The next example shows how you can prevent problems before they arise. As you read, ask yourself these questions:
- Is the parent active in the child’s life?
- Are the limits involved realistic?
- Are the limits being enforced consistently?
- How might you handle a similar situation with your child?
Andre and Calvin (Age 4) 1,4,10
What’s the Story?
Andre arranged his work schedule so that he can spend all day Saturday with his son, Calvin, every week. After lunch on their Saturdays together, Andre and Calvin spend time cleaning up Calvin’s room. “What’s our goal?” Andre asks Calvin. “No toys on the floor.” Calvin answers.
Andre lets Calvin play while they clean, but within certain limits so that Calvin keeps their goal in sight. Andre uses an egg timer to let Calvin know when it’s playtime and when it’s time to clean up. He sets it for short intervals, like 10 or 15 minutes, so that Calvin can play a little and then clean up a little. Calvin knows that when he hears the bell, he has to pick up at least three toys and put them away. Andre sets and re-sets the timer in front of Calvin and leaves it in a place where they can both see it (and hear it). By the end of the afternoon, all of Calvin’s toys are picked up off the floor.
Calvin needs to learn about goals and limits so he understands moderation. I use the timer because he can see, hear, and touch it. Even though I’m the one setting the time limit, the timer “enforces” it. This keeps him from getting upset with me.
What’s the Point?
Setting goals and limits for your child is one way he or she can learn about boundaries. A child Calvin’s age has an easier time learning about a goal when it’s something he or she can see, so it’s clear when the job is finished. Andre’s choice of limit (playing versus cleaning) is also realistic; Calvin is capable of picking up all the toys from the floor. The timer offers a constant before-and-after way for Calvin to know when he’s reached the limit. Before the bell goes off, this will happen; after the bell rings, that will happen. The child learns that after the bell, after mom counts to three, or after dad counts to 10, something happens. If the child reaches the goal, then praise and kindness follow; if not, some type of outcome for going beyond the limit follows, be it a scolding, a punishment, or another response appropriate to the situation.
Using the timer is a good idea, especially when dealing with a child as young as Calvin. It is a dependable way for Andre to enforce the limits. Because Andre uses similar times, like 10 minutes or five minutes, Calvin gets used to the practice. And, the bell always rings, which provides more order for Calvin.