Way back when, and I mean, waaaay back when, I was a swimming teacher. I’d have parents come up to me and ask me how I would get the children to behave. My answer was simple, “I say ‘No’ and I mean it”. With lessons after school, you’d have between 5-8 children in your class, depending on how old they were and how far on their swimming journey they’d be. But with swimming classes run for a primary school (7-11 years old), you’d get the whole class of children for half an hour. Sometimes over 30 children would be in my care, in a swimming pool, sometimes with an assistant, sometimes not. Right from the first minute of the first lesson, I’d have to make sure they listened to me, because if they didn’t, it was dangerous.
After a few trials and errors, I developed a simple tactic. They either listened, or they got out. They did what I asked, or they got out. If they misbehaved, they got out. You get the picture. With one never-to-be-forgotten class in Tidworth (a heady mix of Army children and low income council-housed families; some of the girls at 11 already had their belly-buttons pierced) after the first lesson I ended up with 8 out of the original 30-odd children. But for the next 12 weeks of the term, they behaved like angels, because they knew I wasn’t going to back down, mess them around or give them an ever-changing boundary that confused the bejeepers out of them.
Before Hubs and I even got pregnant, we had a conversation about how we would work together when the issue of behaviour came up. As we’re in full on toddler-dom and terrible twos with ‘No!’, ‘Mine!’ coupled with diva-tantrums and screaming over every little thing, including the washing powder not going into the shopping trolley, are ensuing, how are we doing? Hubs and I discussed what we’d like our child to do, act and behave – so we’re holding ourselves to it too. If we want him to sit at the table to eat, we do as well. If we want him to say please and thank you, we do too. I knew that children model what they see, not what they hear far more. Except I’ve learnt the hard way that a new word a day pops up, including ‘Shit’, ahem.
We are not here to be his friends, we are here to be his parents. They are two entirely separate things. I’m already struggling with knowing that shortly, we will have to purchase some item of technology for him, (shortly in this case is within five years). He had a whale of a time in the garden with his dad this afternoon, making mud pies, throwing a ball around, picking up a worm and planting seeds. Before he went to bed tonight I put on Louis Prima and we danced around the living room, tidying his toys. The longer I can leave him unplugged the better in my opinion, because already when he watches TV, well, it’s horrible, he won’t engage with us at all. When he was ill the week before last he didn’t want to, or feel up to play, so the TV was on to help entertain him, even then I selected the programs and DVDs, but when it got switched off, he shrieked in frustration.
If you want you child to behave and you constantly tell them ‘If you do that again, we’re going home!’ and then don’t take them home, what are you teaching them? That they can do whatever they umpity-ump like, with no consequences, so they will ignore you. We’ve already left food behind on a table when we’ve been out and Peanut has cracked it, because after we explained politely, that if he didn’t stop being naughty, we’d leave. We were in a shop looking at beds for him when he found a big, squashy cushion in the shape of a car. Immediately it was ‘Mine!’ and although we explained that it wasn’t, put it back on the bed and were walking away, he cracked it. So we walked off and left him to it, full on tantrum in the middle of the shop, when he looked up and realised there was no audience, he got up and just walked towards us. We also step over him when he’s wailing on the floor, ignoring his tantrums, and then giving him lots of cuddles when the spawn of satan has gone and our sweet little boy comes back to us.
We also try to be clear about what we’re doing each day, so that he knows what is going on. Our week-day routine is clear to him, but weekends ebb and flow with life, as I’m sure yours do too. So we tell him where we’re going, ask if he wants to walk or does he want the buggy and involve him in what is going on. I’ve worked with children all my adult life in one form or another, and I do think folks forget they are little people. We don’t like not knowing what is going on, or feeling unsure about what is expected of us, so why should a child be any different? As Peanut continues to push his boundaries, working out what he can and can’t do, where we’ll let him play and where we will ask him to stop, he is relaxing into his world, because he knows that the line he can go to does not move.
A friend of mine with three children shared this article on yelling at children tonight. It resonated so loudly, I’ve hammered this out instead of doing my ironing. If you’ve only got “loud”, no-one can hear you, let alone your child who’s looking to you for guidance on how to behave. We’re not going to be the only influence in Peanut’s life, but we want to be the best influence in his life.