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Tools for the angry preschooler

Let me preface this post by emphatically declaring that I’ve messed up more times than I can count in my parenting. I’d rather not blog about those. Positive discipline teaches us that mistakes help children grow and learn. It works for mommies, too.

My first step was to figure out Norah’s mistaken goal. Positive discipline (PD) says that children have four “mistaken goals” which drive most misbehavior. The easiest way to figure out which mistaken goal the child is using? Look at how the parent feels or reacts when the child misbehaves. When Norah gets angry, I feel defeated. Her mistaken goal is POWER. In order to belong, she tries to be the boss. Her mistaken belief is “I belong only when I’m boss, in control, or proving no one can boss me. You can’t make me.”

A common phrase I’ve heard this year: You’re not the boss of me.

Also, “You’re not the boss of my toys.” “You’re not the boss of my brain.” “You’re not the boss of my food.” You’re not the boss of my behavior.” “You’re not the boss of my [fill in the blank].”

Interestingly, she’s taught me so much with this phrasing. How much do we control another person? Even our children. I don’t control her choices. I control the consequences and that is my responsibility. But she gets to make a choice to misbehave. Such an important thing to learn.

My PD handbook has some amazing ideas for redirecting her power in positive ways. Mostly, she needs to contribute to the family, have limited choices, routines, and engage in deciding consequences.

I needed to get a handle on my own anger. Anger is not my typical response.

Until Norah turned 5.

It is as if I had a tiny spark inside and she pours a gallon of gasoline on it. A few things that have helped: eating protein every few hours, using mommy time-outs, and giving Norah permission to call me on it. She tells me if I’m “flipping my lid.” I also apologized for my past angry reactions. I cried when she told me that my words were all fuzzy to her ears when I yelled.

I helped Norah make an Anger Wheel of Choice. When she flipped her lid, we could use the wheel to decide on a way to diffuse her emotion. Her choices: run a race, use playdough, read a book, snuggle, draw, or eat candy (it is her wheel…her choice!). We kept the wheel in a bag with all the necessary tools to implement. If we went to the park or a playdate, the bag went with us. Honestly, we only used the wheel maybe 6 times. A few times we should have used it, but I was too angry and just packed everyone up and went home. Learn from mistakes, learn from mistakes. She doesn’t have those awful tantrums anymore (knock on wood) so we’ve unpacked the bag.

Another tool that we’ve lately used is the yellow bracelet. Super creative title, I realize. It was one of those spur of the moment tools. I almost always have a ponytail holder on my wrist for Cedar’s unruly hair. One day, it was yellow. Norah’s emotions were intensifying and I took the yellow ponytail holder off my wrist and put it on hers. I explained that just like yellow traffic lights tell us to slow down, when I put the yellow bracelet on her wrist, she needs to slow down her big feelings. Breathe deeply, find a quiet place, whatever it takes. The strangest part was that when she calmed down, she returned the bracelet to my wrist without a word. Her choice to return to “green light” mode. I love this tool because Norah is sensitive to public shame (aren’t we all?) and I can use this tool without a word. It is a code language for us. And she always returns it to me (sometimes long after I’ve forgotten about the whole ordeal).

The glitter ball was another spontaneous tool though I’ve since seen a similar tool on pinterest. The girls have these bouncy balls filled with glitter. We only use this one at home. I hand her the glitter ball and ask her to settle her big feelings until the ball is clear. Sometimes she gives it a few new shakes.

Positive time-out. We once used a comfort corner and I probably need to make one for Cedar. For Norah, I ask her to go to her room until she can calm herself. Usually this one is reserved for times that her behavior hurts someone else either physically or verbally. She is not forced to remain. She knows she can rejoin the family at any point. Her crazy self-discipline skills come in handy here. She really does pull it together before coming out.

Mommy time-out. Norah knows that I cannot allow her to hurt my heart or my ears. When this happens, mommy must step away. I have explained to her that I will never leave her in an unsafe place, I will always come back, and she continues to have access to me. If I must withdraw in a public place (say, the zoo), I will simply walk a few steps away while continuing to supervise her. If we are at home, I may go into my room and shut the door.

Of course, the best tool is connection. To remind her that she automatically belongs without feeling the need to use a mistaken goal.

P.S. While admittedly, I do not have all the answers, I will soon be offering a Positive Discipline for Toddlers workshop in Greenville. We’ll learn from each other’s mistakes, yes?