Alright kids, what are the rules when we go inside?
You’ll hear me ask that question pretty much every time we are in the car. The answer usually contains our six word mantra. This lays down the basics of our all the time rules for good behavior. Then I’ll expand a bit more depending on what we are walking in to and how much time we have. The exact wording will change, but the main exchange always contains one important thing. I ask them how they should behave. (As always, Amazon links in this post are affiliate links. Gotta keep us in science supplies.)
Preschool Wise talks about using the idea of ‘Ask and Tell’ to help our children learn how to behave in different situations. I think a common mistake we make as parents is to assume our kids know how to behave when we go somewhere new. Let’s think about ourselves. How do we know how to act in a new situation? Well usually we can refer back to past experiences and make some inferences for the new one. We know how to look around and observe how others are behaving. And we know how to ask questions if we aren’t sure of a new situation. (I can’t be the only one to still ask my mom questions about new experiences.) Our children don’t have that sort of background information or experience to ask these sorts of questions. They need our help to learn how to figure things out.
Ask and tell is a method of doing this. When our children our very young we need to tell them how to behave. Things like don’t yell and don’t hit. Take turns. The basics of most interactions. When we go somewhere new we need to point out different ways to behave. If we go to a restaurant we sit quietly at the table the whole time. At a friend’s house we don’t just take toys home with us. At the library we use indoor voices. That sort of thing. Preschool Wise talks about ask and tell, but I think it can be more of a tell and ask situation.
Before we go anywhere I outline what is expected of my children. I let them know what sort of situation we are entering and how I expect them to behave there. When appropriate I try to add in the why behind the rule. We don’t run at the pool because the deck is wet and we might fall. We don’t yell at the library because other people are trying to read. It is easy to leave out the why, especially with little ones. But they can understand a lot, and giving that why can make the difference between a rule being followed and it being ignored. Think about it, we all tend to react better if we know why we are doing something as opposed to just blindly following an order.
As Ben has gotten older we have moved more to the ask section. I flat out ask him what the rules are. Sure, sometimes he needs help and I have to prompt him. But the asking is an important step. It is so easy for our kids to just tune us out, or nod along without listening. Asking forces them to pay attention and think about what has been said. Speaking the words helps reinforce them. They are thinking the answers, speaking them, and hearing themselves say them. That is three ways they are processing the information.
More than just making sure your child is actually paying attention to you, asking gives ownership of their behavior to your child. This ownership gives a sense of control. Think about it. Our little ones actually have very little control over their lives. We adults are the ones who decide when they eat, when they sleep, when it’s time to leave the park. That is so hard! When we feel we have no control we feel powerless. This can contribute to tantrums and acting out. Kids want to feel like they have a say in what is happening to them. Asking them how they are supposed to behave empowers them to think it through and make the decision for themselves. We all know kids are more likely to do something if they think it is their idea.
As our kids get older we can do less telling and more asking of how should we behave. And don’t be afraid to ask your kids one of my favorite questions- Why? Why should be careful when we play? Why do we need to share? Why should we not hit? These questions as to why we need to follow rules and behave in certain manners help build a mindful thought pattern and discourage a selfish focus. Sure it is hard to share, but we need to think of how other people feel and not just of ourselves. Thinking this way helps our children realize their actions affect others, and that we need to consider other people’s feelings. This builds empathy.
This might seem like we are putting too much thought into something that could just be, “Hey kids, behave.” But this builds into all areas of parenting. We want our kids to think through all areas of their lives. Why do I behave at the dinner table can build into why do I eat healthy food and why do I act respectfully. Why do I help out around the house can become why do I give back to others. In general it plants the seed for kids to think things through themselves, not just rely on others to tell them what to do.
These ask and tell conversations are a part of intentional parenting. As parents we are practicing these skills ourselves. It’s easy enough to explain why we don’t just run around during church to our little ones. But what about when they aren’t so little anymore? The questions of what to do and why just get harder, and we are not going to be around for all of them. Our kids need to be able to think through the tough stuff. Like what do I do if I am asked to do drugs? Why? How do I handle it if I am being bullied? Or what if my friend is the bully? These aren’t easy situations.
As parents we need to practice leading these talks. It’s hard to talk to our kids about the tough stuff. If we have spent years just giving orders and never giving our kids a chance to be a part of the conversation, why would they start talking to us when they are tweens or teens? Asking and telling on the little things is our practice as parents for when things get big. If we have a habit of communicating expectations our children will know what we want from them. And if we have a habit of talking with them instead of just ordering them around it can be easier for them to come to us with these big things. Which is something I think we all want even more than we want our kids to not have tantrums at the store.
Today some of the BFBN ladies are posting about different aspects of Preschool Wise that have nothing to do with sleep. Check out what they have to share with us!
Chronicles of a Babywise Mom: How to Teach Table Manners to Your Child
The Journey of Parenthood: How To Get Out the Door Quicker with Kids
Let’s Be Brave: Why Community is Important