One of the skills just about any parent gets to know pretty fast, especially in dealing with toddlers, is the art of directing attention.
Take an instance where the kids are insisting they don’t need jackets, don’t need boots, and can just do as they please. With my kids, I’ve learned that if I want a crying, rebellious, tantrum-prone child on my hands, the best way to accomplish such is to physically take them inside, lock the door, and tell them they can’t go out or they’ll be dirty and sick. Do something like that and they’ll start crying, and then go make some other part of the house dirty or something. It doesn’t really achieve the parenting goal you had in mind.
“Many people habitually tell a child, “Don’t do that or you’ll get sick,” “My goodness, you’re certainly getting a bad cold,” “You’ll get sick if you keep on with that,” “I just know Johnny’s going to get measles if he goes to school,” and countless other such pessimistic suggestions. They also use thousands of “Don’ts,” “Can’ts,” and “Control yourself” phrases. Parents may watch themselves for these phrases, and avoid their use as much as possible. With a little imagination and practice, it is not difficult to find ways of keeping children safe without using constant verbal restraints. As much as possible, suggestions made to a child should be positive. Graphically illustrating what happens to a glass bottle when it drops will get the idea across better than a thousand screams of “Get away from that!” or “Put that down!”
“Smooth, gentle motions and a quiet voice will go far toward averting restimulation when children are being handled. Anyone who wishes to work successfully with children will cultivate these attributes. They are particularly valuable in emergencies.” – L. Ron Hubbard [full quote here]
So, taking the example above, how to handle it so that the kids aren’t psychotically jumping in mud puddles all the time? Well, for me, it was demonstrating in a somewhat (somewhat) controlled environment what happens when you jump around in the muddy rain with your sneakers on. Just let them do that, and see that it’s really, really uncomfortable. Then, wash them off and try it again with rain boots. Problem solved – no more chasing after children to make sure they don’t jump in the pond. Well, pretty much anyway.
The above article contains a number of other techniques that I’ve also found extremely useful in the subject of directing attention. Sometimes, especially with young kids, you want to use regular, verbal logic to deal with a child’s upset or accident. But many times, they just simply can’t articulate it well enough for you. You know, maybe, that they were exposed to a violent argument between a teacher and a parent, or between mommy and daddy, and they’re obviously pretty wound up about that. What to do? The article above gives some good techniques for using pictures or dolls or stuffed animals to help them articulate what it is that’s troubling them.