Sunday, November 7, 2010

Weekly Column: Prior Proper Planning

I stood by, open-mouthed in horror, as my toddler dumped a cup of bathtub water directly onto the bathroom floor.  The water seeped across the tile, soaked into a rug, splattered the wall, and fueled my fire.  I was enraged. 
We had been over this so many times: KEEP THE WATER IN THE TUB!  And so many times it has come pouring out, whether by accident or happy insurgence.  In fact, water being dumped out of the bathtub is such a common occurrence that you would think I’d have figured out a way to stop it by now.
I haven’t.
The possibilities are reasonable enough, though. I could remove all cups from the tub, or give a time-out after the bath, or spray her with cold shower water…
Oh, but I wouldn’t do that last one.  Probably.
The point is that there were things I could do rather than just saying “Don’t do that again,” and becoming irritated when she disobeyed, but I hadn’t yet taken the time to think too deeply about them.  And that’s the problem.  The ‘not thinking’ gets us nowhere.  We go in circles of unwanted behavior from an experimental toddler who inevitably ends up with a frustrated mama. 
So when my bathroom floor was – yet again – flooded with bathwater, I was spurred into action which should have been taken months ago.  I took all cups and water-scooping toys from the tub, exiling them to the sink until further notice.  And as simple as that, the water stayed in the tub for the rest of bath time. 
Having a plan is, for me, one of the most helpful ways to keep my cool as a parent.  When I’m caught off guard by some messy disaster or willful disobedience, I can barely see past my surprise or anger in that moment.  All I can think about is how much I wish my child hadn’t just smashed a grape on the TV screen or pulled over the floor lamp.  How much they should know better. 
But the truth is, sometimes toddlers just don’t know better – they’re experimenting or learning cause and effect, and they don’t see what’s wrong.  It’s my job to teach them.  And it’s my job to not be blinded by frustration in the heat of the moment.  If I’m too swamped in my own irritation, I’ll never be able to recover quickly enough to see what needs to happen next.  Should it be a time-out?  A lost privilege?  A natural consequence?   
That’s where prior planning comes in handy.  I have a fairly standard set of consequences for bad behavior, so when something goes wrong I’ll know what to do next.  It won’t boil down to me yelling and feeling out of control, because I know what I should do.  And if I know what I should do, I can do it calmly. 
My standard consequences aren’t anything fancy, but they suit us well.  For example, if my preschooler refuses an instruction the first time, she gets warning to try again, followed by a time-out.  If my toddler throws her cup from the dinner table, she gets nothing more to drink with her meal.  If my daughters start arguing over a toy and can’t figure out how to share it peacefully, the toy is removed.  These consequences are simple, but knowing what action I should take ahead of time helps me remain focused on the situation, not my anger.
Planning ahead helps teach disciplinary lessons with patience and love -- two traits that are among the most necessary parenting tools in our possession.

[Online version here.]


  1. I feel like you were borrowing a chapter from my book...Very similar situations happen here too. Thanks for your insights!

  2. Helpful and lovely as usual. Thank you!


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