Young children LOVE being challenged. Give them a problem to solve, little challenges to master, and they will rise to your challenges every time—as long as they are given with a light-hearted approach.
It’s so exhausting and draining to keep threatening and yelling at our kids, to get them to do what we want. Challenges and choices offer children an opportunity to use their creative and imaginative muscles while at the same time getting them to do what you want. We spend far too much time telling our children what to do, how to do it, and when to do it. Make sure you give them the opportunity to direct you once in awhile so they don’t keep ending up on the short end of the power stick.
If your kids are acting out, are angry at you, or taking it out on a sibling, you can be pretty sure that a feeling of powerless is at the root of the behavior. Giving them challenges and choices evens out the balance and you will likely see better behavior.
Here are a few ideas to motivate and set challenges–then try some of your own:
- I’m not sure you can pick that jacket up and get it to actually stay on the hook. Isn’t that hook too high for you to reach?
- How long do you think it would take you to run around the outside of the house? How about if I count and see what number I get up to?
- I bet you can’t get dressed as fast as I can. Shall we set the timer?
- I wonder if you can get your plate to the sink by the time I count to 10.
- Let’s see who can be silent the longest? First one who makes a noise has to give the other one a kiss.
- If you run upstairs to get your sweater, I’ll count. Let’s see how high I get to.
- Can you do “Itsy Bitsy Spider” all the way through with no words only the hand motions?
- Do you want to climb into your car seat like a monkey? A Lion? Or fly in like an eagle?
- You can’t have ice cream now. Imagine if you could turn everything in the kitchen into ice cream. What flavor would the refrigerator be? The sink? The stove? Which one would you lick first?
- Imagine if your bed had wings that would shoot out when you pressed a button. Where would you make it fly?
- Which one of you will feed the dog and which one will clear the table? Whoever gets it done gets a big kiss from me.
- It’s time to go upstairs. What marching song shall we choose tonight? “When the Saints Go Marching In” or “Stars and Stripes Forever”?
- You don’t like that I told you to turn off the TV. I wonder what it would be like if you didn’t have a parent telling you what to do all the time. Let’s think of all the things you could do.
This reply came from a parent who tried this: “Challenges all last night. Especially while preparing dinner, (mostly in an attempt to keep them out of the kitchen!) “Who can do 20 jumping jacks?” “Who can clap while singing Mary Had a Little Lamb?”….”I CAN!”…”I CAN!!” Like a charm!! It was excellent! They even started presenting challenges to each other…haha!”
Of course, being in the space to offer your kids a challenge, means that you have to be feeling pretty chill. When your button has just been pushed, the challenge you have is not to yell or threaten. Give the challenges when things are going well, and once you get in the habit, you may be able to give them when you really need to defuse a tense situation.