How to Create A Plan to Help Children Overcome Unwanted Behavior
Often parents ask me how to stop frustrating behavior.
“My daughter follows me around the house and talks incessantly.”
“My toddler won’t stay in his bed at night.”
“My child’s tantrums are driving me crazy.”
One way to think about ongoing annoying behavior is that it’s really a signal from our kids that their needs aren’t being met. Because we want to give our children what they need, this means that our needs are being threatened too.
Think about it. For the mother of the chatty tween, what she really wants is a little bit of peace and quiet for herself. The toddler who won’t stay in bed? Chances are the parents need more sleep. And the tantrums? There are lots of reasons for tantrums. Lately, in our house, my five year old is testing out different ways to get what she wants from us by whining.
It really doesn’t matter what the behavior is, in most cases it’s a question of whose needs are going to be met. Instead of thinking of this as a win-lose situation, where there is a sense of needing to “give in” to your child’s demands I’ve found it helpful to reframe the situation. Often reframing the situation means making a plan so that instead of reacting with your usual frustration in the moment, you can calmly respond according to the plan.
Here’s an example:
When our daughter was transitioning to her own bed she often struggled with the separation at the end of the day. She was used to co-sleeping and it was difficult for her to understand why she had to sleep in her own bed. After years of co-sleeping, the truth was she was too restless and kicking us. Suddenly the bed just didn’t seem big enough. We all needed more sleep.
After several weeks of bedtime meltdowns, my partner and I realized that we needed to do something differently. We sat down and made a plan. The plan involved making a “book” with the bedtime routine in it. We also bought a clock with a light that changes color at a preset time. We read the book every night before bed and explained to our daughter that when the light on her clock was yellow she needed to stay in her bed. When it turned green, she could come into our bed and snuggle. (We started with the green light super early in the morning and then slowly moved it later.)
The result wasn’t immediate, but within a week, bedtime was much easier in our house. Everyone knew what the expectations were and what was going to happen when my daughter did get out of bed: I would calmly walk her back to her room and tuck her in again.
I’m a girl who loves a good plan. The beauty of making a good plan is that you can use this strategy for almost any situation. Here are 6 steps to making a plan.
How To Make a Parenting Plan and What to Do with It.
What’s not working: Sometimes it’s helpful to talk with your partner or another adult. It’s best to do this when everyone is calm, rested and fed. Other times it’s good to start the conversation with your child. Begin by talking about what it is that is actually happening. The key here is to be as descriptive as possible. Less “It’s really annoying when you…” and more “Here’s what I’m noticing…”
Why this isn’t working: Here is where you get to talk about why this behavior or response is difficult for you, what your bigger purpose is – for yourself and for you child. (It’s helpful to talk about what’s important to you and not talk about the other person.) I find it super useful to be clear about why we are making a plan in the first place.
Make a Plan: Get really clear about what is going to happen – what you want to happen and any consequences or choices when things don’t follow the plan. The clearer you are about what it is that you want to have happen, the easier it is for you to share this vision with your children. Invite your child to talk about what she wants too. (This is where we made a little book. You could also make a list or draw a picture.) Creating the plan together is always powerful.
Revisit the Plan: Make time to talk with you child about the plan before you use it. Revisit the plan and make sure that it feels fair and safe for everyone. Again, the best time for this is when everyone is calm, rested and fed. I usually begin with something along the lines of: Let’s review our plan. We talked about how whining when you don’t get what you want isn’t really working. You said you’d like me to remind you using these words, “I see you are starting to get upset. What do you need to help yourself calm down?” Your choices are: Have some space by yourself or use the glitter jar. You can choose to use the glitter jar by yourself or with me.
Follow through: I love having a plan because it means that instead of getting mad I can calmly go to the plan. “Honey, do you want time by yourself right now or would you like to get the glitter jar?” is a much better reaction than getting frustrated.
Revise the plan: Sometimes it’s helpful to revise the plan. You think things are going to go one way, but really something else wants to happen. We have had a snack list on the fridge for the last few months after daily “what’s to eat?” conversations. The list is feeling a little stale, so it’s probably time to have a new conversation and change things up a bit.
I’d love to hear how making a plan goes for you.
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