Do you have kids that you feel like you can’t take anywhere? You have to go some places, like the grocery store or church or the bank, but you dread it. Other optional places, things you enjoyed before you had or adopted That Kid, like the library and restaurants and shopping, you just skip altogether.
Maybe you were expecting it, maybe you knew you were adopting an older kid who might have issues. Maybe it took you by surprise, this strange, hyper child. You just know that once, you were an adult who breezed through errands and now that you have That Kid, you’ve become That Mom– the one whose mouth is set in a grim line, fighting back tears or anger, while this little human that you are responsible for literally sprints away from you to grab fruit out of the produce bins. You can’t leave. You’ve left twice this week already. You have no food at home.
Once, you could meet a friend for coffee but now you drink your coffee cold, in the car, if it hasn’t spilled yet, because the entire restaurant trip was a game of How Many Times Can I Stand on the Seat and Yell About Things I Can See. The one time you went to the library, all the books from an entire shelf were dumped on the floor and he dropped to the ground to scream when you told him he had to whisper.
Clearly, your best option is to have everything you can delivered to the house and give up on friendship until you can drop the kid off at his freshman dorm. Maybe you even have Those Kids instead of just one.
There are many ways to address behavioral problems and today we’re talking about addressing those through play. Whether your child is four or eight, bio or adopted, expectations can heighten frustration for both parent and child. If you have a child who is purposefully and actively being disobedient, that’s another issue– but a kid with sensory issues or traumatic past might honestly have no idea how to go to the grocery store. Last week, I talked about using little toys to work through this with younger kids, but an activity with a wider age range is role play!
For ten minutes today, your bookshelf is the library. Your dinner table, a fancy restaurant. Your dinner prep, a grocery store of cabinets. Your story time, a church pew. You pick the setting. You direct the kids. You clearly and simply narrate what is happening and enforce rules, here at home when redirection or correction isn’t disruptive to others or pointless to an overwhelmed child. Include all your kids and let them model behavior for each other!
Make it fun! Get bags for “library books” and pretend to scan your cards. Make someone the librarian. Use shopping bags for groceries, make a dinner menu for your restaurant and hire a kid or husband as a waiter.
Then stick to the rules. Whisper at your pretend library, stay seated until everyone is finished with dinner, walk with groceries and only pick up items when instructed to.
It’s a game but it’s teaching expectations. It’s working through issues intentionally, rather than waiting until you’re in the moment and helpless. Then, when issues do arise in public, That Kid can be reminded, “Remember, we practiced this. I know this place smells weird to you, but let’s just pretend we’re playing that same game again.”
Playing through situations will feel silly, but the chance for practice and verbal instruction together might open the doorway for conversation that reveal some of the actual motivations behind a child’s behavior. We were just talking here on Sunday about practicing handshakes for church and discussing why our older boys might be reluctant, at church, to shake hands or say hello to others. Adam and I each had theories, but then our oldest just looked at Adam and said, “I don’t shake their hands because I don’t know their names.”
An offered hand at church has led to him squealing, hiding, clinging to our legs, or staring blankly. And he wasn’t being bad– we had no idea that he was trying his best to follow our rules about strangers! People he didn’t know were trying to grab a part of his body and his parents were just standing there– no wonder he had been freaking out! We got a chance to explain the difference between a stranger talking to him or grabbing him, and greeting an adult properly with mom or dad standing next to him. We’ll be practicing handshakes this week, too!
Is there anything you feel like your kids would benefit from “practice” in?