The Count – Down Method
Young children get so engrossed in their activity, that they do not want to quit just because you say so. It doesn’t matter if they’re playing in the sandbox, coloring quietly, or throwing toys all around the room. If they are busy, and you tell them to stop, they are likely to pitch a fit. Depending on their basic temperament, they may merely sulk a bit, or they could wind up on the floor, kicking and screaming. So, how can you teach them that this is not appropriate behavior, without feeling like you’d like to join them on the floor for a tantrum of your own?
One method that works for many parents is the count-down method. This is more of a tantrum-avoidance technique than teaching control, but when it comes to a two- or three-year-old, it can be a real life-saver. Very simply put, you start counting down. But not like you are counting from ten to one to keep your own temper. Rather, you give your child several warnings that his activity is going to be ending soon.
For instance, the child is playing, making a great mess, but it is nearly time for clean-up, lunch, and nap. If you just tell him to pick up, you can be certain he’s going to balk. Instead, you announce, when you are certain he is looking at you and hears you, that he has five more minutes before clean up time. Then, after a bit of time, you tell him he has four more minutes, then three more minutes, etc, until it is clean-up time. He still might try to argue, but he won’t be as out-of-control as he would be if you just announced clean-up in the middle of his fun.
Young children don’t understand time. When you tell him he has five more minutes, it doesn’t really matter if you give him five minutes, two minutes, or fifteen minutes. You don’t need to set a timer, unless you really only have five minutes to allow him. What you are doing, is giving him clues, alerting him to the schedule, and allowing him time to prepare for the next event.
I use this at the children’s library with a lot of success. Our children’s library has a lot of toys. Young moms love to meet there, to let their preschoolers and toddlers interact, while they visit quietly. It has house-keeping toys, puzzles, blocks, trucks, trains, play food, a plastic house, and much more, besides shelves of books, and also a sturdy computer with a child’s sized keyboard and mouse. My granddaughter loves to go there, and used to throw a tantrum when it was time to go. Now, I let her know that she has five more minutes, and then we’ll be leaving. When the count-down has ended, she picks up the toys she was playing with so the librarian will reward her with a sticker, and she races me to the elevator so she can push the buttons. She knows we’ll be back next week. No more tantrums in the library.
I use this technique at nap time, too. I lay down with her on my big, queen-sized bed. She has several books, and I take a romance novel. I read two books to her, then I let her look at her books, while I read. After a few minutes, I give her the five minute count-down, then we both put up our books. She rarely cries at nap time now. She usually hands me her books, rolls over and goes to sleep. Sometimes I may have to rub her back for a bit, but naptimes are not the major battles we once had.
You can use this technique when it’s almost time to leave McDonald’s playland, or time to finish eating supper if your child is a food dawdler. You can count-down when it’s nearly time to leave the sandbox, to take a bath, to go anywhere, to leave anywhere – any time your child needs to transition from one activity to the next.
After you have used this technique for a year, your child may actually be ready to learn to tell time. Then you can reward him with his own watch, and let him tell you when his five minutes are up! By then, hopefully, his tantrums will long have disappeared.
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