Do we always need a big behavior plan and positive reinforcement system to turn things positive in our homes? Not always.
We walk to pick up my first-grader from school each day. I enjoy the movement, the fresh air, and the fun walk home with all the neighbors. One day, my daughter came out of school and was immediately looking upset to me. I was worried that something had happened at school that I needed to be all Mama Bear about. No, she was just in a bad mood and didn’t want to spend the afternoon at home with mom and little sister. She wanted to go all the places and do all the things but my answer was no. (We are still in a pandemic. I have to say no to so many requests even though I also want to go all the places and do all the things!)
We started walking home. She was sulking. And I had that familiar feeling of dreading the afternoon coming on. There goes our peaceful afternoon at home. Here come power struggles, whining, you name it. This is going to stink.
I started to shift into fix-it mode. How can I fix this day? Should we start a sticker chart for talking nicely to mom in order to earn some iPad time? Should I give up my normal weekday screen time boundaries and just put a movie on so the kids are distracted and I don’t have to listen to complaints? Should I give in and take her somewhere? But then she wins by pouting and speaking disrespectfully. I don’t want to reinforce those behaviors.
Thankfully the walk takes about 15 minutes. I needed every single second to brainstorm silently and get all that fix-it mode out of my head and just focus on what my sweet girl needed right then.
So what did I do? When we got home, instead of my normal after-school routine, I got out supplies for science experiments. Our little science kit, baking soda, vinegar- and my kids got super excited about it. We did science experiments together. We made things bubble up and foam; we changed the colors of the foam; we had so much fun.
My kids love doing science experiments. I don’t get it all out often. It requires 100% of my attention, my prep, and mostly my cleaning up. So why did I get it all out this day?
My child who was in a terrible mood didn’t need a sticker chart or even a punishment. She needed some quality time with her dear old mom. She needed real connection- without distractions or constant questioning. She needed my undivided attention and some good old fashioned family fun.
Connection saved us that day. Even though her attitude made me want to push away and not be even closer to her, that is exactly what saved our afternoon.
We had a wonderful rest of the afternoon and evening. After our science fun we were able to get to normal routines, have quality play time, and the kids did things independently. We were able to debrief later about how it’s okay to be disappointed about things and here are ways to communicate that more respectfully. It was a pleasant discussion with some modeling and practice. Not a lecture that gets ignored while emotions are running high.
Twenty minutes of science time was all it took. Not a big elaborate behavior plan this time. Sometimes you need both- connection and a structured plan. But no matter what- that focused, undivided time doing something fun with your kids is crucial.
Connection first. Everything else comes after.
How are you going to connect with your child today?