Parenting is often a guessing game. I don’t know what’s wrong with her….she can’t talk yet. I think she’s teething…or she’s sick, or she’s just fussy. I don’t know why my child is angry, is it something I did or something that happened at school? Is the rash an allergic reaction, because of the new detergent, or because I caught her eating ants outside yesterday?
When something is going on we don’t like or even worse, that is dangerous or health-related, sometimes we have to get in there, get our hands dirty and start troubleshooting. The child used to sleep through the night and has stopped. The baby used to eat a lot and now refuses the breast, bottle or puree. She used to be a happy toddler and now she constantly throws tantrums and screams. My child used to talk to me and now acts like they hate me. I could go on and on but I think you get the picture.
My first port of call when something funny going on is to visit my Weight Test + Measure strategy. In short, this is where you (a) weigh what is happening, (b) test out your chosen plan of action, and (c) measure if it worked or not and what you need to tweak. Just typing that reminds me of all the required science projects I had to do growing up. I hated science projects. But since this works, and the scientific method has been going strong for a while, I think this is a good mother friendly version without having to put anything on a trifold board.
So, you have identified a problem (lying, stealing, hitting, kicking, tantrums, ignoring you, etc.) and you have thought of a good strategy to eradicate this behaviour. Now what? How long do you have to wait until your used-to-be-a-bundle-of-joy turns a new leaf and starts to respond to your measures? Well, it depends on the issue, but, it can be as soon as a few days or as long as a couple of weeks. Kids are emotional and superficial so their behaviour can be changed a lot sooner than an adult’s behaviour. I don’t mean that as an insult, simply a remark on their emotional maturity and development levels. Behaviors can often go rather quickly, particularly if it is a new or development related (climbing on everything, screaming, etc.) since it hasn’t been around all that long anyway.
Some thoughts and timelines.
1) Sullen emo teenager example. Making Children Mind Without Losing Yours gives a great and oh so normal example of a sullen teenager who only answers questions with a “I don’t know” or some unintelligible grunting. To be honest, the thought of my little ones becoming teenagers makes me want to temporarily OD on Diet Coke and Reese’s. His strategy may surprise you. He says that the best way to handle this is to stop asking the kid anything. Stop asking how they are, how their day was, what they did at school, or how they are feeling. What? Act like you don’t care? No. Still love, serve and show attention, but stop trying to get “in” there. In his vast experience as a counsellor, it can be as little as a few weeks before the kid starts volunteering things and engaging the parent in conversations. Kids have an innate need to be loved and, if you continue to show you are there but stop forcing it, their desire to connect will be given freedom to shine. It is a natural thing for a teenager to pull away and act unloveable to see if you really love them. Let’s file this away for future years.
2) Pacifier take-aways, cry-it-out lags (if you so choose them), and schedule changes can take as little as a few days. Some behaviours can be corrected even in a day or two if you’re consistent. I’m sure there are a million ways to do it, but for the pacifier, I recommend cold turkey take-away. Tell them (if they are of an age where they will understand) that they have until “Friday” and then paci goes bye bye. After a day or two of fussing, crying and irritability they’ll just get over it. If you know it’s coming then you are better able to withstand. Same with controlled crying to establish healthy sleep patterns. Whether you agree with this or not, most mothers find themselves at a point where they know the child is well fed, has a clean diaper, and is not sick…but they won’t go to sleep. Usually, a little bit of controlled crying goes a long way. After a day or two of this, Babywise says 3-5 days max, they will stop crying when they stir in the night or for a nap, and will just go back to sleep on their own. They will do this when they see that crying has no benefit. As a general rule, things that happen frequently throughout the day (i.e., behaviours having to do with meal times or sleep times) can be corrected in a few days since there is multiple times a day for the child to learn the lesson.
3) Screaming, kicking, whining, etc. These behaviours are a bit like trick candles. You snuff them out and, what the heck, they light back up a little while later. I have found that when kids are well rested and have full bellies they are generally less prone to extreme bouts of screaming, kicking or biting. When it does crop up and there is a swift disciplinary measure (whatever you would choose, tap on the hand, time out, spanking, etc.) each and every time, this behaviour should diminish each day until, after a few weeks, it is a rare occasion. They will, however, crop back up when the child is angry, bored, frustrated, and very often when they are tired. Just keep up the discipline, try not to scream, and the phase should pass.
4) Consistency will determine how soon you see results. No matter what the behaviour or your reaction, consistency is the key. Kids will try to make you reason with them (here is what I think of that) and will push the envelope to make sure you mean business. After your child (no matter their age) knows that you love them AND that you mean business, then they will more often than not fall into line with your discipline. If the rule at your office was “three tardies and you’re fired” then people would come to work on time as though their job depended on it. Kids are the same. If they know what will happen if they don’t comply, unless it is a highly emotion moment for them, they will generally do your bidding. But, you must be consistent. Lack of consistency confuses children and makes them resent your authority over them (what I think of that here).
So, all in all, most behaviors in younger children won’t take too long to correct if you’re disciplined, consistent, and don’t back down. It won’t be an hour or two. But, if you set it in your mind that it’ll take some time but be worth it, you’ll be able to push through the tough days!
PS – For more thoughts on parenting visit the archives!