Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Tips to Getting the Kids through the Door, Off the Swings, and into Bed without the Tears

It’s been an exhausting day, yet you have managed to pick up the kids, get them outside to play in the yard and put together a decent family dinner.  Feeling rather proud of yourself, you open the door to announce it’s time to stop playing and come inside to eat.  In your imagination, this is the moment when both kids immediately begin cheering, exuberantly shouting their gratitude for your outstanding effort.  But instead the youngest, dashes away, screaming, “No, you can’t make me!”  It’s tempting to grab him and shout in his face, “You ungrateful little jerk!”  But instead you sigh deeply, wondering if you are the only parent on the face of the earth, who can’t even get her kids inside the door without screaming.  Lynn and I want you to know you are not alone in your frustration and it really is possible to get through the day without losing them at the door.

Stopping one thing and starting another is called a transition.  

Transitions are minefields for meltdowns.

That’s because they are often synonymous with surprises; a major trigger for spirited kids.

Summer is filled with transitions.  

  • Shifting from sleep to awake is a transition.  
  • Taking off pajamas and putting on clothing is a transition.  
  • Going out the door and getting in the car is a transition. 
  • So too is opening the car door and walking into camp, leaving a friend’s house or the beach, stopping play for clean-up or bedtime, or discovering that dad is picking up the kids, instead of mom.  

Fortunately the most difficult transitions tend to be predictable.  

They occur daily.  Yet without preparation they also have the potential to wreak havoc every time.   So how can you make them better?

1. Identify the most challenging transitions.   Stop and think about the 3 most difficult times of the day.  Odds are, every one of them is a transition; requiring your child to stop one thing and begin another.  Select one to focus on today.  

2. Sit down with the kids and make a visual plan.  We know, Lynn and I are always touting visual plans.  That’s because they work!  Once you have identified that stickiest transition, grab a piece of copy paper and draw out four to six frames like a cartoon.  In each frame have the kids draw a picture of one step they will be taking to shift from one thing to the next.

Let’s take coming to dinner.  The first frame includes a picture of arriving home.  The second one depicts the kids playing in the yard.  The third shows them coming back in the door and the fourth sitting down to eat. 

3. Clarify what the consequence will be if the plan is not followed.  The consequence does not have to be harsh, but it does need to be clear.  For example, it might be, “If you do not come in when time is up, you will be choosing not to play outside, before dinner, the following day.  Or, “If you do not come in, when asked, the next day outside play time will be shorter because it takes longer to get inside.”  

Once everything is clear, “read” the plan together to review each step, and insure that everyone understands what is expected.  

4. Be concrete.  Young children do not have a sense of time.  Even if you tell them they have twenty minutes to play.  Or in five minutes they will need to stop and come in, they do not fully understand what that means.  Instead give them a color timer.  (You can get one at  These timers show a circle of red on a clock face so as time passes the red disappears.  Even young children can “see,” and more importantly, understand, when the time is almost up.)  

When there is ten minutes left, give them a forewarning.  “You have ten minutes left, what do you need to do to be ready to come in?”  Then, “You have two more minutes.  What is one more thing you want to do?”  Be specific and concrete, describing what that one thing will be.  For example, one more; swing, kick of the ball, journey across the monkey bars, or dash around the perimeter of the yard.  A fair forewarning includes more than a reminder of 5 more minutes, followed by a sudden declaration that time is up.  

5. Do what you said you would do.  If despite the visual plan and concrete forewarnings your child resists it’s time to follow through.  Let him know that you will count to three. If he does not choose to walk into the house, you will carry him.  And if you carry him he will have chosen not to play outside the next day. The choice will be his.  

Then count, “One, you can choose to walk into the house and play outside tomorrow, or, I will choose to carry you and know you do not choose to play outside tomorrow.”  Two, the statement is repeated.  Three, “You did not choose to walk inside so I will choose to carry you.”  This is when he insists he will do it and you must firmly state, “I’m sorry.  You made a choice.  Next time you can make a different one. Then carry him in the house.  

6. Follow through.  The next day, despite the fact that you would really, really like a bit of peace and quiet, the kids need exercise and it’s a beautiful day, do not allow your little spirited one, who failed to come in peacefully yesterday, to play outside today.  We know this will take more time and effort from you.  But it’s only for one day, yet the message is critical.  Mom really does do what she said she would do.  

Now there might be a little voice in your head thinking this is way too much work.  Or, the kids should do what I ask them to do without all of this “talking and planning.”  Or, maybe even the other kids come inside without an argument, why do I have to do this for him?  

But think about it.  If you were having a relaxing conversation with a friend (we know you remember those moments) and suddenly another friend demanded it was time to leave, odds are you would not be too happy.  It’s a matter of respect to let someone know what to expect.   Children are people too.  

