One of the first things I teach families when they come into my practice is the importance of consistency, especially for neuro-diverse and developing brains.
However, sometimes you are already 10 minutes late for a doctor’s appointment or little sister needs to be picked from preschool, right now! What can you do when stakes are high and you just don’t have time to deal with a problem right now?
Trust me, we’ve all been there! Here are a few of the things that I use at home and in my classroom.
- Don’t set a limit. This doesn’t work if a child is breaking a long-standing rule or not following a daily expectation that everyone is familiar with, however, when you are rushing out the door is usually not the right time to say, “Ok, new rule…!”
- Don’t notice. If your rule is that everyone needs to brush their teeth before leaving the house and Jesse hasn’t done it yet, it is ok, to decide that right now is not the right time to pick up the “toothbrushing battle”. To use this strategy, simply, “forget” to ask Jesse “Did you brush your teeth?” until a little bit later, such as after you are in the car. Then go ahead and “remember” to ask. After asking, proceed as you normally would if you had truly just remembered to ask the question. Maybe, Jesse has to brush his teeth after you get home, or brush them twice tonight, just to be sure that they get extra clean! You are still enforcing your expectation, just delaying the time and place.
- Announce that you aren’t going to notice for a few more minutes. Another option is “selective amnesia,” this is a good option to use if you have already (noticeably) seen the problem (so you can’t just ignore it), but still don’t have time to deal with a whole conversation around expectation/consequences and the potential conflict that may follow. To use this option, quickly turn away from the problem and announce (loud enough to be heard) that everyone is lucky that you aren’t going to be checking on teeth brushing for another 2 minutes! This provides a needed reminder and allows Jesse to get himself back on track without having to have a direct confrontation or “getting in trouble”.
- Explain that you see the problem, but you aren’t going to be able to deal with it right now. The fourth option, is to simply be honest about the situation. Explain that although you see the problem, you aren’t able to talk about it right now. Such as, “I see that you haven’t finished brushing your teeth, but we are late to see Dr. Miller!” Then, set an “appointment” to talk about it later, and quickly move on to the next step in the routine. Such as, “we are going to have to figure this out when we get home, so, please go grab your shoes, and I will meet you at the door!” For this to work, it is important to keep your tone calm and factual, if you lay on the guilt or let them see your frustration, they may meltdown anyway! One word of caution: with this option, it is very important that you do follow up later! If you don’t, your child may learn that stalling (until you are late) is the best way to get out of having to do things that they don’t want to do.
- Consistency doesn’t always mean immediately. Consistency means that when a limit is set, you consistently enforce it, including logic and natural consequences, if need. Most children, even fairly young children, are able to follow your thinking on logical and natural consequences that occur slightly after the incident, as long as they make sense and are explained to them in words they can understand.
- Do not just ignore the problem. It is very tempting to just ignore small problems, especially when you are in a hurry, however small problems, grow into big problems when they are ignored. Every time you ignore or avoid a problem (in full view of your child) you undermine your authority and cause your children to question whether or not you really mean what you say when it comes to expectations.