My dentist said it takes 21 days to develop a new habit. I didn’t track it exactly, but after about three weeks I began to consistently floss my teeth every day without having to “try” to remember. Consistency is important for ourselves and for our children. The problem is, it can be absolutely exhausting to be consistent. My mom, Mimi, offered me the best parenting advice I’ve heard: “If you don’t have the energy, pretend you didn’t see it.” I live by these words often.
Although it is important to be consistent with all of our words and actions, my focus right now is on using consistent transitional language. Transitions can be really challenging for children, and are a prime time for power struggles to erupt. Power struggles generally occur around ending highly desired activities and transitioning to less than desirable activities — ending playing at the playground when it’s time to go home or stopping reading books to get in bed.
I recently noticed that I repeat the same language over and over when transitioning Keener, and I believe it has helped me avoid power struggles with him.
The key here is to use the same, consistent language no matter what the transition is. It started with bedtime. No matter how many books we read, the words this is the last book was the signal that reading time was over after that book. No negotiations, no exceptions.
I realized I also did this with ending playtime. We are going to be heading upstairs soon. Think about what you want to play with before we go up. I will then help him select an activity and say OK, trains are the last thing you are going to play with before we go up.
I decided to try this the other night when Keener was engaging in an undesirable behavior while playing. He would not stop playing with a whistling tea kettle that gives off a horrendous sound. He gave me that “I know I’m being a punk” face and continued to do it. I looked at him and said, That sound is unpleasant. I can see you enjoy making that sound. You can do it one more time. And then as he did it, I said, That is the last time. And it worked. The power struggle was gone. I didn’t have to take the tea kettle away or take him away from the tea kettle. He was able to transition to another toy, because he very clearly knows what the word “last” means. There are no guarantees that this is going to be foolproof (of course it won’t, he’s 2.5 and incredibly impulsive). But, I will continue to look for times where the word last might work.
What to say:
- This is the last book, then we are getting in bed.
- This is the last time down the slide, then we are leaving the park. We will come back.
- This is the last marker, then we are putting art supplies away.
Using a consistent word helps. And being consistent helps, too. If you say last, make it the last. Keener knows that last means last every single time. If it is the last book, there is no negotiating one more. If it is the last time down the slide, then you can bet we are getting in that car/stroller right after he goes down. The only way it will be effective is if we are consistent with our language and our follow through. Through both my teaching and my time as a mom, I have found that children are happier and feel more secure when they know what to expect, and when they can trust us to mean what we say.