And once you and the kids get used to making visual plans, doing so will take you about 3 minutes. These are not works of art – you should see Lynn’s!  We both just let the kids scribble their drawings because we are artistically challenged.  Simply adding a few words allows us to remember what the “drawings” represent.  Visual plans can also be saved and used repeatedly so after the initial creation, all you have to do is review them before the transition.  

And while some children transition easier than others, if you do not provide that extra support for your spirited child, you’ll lose him.  This is when it is essential to remember, he did not get to choose his wiring.  He came this way.  It is an asset in that he values routines and while temperament is genetic, it is not destiny.  Through practice and coaching from you, he can learn to manage transitions like a pro.  Soon, thanks to your guidance, he will be able to make his own plans.   Over time, when there is an unexpected transition, he’ll even be able to stop, take a deep breath and declare, “That was a surprise!” He will not fall apart, because you have helped him gain the skills he needed to be successful.   

Try it!  
Share your success stories with us so we can celebrate with you.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

“It’s mine!” Sharing in the Sandbox and at Other Summer Gatherings

After arriving at the gathering and dropping your four-year-old at the sand box, you’ve grabbed a few chips and a cold drink.  Shifting your shoulders slightly, you take a deep breath.  So far all is quiet.   Joining the adult conversation you attempt to focus, but something inside of you keeps you alert to what’s happening in the “box.”  Just as you begin to relax, the shriek erupts.  “No, that’s mine!” Without even looking you know, it’s coming from your child.  Sighing very, very deeply, you turn to see him and his cousin, in a tug of war over the Tonka truck.   The cousin loses, tumbling to the ground.  Your son stands over him fiercely grasping the truck in both arms.  All eyes turn to you.

Sharing is an essential life skill, which becomes blatantly apparent, during those summer time family and neighborhood gatherings.

However, for a spirited child, who is committed to his goals, learning to share is not always an easy skill to acquire.  How do you teach sharing?  Lynn will tell you the lessons begin at Paidea, her child development center, in the toddler room.

First know the developmental stages of sharing. 

1.  Ownership:  Children need to “own” before they are ready to share. 

2.  Taking turns: Children can learn to ask for a turn, or to allow another child to have a turn.  

3.  Learning to wait:  Children can and need to learn delayed gratification.  

4.  Cooperative play: Children must have well developed language skills to be able to “share” and work together.  

So what does this look like? 

  • Understanding ownership begins with allowing each child to have his or her own materials. When you pull out the play dough instead of dumping the entire mass on the table, break it into pieces, setting one in front of each child so she can “own” it.  Or rather than a pile of blocks in the middle of the floor, count them out with the children and give each child ten.  In the sandbox, you make certain there are numerous pails, shovels, trucks, etc. so each child can have at least one.  

  • Taking turns and learning to wait:  Inevitably in the process of “owning,”  one child has the red block everyone wants.  Or, despite the fact there are three trucks, the yellow one is coveted by all.  This is the opportunity to introduce turn taking.  It is also the chance to teach delayed gratification or the ability to “wait.”  

  • So you say to the child who wants the truck his cousin is holding, “Gunnar, you want the truck and Oscar has it.  Shall we tell him you would like a turn?”  When Gunnar agrees, which he will do because you are addressing his interest, you turn to Oscar and say, “Oscar, Gunnar would like a turn.  How long until you are finished?  Gunnar is going to wait until you give it to him.”  

  • Oscar tells you he needs five more minutes, or he might ignore the request and simply continue digging.  Whichever way it goes, you wait a few minutes and remind him, “Remember Gunnar is waiting.  It is almost time for his turn.”  When Oscar shouts, “No,” you stay calm and empathize.  “It sounds like you are not finished.  When Gunnar is done, shall we tell him you want it back?”  Oscar agrees and hands it over.  Albeit reluctantly, but he does it.  

  • Cooperative Play:    This level of sharing is unlikely to occur before the preschool years when children’s language skills are well developed. This is where the children work together, using the yellow truck and the red truck to haul gravel for the castle they are constructing together.  Or the yellow truck, now overflowing with sand, requires not one, but TWO helpers to roll it across the sandbox to the building site.  

When children are of different ages, or have varying levels of language, you have to drop to the stage of the youngest child.

A preschooler may well be able and expected to “own,” take turns and play cooperatively, but a two-year-old won’t get past turn taking.  So if the conflict arises between a two-year-old and a three-year-old, to help them resolve this conflict find another truck so each can own.  But if there are two preschoolers you can talk about taking turns and how they can work cooperatively together.  

Now you might be thinking I want to just eat my chips and savor my ice cold drink.

This is WAY too much talking and it’s a whole lot easier, to simply grab the truck and declare, “If you are going to fight over it, I’m taking it away.”  But doing so robs you of an opportunity to teach sharing, an essential life skill, which can transfer from the sandbox, to the classroom, into the work place and to a healthy marriage.  Don’t miss it!  

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Free Play or Register Me Now? Solving the Summer Dilemma

“Any summer plans?”   I asked the parents in my group.  They slumped into their chairs, emitting groans and shaking their heads.  It was Kristin who broke the silence.

