Which tools are in your parenting toolbox? Having worked with families for over 30 years, I am familiar with various approaches to parenting, discipline, and guidance. The best approaches derive from our understanding of children’s brain development and either provide evidence for what we already know, present current information in a new light, or add something new and inspiring altogether.
The Positive Parenting Program, or Triple P, a parenting program from Australia, is the latest evidence-based approach that has been supported by the state of California, among others. You may have taken a Triple P workshop, or seen one advertised. It offers many useful tools and ideas to add to your parenting toolbox.
One such tool, the Planned Activities Strategy, supports you to problem-solve potentially challenging situations and behaviors with your children, such as shopping trips, long car rides, or other outings with little ones that require cooperation and patience.
Have a Plan
It is important to create a plan, and practice it yourself and in short segments with your child, so that when the big car trip or shopping trip with a long list happens, you have worked out some kinks with smaller situations.
Prepare everything you might need in order to avoid last-minute rushing. To the best of your ability, try to time the event to be as respectful to your child as possible, so they are not surprised by an interruption to a favorite activity or familiar routine.
Let’s put Triple P into practice for a shopping trip:
Think through the plan carefully:
Consider asking your child for ideas, and find a way to incorporate something they suggest. This inclusive activity helps your child feel like a supporting member of the family, and that s/he can make a contribution and is not always at the effect of the adults.
Utilize pretend play at home, and do a trial run as well. Go to the store for three things, or less depending on the age of the child and how challenging the situation has been in the past. Then try again, adding additional items.
These might include using a quiet voice, staying close to the cart, asking first before opening any items in the cart, in addition to guidelines as to how the child might help. A good rule of thumb is to frame things with what the child can do, as opposed to ‘do not scream, do not open, we will choose a special snack when the shopping is complete and we follow all the rules.’
Ask your child to repeat the rules:
If a child is 4 or younger, rules need to be simple, clear, and few. For older children, less is always better but they can likely manage 3-5 rules
Create interesting activities:
When children are engaged, they are less likely to become bored and create cause for attention. List interesting activities that can be included in the shopping trip. Ask your child which activity they would like to do, or if they have other ideas that can work during your shopping trip. You are key to the interactions during the shopping trip. Engage your child by asking questions, making observations, and reminding them what they are shopping for. Enlist their help finding things on the list and checking them off, counting how many items are in the basket, or suggesting a good place to put the peaches so they don’t get bruised.
Acknowledge your child for managing and engaging positively:
As opposed to a reward, an acknowledgment tells the child what they did or accomplished, or are learning, in a specific way, and how it makes a difference. ‘You helped us choose different kinds of apples and found a place in the shopping cart so they didn’t bruise the peaches. That was helpful. Together we will learn how different apples taste and which apples are good for cooking or just eating raw.’
Decide on consequences for failing to follow the rules:
Consequences should be practical and immediate. ‘We will sit outside for X minutes and then return to the store to try again. We will leave without our special snack if that behavior occurs again.’ These are not threats, they are consequences in the form of, ‘If this happens, then this happens’ or ‘when this happens, then this happens’. They may not always be framed as negative consequences. There should be positive consequences as well. ‘We can choose our special snack when we complete our shopping.’
Review when the trip is over:
Acknowledge your child. Explore what worked, and which different ideas might be useful and fun to try in the future.
Positive Parenting work contains the phrase, ‘Connect before correct.’ There is so much positive interaction, increased connection, fun, and learning, to be had with our children during everyday life when we plan in advance, help children know what to expect, and engage them positively.
Bonnie Romanow, BA, is a parent educator and early childhood mental health consultant at Parents Place.