Welcome to Good Parenting, our weekly online series on parenting advice with Annapolis, Maryland, expert Dr. Deborah Wood.
Teach disappointment with a promissory note — Good Parenting
Dear Dr. Debbie,
My 4-year-old has a fit whenever he can’t have his way. This doesn’t happen often, because for the most part his requests are within reason. He’s smart enough to know what is possible, just not wise enough to understand and appreciate “Not right now.” He plays contentedly by himself and with other children, cooperates with cleaning up, has fabulous conversations with children and adults alike, but occasionally he’ll get his mind set on something, like going to the park with a new Frisbee, and despite the logic and sympathy I try to give him because a thunderstorm is approaching, he falls apart. What else can I try?
Dear Empty Handed,
Sounds like your smart little boy has what’s known as a “one-track mind.” This is typical of children his age, but it’s also a personality trait that goes with determination and creativity. As the one who has to say, “No” when his desires can’t be met, you bear the battering of the locomotive he’s trying to propel down the track.
It’s important to catch the train in his head before it has left the station.
Try this. As soon as you recognize that his idea can’t happen just now, plan for its fruition as soon as possible. Look ahead to the next reasonable time when you could follow his desire and let him see you mark it in your calendar. Take a piece of paper and write down the action you have promised: “Thursday afternoon Frisbee at the park.” And hand it to him. He might put this promissory note in his pocket or tape it to his bedpost.
You could further assure him of the agreement by asking him to choose a good place to put the Frisbee until then — front closet, under his bed, in the trunk of the car. Young children need tangible proof of a promise. Physical actions, such as posting a note or putting an object in a “waiting place,” help him to see that what you say relates to physical action.
You can also take action to help him understand why you said, “Not right now.” The more he knows about weather prediction and weather safety the less illogical your denial of his wishes (even if only for the present) will seem to him. At age four he could learn the basics of reading a weather map — or at least accept your interpretation of this somewhat reliable tool. Cloud watching is another skill for you to demonstrate and help him to master. Large, puffy, white clouds that are getting larger and rising in the sky are likely to become “thunderheads.” If he shows interest, you can help him explore the topic of thunderstorms http://www.weatherwizkids.com/weather-thunderstorms.htm online or with a good children’s book. Here are several that are appropriate for ages four and up:
“What Will the Weather Be?” By Lynda DeWitt
“Clouds” by Anne Rockwell
Flash, Crash, Rumble and Roll by Franklyn Branley
“Thunderstorms” by Franklyn Branley
On Thursday afternoon when the promise is kept, your son will see that indeed “Not right now” eventually means “Yes.”
Deborah Wood is a child development specialist in Annapolis. She holds a doctorate in Human Development from the University of Maryland at College Park and is founding director of the Chesapeake Children’s Museum. Long time fans and new readers can find many of her “Understanding Children” columns archived on the Chesapeake Family Magazine website. You can find her online at drdebbiewood.com.
What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments or submit a question to Dr. Debbie at Betsy@jecoannapolis.com