Before you even start a project, decide what the goal is. No matter how young your child is, TALK a little bit about it beforehand to spark some interest, but realize that in the end, it's actually preferable to follow the child's lead rather than pushing your own agenda. Kids work much better when they are driven by their OWN delights. Now relax, accept and step back a little further so you don't get sand in your camera.
#5. Be 'in-the-know' when it's time to go.
Things have gone well, you're having a ball, and even the best times must come to an end! Transitions are hard for little kids in the best of circumstances. This is normal. Fortunately, there are ways to encourage a smoother exit! So let's bring things to a close gracefully shall we?
First of all, don't wait for the meltdown before packing it up. Set-up for success by purposely ending things on a good note. While things are still going well, give them fair warning.
"Okay guys, it's about ten minutes until we pack up to go. Let's have a quick game of..."
Initiate a last game of tag, play simon says to pick up the toys, or announce a tail-gate snack before you go (which is just that much closer to the carseat!) A little active participation on your part will increase your likelihood of a smooth exit.
There is just SO much to be said on the topic of Setting Yourself Up for Success, I could go on for pages, but before I close with my SOAP BOX TIP, let's recap the TOP 5!
Soap Box Alert
Here's the part where you are going to get totally unsolicited advice from atop my soap box! I feel justified in this, and here's why: When my second child was born I joined an attachment parenting online forum. This forum was very valuable in transforming my parenting style from punishment oriented to natural consequences & grace-based. But, there CAN be too much of a good thing. I have no idea how many hours I clocked on that site before realizing that I was becoming a whole lot of talk and a lot less walk! At some point you have to put down the books, the phone, the ipad and get down to using what you have learned! AND NOW...