Saturday, April 21, 2012

Toddler Tricks - 89: Be Specific

I know, I know, last week I said be vague, but I was talking about different things. When you are promising something, be vague so that they're happy, but they don't have any specific image to attach to. Be vague when you're talking about you. Be specific when you are talking about them.

Problem:

Your kid is misbehaving. Whether it's whining about the same thing over and over again in the space of five minutes, throwing a raucous tantrum, making a huge mess, or trying to start a fight with a sibling or any of the other millions of ways a kid can misbehave, they're doing something they know they shouldn't be. You've asked them to be good. You've told them if they don't behave, x, y and z will be taken away or they'll go to their room. They don't care.

Solution:

Be specific. I often fall into the trap of saying to my twins, "listen, I just need you to be good for five more minutes."

But what does be good mean? What does behave mean? It's too broad. The girls can't grasp the concept in real time. Sure, theoretically they know what to be good in the general sense means. But the general sense has no bearing on their specific desires right at the moment. You may as well not have said anything at all because they won't even hear you ask them to 'be good.' It's too vague. They can't picture it.

Instead, I have to remind myself to explain to them what being good in that moment means to me.

"I need you to be quiet while I'm on the phone."
"I need you not to pull your sister's hair."
"I need you to be patient. Don't ask me that again for five minutes."

(Now, they don't know what five minutes is, but they usually make an educated guess. They come pretty close.)

With specific commands to attach to, the girls have a much easier time behaving in the way I need them to at any given time. It also forces me to acknowledge what I need from them. Because oftentimes, when I say be good, I don't know what I mean any more than they do. Good is too vague.

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