The day before we were to leave for NY, my father asked my son, “What are we going to do tomorrow when you wake up?”

Carter’s response: “Well, first I’m going to go to the potty.”

One of the first things you’re taught as a teacher of young children (or you learn the hard way) is that preschool-age children love, thrive on and need predictability.  This is one way of giving them the control that they crave at this age.

The first and easiest way to make your preschooler’s life predictable is through their Daily Schedule.  For those of you who are not fans of schedules, bare with me.  I am not at all suggesting that you do the same thing constantly and totally take the fun out of life.   I am suggesting that you allot the same blocks of time in your day for certain activities.  For example, mornings always occur in the same order.  Days have a flow that is easy to follow.  Meals at home have the same rules and expectations each time we sit down.  Bedtime is always the same.

Wake up
Use the bathroom
Eat breakfast
Watch 2 shows
Get dressed
Have Lunch
Run Errands

Because there are certain times in your day that will always be changing, it helps to have a “What Are We Going To Do Today” conversation over breakfast.  Certainly, this would require not eating breakfast in front of the tv, but at a table.  It takes only 15 minutes of your time, and I promise that it’s worth the effort.  I have a job that requires me to often go several places each day.  With a preschooler in tow, this can be a huge challenge or a big adventure.  Each morning I tell him where we’ll be going after lunch that day.  If I don’t initiate the conversation, he will.  Children like to know your plans for them.  When they do, they are more likely to be cooperative.

Running errands and going into stores can be a challenge all it’s own.  One thing to make this easier on yourself and your child is through a little Proactive Discipline.  Before getting out of the car at a store, talk about how you expect your child to act in a store (and why) and the consequences that will certainly happen if he does not follow those expectations.  This can be as simple as: “When we go into the store I need you to stay close to me so that I know you’re safe.  If you walk away from me, you will need to ride in the shopping cart until we leave.”

When Carter was much younger he went through a (very trying) time of screaming whenever we went into a store.  Though it was difficult for me, no amount of talking or punishment helped his behavior.  My discipline was Reactive rather than Proactive.  He would scream and I would get embarrassed and start with the threats and harsh tones.  However, once I told him that it was not ok for him to scream in a store and doing so would mean that we had to leave the store immediately, the behavior stopped within days.  I tell you this to stress that if you tell your child there is a consequence, go ahead and steel yourself to follow through on that promise at least once.  Once you become predictable and your child fully understand that you say what you mean and you mean what you say, consequences will have to be used less and less often.  They will know there’s no need to test you.  If you back down or “forget” even once, they’ll remember and you’ll be going back to square one.

When your child behaves correctly, thank him and praise him.  Do yourself a favor and never use the “if you…then I’ll…” method for managing your child’s behavior in a store (or anywhere else).  Always strive to teach your child to do the right thing because it is the right thing, not because of what they will get as a result.  Once the reward becomes external, it is very difficult to teach them to internalize it again.  And, it gets expensive!

Each child is different and each child comes with their own set of challenges, but adding a little predictability to their days can go a long way!


One thought on “Predictability

  1. Whitney says:

    haha! I actually just had to re-start Eli with the “potty as soon as you wake up” training. 🙂
    You’re totally right on with this post. Rachel asks every night what we are doing the next day. She wants to be able to pick out an outfit that is appropriate and hang it out to be ready for the day. My kids to thrive on a “spontaneous routine”. We may not do the exact same thing every day, but the general order of events is very predictable.
    When we get unpredictable, they get cranky, and I get frustrated. 🙂

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