It’s a conundrum we find ourselves in daily with our children. The day is going smoothly and everyone is peaceful and cooperative. Then, as you are juggling beach bags and multiple water bottles that are “too heavy” to carry and wet pool towels whilst trying to herd your chickens to the car the scene in the parking lot happens. You know that scene. You give a direction and suddenly it goes south….fast. Defiance. Shouts of “no”, and “I don’t want to!” and there he goes running off into the pool when you are ready to go.
The bottom line is that we rarely focus on children following directions unless they are NOT following the directions. When they do as they are told, we expect them to understand how helpful this is, but when they rebel, we lose our cool and take it personally. It’s a very difficult thing to understand that for a good portion of their small childhood years, kids are WIRED to oppose us. They are trying to figure out where you end and they begin.
As they get older, they are trying to sense what the limits are and how will you feel about them when they cross them. Will you still accept them? Will you follow through? They are figuring out how the world works by making your world difficult. It’s not personal.
Also…I find a little empathy goes a long way in these moments. Because as frustrated as you are with your arms full and kids herding to the car when the little guy goes for a defiant cannonball back into the pool? If you were him, would YOU want to leave the pool? Really? I didn’t think so.
One of the biggest ways to help with kids following the limits you lay out is to be proactive and playful with those limits when things are going well. Take a few minutes and play a game where you are in charge and there is defined structure. Some classic examples:
Ring Around the Rosy
Cross the Line: the adult chooses a silly walk and sound to cross the room from one side to the other and then the child has to do the same.
Mirror/Mirror: Stand in front of the child while he slowly mirrors everything you do from your side.
Hop and Stop: the adult says “hop” and the child starts hopping until you say “stop”. Of course you are going to try and trick them with other words that sound like “hop” and “stop”!
Freeze Fairy: tell them to freeze in various silly poses: like you are eating a cheeseburger, statue of liberty, sprayed with cold water, drinking sour lemonade.
Another great way to build a positive response to limits is to give a cue word for a task. For example, “when I say ‘beach ball’, throw all your clothes down the laundry chute.” Let them wait in anticipation (and giggles) as you say “volleyball’, ‘basketball’, ‘baseball’ and then….”BEACH BALL!”. The key here is to make following directions fun. I know it takes some thinking on your toes, but try to think outside the box of “because I said so”.
Hope this is helpful and finds you enjoying a playful summer!
Tina is a full time working mom. She is a mental heath therapist (LSCSW) and registered play therapist supervisor (RPT-S). She is married to an incredibly tolerant and patient dude and has “just one” adorable tot. She laughs too loud, talks too much and usually creates a scene. She can be found writing on Bull in a China Shop in her spare time.