Control those outbursts

2011-02-24 00:00

“I HAD it first.”

“It’s mine.”

“Tell her to give it to meeee.”

Daily, these words echo within our home, as I’m sure they do through every home with small children. Throughout the years we have tried so many different ways to control these outbursts. Everything looks so easy on paper but add two, or more, little people filled with passion, anger and irritation and all reasoning goes to the wind.

To help calm the storms we have implemented a rule regarding ownership. It’s simply that if an item belongs to a specific child they may choose to share it or not. This develops the character of all the children involved. The child wanting the toy may need to learn to honour the fact that it is not theirs and that they can’t have everything they want. The child who owns the toy may need to learn to share or if they genuinely are concerned about it being broken or such, they need to learn how to put the toy away tactfully — and not flaunt it in the other’s face. It often helps to think how it would feel for us as adults if someone came up and asked to borrow our car. If it was a friend we may agree; however, to a complete stranger we’d defiantly decline their request.

Some people suggest that children should just be left to fight it out but that does not help train them to develop their social skills. As parents, it’s our responsibility to help our children channel their feelings and become compassionate, considerate thoughtful, caring citizens.

As adults, we wouldn’t want to spend time with people who insult us or scream in our faces and if someone hit us over the head we’d report it as a criminal offence. We wouldn’t just accept others treating us in certain ways and yet we often expect children to have to put up with similar situations. Just as in the adult world, relationships require trust and friendship to blossom, so each child needs to earn the right to play with other children — even their siblings. If, however, they can’t play within the expected social norms, they need to learn that they won’t be able to join in.

This may sound really complicated but it simply works like this: even when children are irritated and upset with each other, they need to talk and act respectfully toward one another. Failing which, they no longer have the right to spend time with those they are upsetting. This behaviour is achieved by placing the child on a chair until they choose to behave in an acceptable way. If they continue their anti-social behaviour, they are banned from playing with the others for a length of time, such as an hour or for the morning. Not until this happens do they realise how much they actually want to be with their friends or siblings and they soon learn to calm their tempers. If both children are at each other, both are placed on chairs. If they get off the chair and continue to fight, the object of dispute is put in the cupboard and the children returned to the chairs. In this way, when the children are ready to practise self-control they have to think of something entirely different to do.

We’ve used this technique with children as young as two years old and they quickly learn how they need to honour each other in order to be allowed to be a part of family activities. It is hard work and requires vigilant parenting but to see your children playing together happily is worth all the effort.

• Joanne Madgwick is a parenting & educational consultant. She has worked in schools, at a tutorial centre and privately, and is mother to five children aged three to 13. She can be reached at 071 352 3496 or www.susa-parent center.com

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