There are times in everyone’s life when absolute certainty is not necessarily a great thing. In a consultation with a family recently, the mother asked me “should we take him to that party when we know it is going to be a disaster?”
My initial answer: NOPE. The only caveat was if there was anything they could do to prepare things well enough in advance to at least give them a bit more confidence in how successful the child’s behavior was going to be. This was a lesson of preparation and thinking ahead of time: why are you that sure it is going to be a disaster? Is there some way to make those things less likely?
For example, “he hates that Matthew kid and always gets in a fight,” “when the cake comes out, he freaks out if he does not get the corner piece,” or “she is not going to be able to handle all those kids skating faster than her.”
Think through these things instead of a) waiting for it to happen again with crossed fingers, b) whisking him away from the party right before the cake comes out, c) warning him with a stern voice what will happen if he hits Matthew, or worse yet d) publicly punishing her for engaging in a behavior you knew was going to happen.
1. Talk about it ahead of time and don’t act like it is not going to happen
2. Set up something positive for engaging in the appropriate behavior (e.g., “OK, when the cake gets cut, you might not get the corner piece, so what do you say if you don’t? I will be there to help and remind you to say ‘thank you’ and if you do, we can do something special when we get home.”
3. Prevent those things that are simply not going to be well-controlled (e.g., make sure Matthew and your kid aren’t in the bounce house at the same time).
4. Be there at the crucial time to remind them of the lesson you already taught. You can do so in fewer words now. Whisper the reminder, the better behavior and the positive things that will result.
5. Make a big deal out of it when it happens (although you worked your tail off and missed the last round of “mommy and daddy drinks” to make sure it went well).
Some people say kids need to learn from their mistakes. I’m not one of those people.