Sunday, November 14, 2010

Weekly Column: Preschooler Post-Mortem

Some days, I throw my hands up and willingly admit that I have no clue what I’m doing as a parent: I have no ultimate control, and chaos reigns.  What’s encouraging, though, is that some days I DO feel good about how I’m raising my daughters. 
I had one of those days just last week, though it was immediately preceded by one of the reigning-chaos days.  It was the day after Halloween, in fact.  The day after a weekend of embarrassingly high amounts of candy consumption and a swirl of energy-sucking activity.  If it’s not clear, I’m admitting that Halloween wasn’t our best day this year.  It ended with my daughters being rushed into bed after a melt-down or two, and my husband and I discussing the state of our parenting techniques long into the time when we should have rightfully been pilfering from the kids’ trick-or-treat buckets. 
Our conclusions were mind-blowing in their complexity.  First, we need better follow-through, and second, we need better follow-through.  (See?  Very complex.  Ahem.) 
So the day after Halloween, I had some work to do.  I set about following through, highlighting where the previous night’s behavior had veered off-track, and what we’d be doing to ensure it didn’t happen again.  A post-mortem, of sorts, for a preschooler’s tantrum. 
I’ve tried to do this for years now, and I know it can work.  When my child is misbehaving, any words I speak in those frustrating moments are probably not going to be heard.  She’s angry or embarrassed; her mind isn’t open to understanding the reasons behind her scolding.  That doesn’t mean I’ll lay off the discipline, it just means that I need to stop trying to tell her the particulars of why she’s being disciplined right that minute.  It’s been much more effective for me to save that part for later.  When she’s had a chance to calm down – a few hours later, maybe – she’s so much more open to hearing the reasons behind WHY she got in trouble.  We can discuss the situation and help her work through possible ways it could have been resolved more simply. 
The trouble is that I forget how helpful those post-mortems are.  They take time – thoughtful, intentional time that is so easily forgotten among other parts of our day.  I don’t remember that a review discussion needs to happen because the heat of the moment has passed.  I assume the problem has been solved, and it might be, but that extra step of discussion helps to seal the deal. 
Plus, those discussions lead to more days like the one we had after Halloween. 
One of the first things I did with my preschooler that morning was address the issues from the night before.  We talked about why it wasn’t good to ignore the rules.  We talked about the acceptable ways to state your desires in case of disagreement.  We talked about exactly which consequences would be enforced the next time that situation crops up.  And we did it peacefully.  We even threw in a few ‘practice rounds’ just for kicks, during which time she got to reenact the right way and the wrong way to follow a rule.  She thought this was downright hilarious, and internalized a valuable lesson at the same time.
Our day was peppered with possible ways for the previous night’s behavior to reassert itself, but each time, my daughter handled herself well.  She remembered.  I believe the few moments we took for intentional follow-up discussion were responsible for that.
Either that, or she was all hopped-up on Halloween sugar.  We may never know.

[Online version here.]


  1. aHHHHH..... this is exactly what i am dealing with... following through and meaning what I say. We're working on it. Esp. with my middle child who is 2 1/2. He's a strong willed one, that boy!
    I'd like to hear some of your discipline ideas!! :)

  2. I have used the "love and logic" series of helps for my girls and they worked nicely. No matter where we are, we stop and wait for the tantrum to stop. We ignore the child completely until they quit. But I do not leave them. If we are home, I place them in their room without a word. The only thing I do say is "feel free to join us when you can be happy again". There is no yelling, no recriminations, but I keep putting them back in the room until they have stopped screaming. Then I give them lots of love, but I do not talk to them about it. The discipline is exactly the same every time, with lots of love afterwards. It works really well. Of course, I have one who had to try me out in public. We went to an out of the way place and she sat at my foot until the screaming stopped. Then we went home immediately after. It worked and all the public tantrums stopped. The worst she did after that was stomp her feet on the way to her room to have her fit. The hardest thing we ever do is follow through and don't lecture. I am one of the lecture type of parents and wish I would have found this rule when the older kids were babies. I would have saved myself a world of grief!!


Hmm...And how did that make you FEEL?