“Summer has become the season of ‘shoulds,'" she announced.  “He should be in swim lessons.  He should be playing soccer.  Oh, and don’t forget T-ball.”

Scowling, she continued, “I can see it now, the baby will never get her naps, I’m going to spend every free minute in the car and I cannot even think about the expense.”  Then she sighed, her voice dropping, “But if I don’t sign him up, I worry I’ll be letting him down, or he will never play on a high school team.  He’s only four-years-old, but still.”   Glancing around the group, she reflected,
“I don’t know about the rest of you, but I feel like I am trapped in a no-win situation.”

A long moment of silence filled the room.  Kristin had “laid it on the table.”  Suddenly the group erupted as everyone jumped into the conversation, eager to add their frustrations to Kristin’s.

I could not help it.  My eyes lit up with excitement.

“This is the perfect opportunity for teaching problem-solving skills!”

I declared.  If looks could kill, I was dead on the spot.  But I continued.  “Think about it, some of the most important things you can teach your children are:

how to creatively solve problems

establish priorities

and learn how to bring balance into their lives!”

The groans grew louder.  “Really," I said.  "Think about it.

If you asked your child what he wanted to do this summer, what would he say?”

“The only thing Gunnar would answer is ‘play,’” Ben stated dryly.

“Exactly,” I whooped in delight.

“But that doesn’t tell us anything!”  Ben insisted.

“Ah, but it does.  It tells us everything!”  I exclaimed.

You see four-year-olds don’t have any “shoulds” running through their brains.

They are not worried whether or not they are keeping up with the kids next door, or whether they will ever play high school soccer.  They are living in the moment and we can learn wonderful lessons from them.  Don’t get me wrong.  Structured activities can be educational and fun, but there are alternatives.

Imagine if instead of hitting the ‘pay now’ button on the registration page for yet one more class or team, you did what Lynn does at Paidea.  You created ‘play boxes.’”  Blank stares greeted my suggestion.

I turned to the board and began writing.

Art Box    

Contents:  ribbon, wrapping paper, construction paper, glue, tape, more tape, tape of all colors, markers, crayons, scissors, tissue paper, a stapler, stickers, string, toothpicks, pipe cleaners, paint, sequins, etc.

Water Toy Box 

Contents:  sponges for washing trucks, plastic animals, dolls, things that sink and float, turkey baster, strainers, funnels, brushes, etc.

Eyes lit up and suddenly the entire group was brainstorming.

Construction Box 

Contents: golf tees, Styrofoam, tools, tool apron, hard hats, measuring tape, pencils, glue, tape, etc.

Dress–up Box 

Contents: scarves, hats, purses, bags, capes, belts, vests, large jewelry, ties, etc.

Train Box 
Contents: trains, track, blocks, paper for tickets, maps, hats, cardboard, paint, etc. 

Music Box 

Contents:  rhythm instruments, streamers, favorite music, etc.

And for the older kids:

Deconstruction Box 
Contents:  an old piece of furniture or other items that can be taken apart with a few tools.  (Avoid electrical items such as computer monitors or camera flashes which can have capacitors inside that hold an electric charge even when unplugged.  Check the internet for more information.)  
The list went on as the group offered suggestions; 
a theater box,
grocery store box, 
Olympics box, 
ball box, 
garden box;  

The possibilities were endless. 

So, imagine if instead of dreading the idea of feeding the kids in the car and dashing off to a structured practice, you could go outside, pull out the music box and for a solid twenty minutes play with the kids before starting dinner.  Or, rather than waking the baby to haul her out to your preschooler’s art class, you put her down for a long uninterrupted nap, opened the art box and revisited your artistic self with your preschooler?  And if you were really honest, would your four-year-old rather play ball with you in the backyard, or go stand in line at T-ball?   
Your drawers, cupboards and attic are full of potential supplies.  If something is missing you can hit the local garage sales or thrift shops with your kids – Lynn’s favorite thing to do - and if you still need a few materials, check the dollar store.  
By using one morning this weekend to sit down as a family to brainstorm “play box” ideas, gather the supplies and find the perfect spot to store them, you’ll be ready at a moment’s notice for hours of “free play.”  What will be the result?  
Your child will practice skills such as:
creative problem-solving, 
team work, 
persistence and perseverance, 
self- expression,
and flexible thinking to name just a few.  
Now these are the REAL essential life skills!
If that is not enough reason to try it, take a moment to visualize how competent and confident the kids will feel when they show off their creations.  And for just a second, imagine “playing” instead of rushing, actually enjoying the deck you built instead of glancing at it as you dash out the door, and looking forward to summer because you know it is going to be FUN!  
Let us know what you think.  
Are you “letting your children down” if you choose to play instead of signing up for another structured activity?  
What happens when you “play” with the kids? 
Have you discovered successful strategies to bring balance into your summer days?