Train up a child in the way he should go, And when he is old he will not depart from it.
For mothers in this stage of life, I must impress upon you the magnitude of these two lines. You must train your child. There is an ounce of insanity in the thought that your child knows precisely what to do without being shown HOW to do. Let's take a look at three kinds of training...
Break It Up
One training method involves breaking jobs down into smaller steps.
Each time my boys turned two, I started requesting they take their silverware back to the sink after a meal. It would be tempting to request they take everything, but that would be setting them up for failures instead of successes. They are still learning how to climb in and out of their spot at that age. Adding a big, breakable plate to that equation is not very kind to anyone.
I spent a few weeks reminding them to first set their spoon at the edge of the table where they could reach it before climbing down. This way they could climb successfully, reach their spoon, and continue about their day. This small step... setting the spoon to the edge... makes all the difference.
As soon as the child masters the procedure, you can add to their load. When taking the fork becomes easy and habitual, ask them to take their cup as well. At each stage the child feels successful and important.
A tip on implementing this method... Your child may exhibit some form of protest behavior for the new expectation. This frequently will come in the guise of "I can't do it." Just smile, dig deep for that empathy (remind yourself how hard learning new things can be) and kindly say something along the lines of, "Yes. Learning new things can be tricky, but you can do tricky things! You are big."
Pulling from your empathy with a breath before responding will help take the air out of the tires so that the power struggle doesn't gain momentum. (Same thing with the kind voice, acknowledgement of their feelings, and the vote of confidence.)
A second method involves intentionally practicing the habit. When a child slams a door for the one hundredth time in a day, it is tempting to lecture, or raise your voice. This will do you no good.
The child was not thinking about your pleasure or displeasure as they were leaving the house. Closing a door is a habitual motion so you must retrain the habit. The only way to fix this situation is by having the child come back and practice closing the door correctly three or four times.
You must be ruthlessly persistent about this. I can not stress this enough. The child has a long history of this unpleasant habit. You MUST catch them every time, and have them practice again every time in order to retrain the habit. Consider how difficult it is for you to develop a new habit, and you have an adult's self control, frontal lobe and empathetic awareness! Be diligent and in a few weeks the behavior will have changed.
A tip on implementing this method, be as kind as you can, and give a head's up before you begin.
Sometime, when everyone is in a pleasant mood, and the door hasn't recently been slammed, sit down with your kiddo. In a relaxed voice say something along the lines of, "I have noticed you are struggling to close a door gently. We are going to start working together on that habit. I will help you to practice the next time it slams because we are a team."
If you approach the situation as a WE thing instead of a "how dare you" thing, you will have more success.
Also, be wary of working on more than one thing at a time. Fix one habit and ignore the other ones for a bit. (Except those which have already been fixed. Don't let those backslide!) A child can easily make the switch from feeling empowered to take responsibility for their actions to defeated because they can't seem to do anything right.
Give Them A Map
The third way of training is perhaps the most difficult. You are their map, Mama. Who you are and what you do is constantly guiding them. If you snip and snap at every little thing, so will they.
You can not hope to battle sibling rivalry without a spirit of grace in your own heart. When they feel big emotions, you have to help label those emotions. Not doing so is neglecting their training. When you are feeling big emotions, speak about them and label them. Mama walks this path too, child. I know how the sticker bushes can get you.
When they are in an ugly place and they snap, "Go away." You must first respond, "I hear you are frustrated. When I get frustrated and need space I like to say, 'Please give me space.'" The next time it occurs, say, "Of course, but please ask me correctly. Can you say, 'May I have space?'" Train them with your example, and with your map; reminding them frequently, Mama walks this path too and this is how we walk.
For younger children this may look different. Do you have a child who likes to run away? No frets! Chase is a fun game! (and most toddlers go through this stage.) But we must teach them; train them to listen to the word come. The only way to do this is to walk that road with them. Play chase! With a giant smile and a spirit of joy.
Then, play a different game. When everyone is in a good place emotionally (no hangry munchkins) let your child know, "We are going to play a game! This game is called come!" Set your child a few feet away and say, "Come!" When they do, scoop them up and spin them around. Make a big raucous. Make this game just as joyful as chase. Play 'come' several times a day until the habit of responding joyfully to the command has been established. Your happy example of both games will lead and teach your child.
If you would like to learn about habit development from one of the great pedagogues, take a look at Habits by Charlotte Mason.
I hope our journey inspires your own,
Buckets and Berries