Instead of Threats and Counting…

The other night was a test of patience.  Our little one, who is 2.5, was practically bouncing off the walls and could not hold still even for a moment to allow us to help her get ready for bed.  She tends to act very hyper when she’s especially tired, so it’s not like this was new to us.  But I was also tired.  My husband was tired.  And she kept avoiding our statements of “we’re getting ready for bed now” and “let’s get ready for bed” and “I need you to move over this way.”  Instead, she was climbing onto the back of the couch and jumping onto the pile of pillows, then screaming and laughing and wriggling away whenever one of us tried to pick her up or hold onto her.  It was a super fun game! For her.

We’ve been encountering more and more situations like this one, where she seems to be ‘testing limits’ and avoiding what we’re saying…or downright ignoring us altogether.  Oh my goodness it can be frustrating.  (Now that it’s a few days after I can calmly say she’s just trying to gain more control over her situation and environment and that this is completely normal and great and all part of her development.) 🙂

Last night, watching her scoot away from me, screaming maniacally, and climbing back up the couch, I had the urge to count.  To say, “I’m going to count to three and I expect you to be down here!”  

In my exhausted haze I caught myself… is this something I want to start?  Where does it go from here? I’m threatening something when I do that, but what? What am I threatening? What happens when I get to three?  Am I going to climb over and grab her down if she’s not already climbing down on her own?  What if she does comply when I start counting…what have I taught her?

In our Gentle Parenting Book Club the other week we began reading The Danish Way of Parenting. The first section talked about knowing what our default settings were.  What behaviors we default to when we are tired, stressed, not able to think clearly.

I suppose I found my default settings that night.

So instead, I took a breath, and said the statement that works *most* of the time.  The one that hardly fails at getting my toddler to comply with what I’m asking her to do.  I said it gently, but firmly, keeping my voice at a normal level and waiting for a break in between her screaming laughter so that I was sure she could hear me.

“Would you like to come over here by yourself, or would you like me to help you?”

A split second passed as she processed what I said, and then she turned around and announced she was doing it herself.  She climbed down from the back of the couch and over to me.

I’m not saying the rest of the night was a breeze… it certainly wasn’t. She was very tired, and very excited over the day’s events (it was a busy day), and it took a long while to help her calm down and fall asleep.

But in that minute of stress, I realized no matter what statement I said, either “One, two, Three!” or “Would you like to do it yourself or would you like me to help?” we were still going to be in the same situation.  She was still going to be very hyper and I was still going to be stressed. Only… my behavior had the risk of making the situation so much worse.  My  “do this or else!” only would have served to make me more stressed that I wasn’t being listened to, and that would not have helped anything.

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