Parenting

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As we move into the wedding and party season, your children will have more opportunity for exposure to unknown relatives, acquaintances and friends.  Some children step right in and find themselves at home. That’s easy.
But many children are not so comfortable in social settings, due to shyness and awkwardness. To avoid these settings, some may throw tantrums when going or simply hide behind mom or dad the whole time when adults try to engage them. 
Many of these social tendencies are simply innate; your child was “born that way.” In other words, some of us are just extroverted by nature, while others more introverted.  The goal is not to change these traits, but to ensure that these tendencies do not get reinforced to the point of causing serious limitations for your child. 
There is another category of child tendencies that can create serious challenges for parents in these social settings. These are the more difficult, perhaps strong-willed, children, who simply don’t want to do anything they don’t want to do. Let’s discuss common mistakes first.
Taking the path of least resistance
Whether the shy, awkward child or the more behaviorally-challenging child, most of us tend to choose the path of least resistance. This is the one that allows us to avoid upsets, embarrassment or struggles. 
It’s also the one where we tend to over-protect our children from any “demand” that makes them uncomfortable. How do we do that?  We let them stay in the car while mom and dad tag-team sitting with them. Or we give them a phone or game to play with. Or we let them get their way and leave them at home, rather than risk the tantrum. Or perhaps we just leave early, with a promise to go get pizza if they’re good.
The path of least resistance it not about growth and independence; it’s about getting through the event with the least amount of drama, upset and embarrassment.  In other words, it’s more about “me” and what “I” need, not what benefits my child.
Helping kids develop skills for social settings
1. The shy child. We don’t need huge steps to make major progress. To help develop socially appropriate behavior, we cannot reinforce the shy, withdrawn moments. Rather than constantly pulling at them for more engagement, notice what happens if you ignore your child hiding behind you. Continue on being social with those around you without trying to pull your child out of it. If they only whisper, do not bend over. If they get teary-eyed, don’t pick them up. Just allow them to be. (It’s safe. They are safe. Please relax.)
Be patient and wait for the six-year-old voice from the six-year-old child. It will happen. Then, engage them. Answer their question or invite them into a discussion with their cousin. Just don’t keep taking that easy path. Allow them to get through the discomfort, and realize that change and growth take time.
2. The challenging child. The difficult child requires more repetition, beginning with how you handle smaller outings. This means you practice when going to Home Depot or PriceChopper. Set it up so you stop giving in to their demands, even if it means a big upset. And when they get upset, don’t fix it. Allow it, and walk away. Be patient, as this is required.
Again, practice this before the big wedding. Make sure your child understands that their resistance and tantrum will meet with NOTHING. None of your energy. None of your attention. And, none of the goodies they want. Let them find their way through it, and do this repeatedly. 
Reminder: For any child in such settings, do not bribe them to be good. Instead, smile and remember to notice them when things are going well. Also, I would surprise them with some periodic play with dad, or 15 minutes of game time on mom’s phone. In other words, do make sure they get noticed after doing well and have the opportunity for reward after good effort.  
And if any moment gets too ugly, remove them for a time out.  Don’t sit with them, but allow them to find their way through the upset. It will happen, as long as you don’t feed into it.
Combine these two strategies and you can manage most moments with your child in public. 
For more, remember to follow me on Twitter and Facebook and visit www.TerrificParenting.com.
Dr. Randy Cale offers practical guidance for a host of parenting concerns.

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