If you struggle with your little ones’ obstinancies and screaming matches, and think the wisdom and finesse of Mary Poppins, Mrs. Doubtfire, Nanny McFee, or TV’s Supernanny elude you, take heart!
While those tense times of tirades and tantrums may present a challenge when trying to remember something you saw or read, and then actually apply it to the situation, childcare experts want you to know there is a solution. And of course, to amend the old adage, practice makes perfect — or something close to it.
As a 21-year veteran of the nanny trade, Fran Lewis, who works for Portland (Maine) Nannies, brings insight and experience to her craft, not to mention high marks from intensive training courses formerly offered through her employer.
“It was very comprehensive,” she said of her early introduction to childcare. “In addition to taking a special driving course and getting CPR and first aid-certified, we learned about cognitive development, gross and fine motor skills–everything from birth to adolescence.”
Actively involved in her charges’ lives, Lewis takes them to the library, children’s museum, various playgrounds, arts and crafts lessons and more. Accordingly, she is intimately involved in their mental and emotional growth and character development. When issues arise, such as refusal to willingly wake up from a nap, her methodology involves consistently using a soothing voice rather than an abrupt request or demands.
The Calm After the Storm
“I try to ignore the screaming and crying, if that’s what’s going on,” Lewis said. “If you get upset along with them, and address the crying directly, it’s only going to continue.” Instead, she redirects the child by quietly telling her what activity they are going to do next. “No matter what they do, I stay as calm and on track as possible to defuse the situation,” she said. If tantrums ensue in a public place–and what parent hasn’t experienced the challenge of a young child lying down and screaming in a supermarket, department store or toy store aisle–Lewis said the same principles apply. “If you lose control, everything will be out of control,” she explained, “though it takes real practice.”
Atlee Caldwell, owner of Nashua, New Hampshire’s Heaven Sent Nannies since 1988 and a former nanny herself, also shared some sage advice about public tantrums.
Recommending removing the child to a quiet area to calm him down, she maintains getting down to eye level is very important. Next, explain that you’d like to help, but you need to hear the child’s words to understand just how to do that, she advises, adding that encouraging the use of words empowers the child to help solve his own problems by asking for what he needs.
In the Far Corner
Refusing to referee loud disagreements between two siblings, Lewis said she removes each child from the scene, or common room, depositing one at one end of the house and the other somewhere else. While not a formal time out, Lewis said she explains that they’re simply taking “time away” from one another. Using a timer, she sets it to 15 minutes so they know there’s an end in sight. “When they come back, they understand that unless they behave, they’re not going to be able to stay and play with toys and their sibling again,” she said.
A Raisin in Your Eye
For Caldwell, the dilemma of getting kids to eat nutritiously and/or try new foods is solved by essentially dressing up the food.
“Kids like fun plates with faces made of healthy foods, like hair made of broccoli or spaghetti, a cherry tomato nose, carrot stick mouth, raisin eyes, etc.,” she said. If she wants to pique and expand their diet and culinary curiosity, Caldwell makes a game of having extra items on hand to change the face, for instance. Using tomato sauce to see how the face looks with red hair, or shaving zucchini or mozzarella sticks into spaghetti-like hair strands, make for a fun twist and introduces the child to new and nutritious tastes.
Cookie cutters can also shape a variety of foods into something fun, Caldwell said, adding that as another option food items like broccoli, squash, cauliflower, spinach, carrots, peas and beets can be pureed and surreptitiously blended into homemade pizza, baked chicken nuggets, banana bread, tacos and more. “Eventually their taste buds will recognize the taste of the pureed veggies and be more receptive to them,” she affirmed.
And, according to Lewis, encouraging the child to assist in meal and/or snack preparation is yet another way to help ensure the results will be enthusiastically eaten.
Fun Over Fear
Acknowledging that like adults, often children’s emotional reactions to the proposition of something new or different are fear-based, Lewis said there are ways to alter the situation and achieve the desired result.
Identifying one child in her care in particular who is very shy around strangers and throws a tantrum whenever a suggestion is made for a museum trip or another outing, Lewis said children (and adults) love humor, which is often the way to defuse a tense situation.
“I say to her, ‘Come on, let’s go banana head,’ and she calls me apple head in return–or something equally as silly. We go back and forth and it lightens the mood and really works,” Lewis said, adding she may also introduce the idea of wearing her new princess dress or cowboy boots. “Here again I’m not feeding into the tantrum, and I’m also directing her thoughts away from the anxiety of leaving the comfort of a familiar place.”
Football Field of Toys
Finally, what parent hasn’t experienced the exasperation of getting kids to clean up a chaotic yard and/or indoor play space with dozens of toys, game pieces, and stuffed animals scattered over what seems like miles and miles.
Lewis said in this scenario, she always offers to help, but not do the entire job, explaining that whatever toys are left will go into a bag and disappear into a closet or attic–not to be played with–for a prescribed number of days (defining the time factor is important for kids). Usually this works, she said, but if it doesn’t–and if you said you’re going to do something like remove the toys–you have to follow through which is an important lesson in itself. “This is where they learn responsibility.”
Though she admits losing 20 pounds at one job where she was a nanny to four young siblings, Lewis maintains that a calm voice goes a long way. And while Mary Poppins may open her umbrella when the wind changes direction and disappear into the misty London skies, experts like Lewis and Caldwell believe creativity and consistency (hang in there!) are among the most effective tools in helping both you and your child navigate the challenging early years.