When mom was visiting with one of her friends, little Harmon began running through the house. It was a modified version of "chase me!" In truth, it was a little child’s plea for attention.
I need you.
I want you.
I’m insecure when you ignore me.
I don’t feel as if I matter to you.
When I don’t feel as if I matter my body tries to calm me.
Please pay attention to me.
Harmon could not put words to these feelings because he is not mature enough.
And what is mom feeling?
Just when I get a chance to visit with a friend, Harmon goes wild!
She may even resent not getting a chance to recharge her batteries – understandably so.
Getting a Parent’s Attention
As she told him to stop, he giggled and ran through room after room. Of course, he had Mom’s attention now! Going so fast that mom couldn’t catch him, the game was on!
Mom, now embarrassed and nearing overwhelm herself, caught up with him in corner, took his hand and calmly said, "You are going to stay right here by me." As they walked through the house, his other hand reached out to touch anything it could. He tried to pull her into another room. She calmly repeated, "You are going to stay right here by me." As they slowly walked through another room, mom encouraged Harmon; "That’s right. You are right here with me." Again, as he stepped closer, rather than pulling away, she reaffirmed his choice, "That’s right."
Back in the room with her friend she sat with him touching her, and gave him a toy to hold and move in his hands.
As he settled, the visit continued briefly. Mom’s friend left in about 15 minutes.
Let's look at what happened inside Harmon, what worked, and how it could have been even better.
Children Need Physical Activity
First off, Harmon is an active boy. He needs more activity than some. This means his day needs to be planned to include lots of physical things that let his body know where it is.
Harmon’s at the stage of development where he’s learning where his body is and how to control it. As he feels himself in his body, he will calm. This is true of humans in general. Being aware of one’s body is a good tip for helping children gain the self-control that brings calm with it.
Before heading to her friend’s house, mom picked fresh lemons from her tree. If she had let Harmon carry them, their weight would have added some of the extra body awareness he needs as a developing child. Walking, or parking far enough away to allow a walk, would also help Harmon get more of this precious calming input into his system.
Scheduled Blocks of Attention
Harmon will do best with lots of attention from mom. Instead of waiting until Harmon is screaming for attention, she could give him extra attention all day long. How about for 10 minutes each hour, of all of herself – not just being with him while she is on the phone or computer.
It could be 10 minutes of reading a book together, walking outside and looking at leaves, or even lying down looking up at clouds – deciding one looks like a dog, or a bunny or something else. When Harmon’s "time with mom" bucket is full, he’ll be able to sit and play with blocks or cars. Until then, he’s too needy.
Correct Discipline Modeling
But how about the discipline piece? When Harman was out of control, he could not learn.
Punishing a child whose behavior is a response to a need is felt as mean.
True discipline is learning. Do you recognize the word "disciple" in there? A disciple is one who learns and follows. For this to happen, the nervous system must be calm enough to take in the information.
When mom held his hand, Harmon calmed because her calm went into him through that connection. She wisely sat him down so he was touching her, keeping that connection that gave him stability and the sort of calm that helped him have self-control.
A parent’s calm is contagious, as is the parent’s upset. This smart mom kept herself in control to help her child regain his control.
Instruction Works Best Under Self-Control
Once they were home and had a bite to eat, Harmon was well in the area of self-control. This is the time to offer instruction. "Harmon, did you like visiting today? It’s fun to visit with friends. Momma likes it best when you stay with us and enjoy your cars. Maybe next time you can bring your little truck along."
In this example, mom let Harmon know the behavior she likes. Young children are happy to please their parents and try to do so as much as they are able. Mom has set up Harmon to succeed.
Next time, when he plays in the room with them, she can tell him at that moment that she is happy they are together. Her discipline works because she delivers it gently, with encouragement.