Whenever I go to the grocery store, I’m reminded of the everyday challenges parents face. I recently overheard a parent say to a screaming child, “Calm down, or we’re leaving the store.” The child continued to scream, and the parent continued to say, “Calm down, or we’re leaving the store.” Five aisles later, the child was still screaming. I empathized with both the parent and the child because it reminded me of the times when my kids had public meltdowns that left me embarrassed and frustrated. There’s no immunity from parenting challenges.
I know a 4-year old who acts like the parent and always wants to be in charge of every situation. She doesn’t want to listen to adults and do what they’re asking of her. She gets very upset when she can’t do everything the way she wants it to be done. Do you have any tips I can share with this family?
Great question! It’s common for 4-year olds to want more control and independence and then get angry or frustrated when things don’t go their way. This makes it all the more important to teach young children social-emotional skills, such as recognizing and expressing emotions, handling disappointment, cooperating with others, and controlling their impulses. This might seem like an impossible task for parents who feel like they’re at the mercy of their children’s behaviors, but a few positive parenting strategies can really make a difference. Here are some tips for this family:
Spend quality time together. Many parents get so busy or overwhelmed that they stop noticing the positive things about their children and pay more attention to the “negative” behaviors. This can teach children that acting out is an effective way to get their needs met. Parents can change this pattern by spending brief but frequent amounts of quality time with children throughout the day. Even taking 30 seconds to listen and respond to a child’s question provides the reassurance that they matter, and their parents and caregivers are available for them.
Give descriptive praise. Acknowledging children’s efforts and accomplishments helps teach children new skills, including listening, cooperating, and following directions. Descriptive praise works best when it’s sincere, specific, and describes the skill or behavior the child is learning. For example, “Thank you for following directions. I appreciate it.”
Establish family rules. Rules are most effective when there are a few of them, they are simple and realistic, and they focus on what to do (versus what not to do). For example, instead of saying “No grabbing toys,” try saying, “Ask for the toys.” Whenever possible, include children in setting the family rules. This helps them understand the reasons for the limits and gives them a chance to share their ideas about what is fair and reasonable.
Give clear, calm instructions. Get close and gain the child’s attention before giving a clear instruction that tells the child what to do – “Please turn off the TV.” If the instruction is to stop doing something, add an instruction about what to do instead – “Please stop hitting the dog. Pet the dog gently.”
Use assertive discipline. If a family rule is broken, be prepared to respond calmly and consistently. Ask the child what the rule is – “What’s our rule about taking toys from others?” Have the child say the rule and practice following it – “Show me how you ask for a turn.” If needed, use a logical consequence that fits the situation, like removing the activity or object related to the problem for a short amount of time. Then return the activity or object and give the child a chance to practice following the rule or solving the problem. Occasionally, children may need time and space away from a situation to calm down before returning and trying again. After using any of these discipline strategies, give descriptive praise for positive choices and behaviors.
Final Thoughts: I strongly believe that every parent or caregiver needs support and tools to raise happy, healthy children – whether it’s on a daily basis at home, or on an occasional bad day at the grocery store. A compassionate smile, an encouraging word, or a few practical parenting tips can make all the difference for both parents and children.
This article is created by Nicole Young, the mother of two children, ages 14 and 17, who also manages Santa Cruz County's Triple P - Positive Parenting Program. Scientifically proven, Triple P is available locally through the Child Parent Institute. Our classes are listed at calparents.org/classes.
You can create your own parenting class - call (707) 585-6108 and ask to schedule an individual consultation with an experienced, trained parent educator.
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