If you're the typical stretched parent, running from one end of the valley to the other… Juggling school, Tae Kwon Do practice, dance class, doctors’ appointments, errands, birthday parties, cooking dinner, cleaning the house, and remembering to breath and bathe in between, you probably aren't paying much attention to the vocabulary you're using.
Your three year old just dumped an entire bag of goldfish all over the back seat, and now thinks they’re the star of comedy hour, squishing the doomed fishies into the deepest crevice of the seats, and smearing the remains all over the window, all while simultaneously kicking off their shoes, and shouting Frozen at the top of their lungs, while your school ager keeps their dirty finger just far enough away to make, I’m not touching you, A valid statement.
In this moment, you’re rendered defenseless.
What’s a parent to do?
I’ll pull this car over!
Will you though?
Not only do you now sound like your mother, which you swore you never would, but are you really going to pull over, in rush hour traffic, and let the Hot n’ Ready pizza get cold?
Of course not! So, why make an empty threat? It only furthers the situation, and you’ve just stripped your own power, and now suddenly, you’re the star of comedy hour.
Bare with me for a moment, as we take an awkward turn…
Don’t think about your underwear….
Don’t think about what color they are…
Don’t think about what style they are…
Don’t think about if they’re dirty or clean…because hopefully their clean...
I said don’t…but, I’m sure all you were thinking about was what color and how perfectly clean your underwear is right? Because, you totally had time for laundry this week!
When a child is engaged in a particular activity or behavior, whether it is positive or negative, all of their focus and energy is being held on whatever it is they are doing.
So, as the goldfish are being crunched into a million unvacuumable pieces, and you’re shouting, DON’T DO THAT! The child cannot pick out a specific request. And will continue with their Goldfish tyranny.
DON’T SMASH THE GOLDFISH! is only slightly better, as now the child can now distinguish what it is that you’re talking about.
GOLDFISH! HEY! I HAVE THOSE! LOOK! I’M SQUISHING THEM!
We’ve now established that mom or dad is angry, but why? The child is clearly having the time of their life causing Goldfish casualties. Let’s take it a step further.
“We keep our shoes on our feet.”
“Goldfish go in our mouth.”
“When we are in the car, we use inside voices.”
Using phrases that give a particular command (cause let’s face it, you aren’t asking at this point) and cutting out words like “don’t” and “stop”, allow the child to hear clearly what it is you want them to do, instead of what you don’t want them to do.
STOP RUNNING! Use walking feet.
DON’T SCREAM! Use an inside voice.
STOP HITTING! Use soft hands.
DON’T BITE! Teeth are for eating and smiling.
As your child grows, and is able to understand vocabulary more, you will be able to ask open ended questions, that will allow your child to redirect themselves.
STOP RUNNING! What kind of feet do we use inside?
DON’T SCREAM! Are we inside or outside? What kind of voice do we use inside?
STOP HITTING! How do you feel when someone hits you? How do you think that made them feel when you hit them? What can we do instead?
DON’T BITE! What are our teeth used for? How would you feel if someone bit you?
It may take a few times, remembering to use different vocabulary, especially when your blood is pumping, and you realize your once awesome ride, now smells like grilled cheese and soccer cleats. But, I guarantee, you will suffer much less Goldfish catastrophes.