“Some days with my child are totally chaotic. Where do I start?”
All parents have challenges with their child’s routine. For some families, these challenges seem to take over the entire day, and make you forget the things that are going well. When you want to address your child’s routine, it’s hard to know where to start.
There are (at least!) two ways to look at the issue of ‘where to start’. Some experts say to start with the aspect of your child’s routine that is the most problematic – the biggest problem that causes the greatest inconvenience to you and your child. This could look different for all families, but I find it’s the task that often results in a meltdown - either by parent or child! By meltdown I am referring to a special set of behaviours that could involve raised voices, tears, saying things we don’t mean, storming out, or objects being thrown or damaged. After all that, the task usually doesn’t get completed how either parent or child would like (if at all!). This is often a long-standing problem that has not be effectively problem solved for some time.
While it can be tempting to start here, I would urge you to think about starting with the task that is a relatively minor issue. I remind myself to “start with the socks”. I recall the story of a young boy who was having difficulty following his parents’ and teachers’ expectation of wearing socks and shoes. He would often take off his shoes and socks, he would leave them lying around, and walk around barefoot. In a conversation with the child, the adults learned that he absolutely hated wearing socks – he felt they were itchy and constricting, and he was distracted by this sensation when he wore them. A plan was developed whereby the child was permitted to wear sandals or crocs, slippers while at home, and he was permitted to wear running shoes without socks. The agreement resulted in far fewer meltdowns in the morning and at transition times at school. Everyone was surprised at how this small adjustment in expectation had unanticipated positive impacts on other issues as well.
What stands out to me from this story is the idea that something small and seemingly basic can result in big, positive changes. Starting at the socks, really means starting at the bottom and working your way up to the bigger, more challenging aspects of your child’s day. This can work well because you get your child engaged in the collaboration, and you demonstrate that you are listening to them. It can be helpful to practice problem solving on a smaller issue to build towards the bigger, more daunting ones.
What will “starting with the socks” look like for you?