Sunday 2 August 2015

Managing behaviour in new environments

We often forget that many experiences for children are brand new ones or maybe ones that they have only experienced a few times before. I have watched parents in restaurants before, as an example, being totally exasperated at their toddlers behaviour, likely thinking to themselves, 'but little Bobby knows how to eat a meal at home'. Restaurants are a great example of a place in which a certain level of behaviour is expected of a child in order that everyone else in the restaurant doesn't want to leave! Fundamentally, your child probably* knows how to eat. They may or may not like eating, that is a separate matter! However, because little Bobby knows how to eat his meal at home (whether it is with a fork, or fingers, that really is neither here nor there) it doesn't mean that you can expect the same behaviour of him in a restaurant. Restaurants are sensory overload for little ones - with the hubbub of noise from other diners, to the noise of the kitchen should you be near it, different high chairs, a vast array of things to touch on the tables, different lighting.... and that is all before you have even got to the food! Asking a toddler to wait at the table, not only to order food but then for it to arrive at the table!? We really are asking an awful lot here!

I find the key is communication.... and lots of distraction. Prepare your child for what is coming by talking to them about it, 'oh look this is a waiter, a waiter is someone who looks after us in the restaurant, he is going to ask us what we would like, maybe we could order you this, then he has to go and tell the chef....' etc etc etc....

Distraction between these moments is wonderful, so BE PREPARED! Bring crayons, bring cars, bring dolly, bring books, bring magazines (these I find to be most wonderful - they are like a new book to a child... that they are allowed to draw in.... that usually comes with some wonderfully naff toy that should entertain purely for the novelty of being new!)

This is also the time to fine tune your 'quiet but firm' voice. We all know you don't want to shout at your child in a restaurant (and we don't want you to either!) but sometimes, you have explained the child several times that they mustn't touch Daddy's wine glass or that you can't rip the menu or that you shouldn't stand in your high chair because it is dangerous (and then hopefully explained what dangerous means). I have found this voice to be a wonderful tool for all the children I have worked with and my own son, I also know it to be a favourite of teachers. It is the voice that is very quiet but the child knows you mean business. It is far less stressful for everyone than shouting and doesn't produce an uncomfortable or embarrassing environment for the child or anyone else around!

It is crucial to manage your expectations when you are somewhere that is relatively new to a toddler, they aren't going to 'get it right' every time and they will try your patience, but remember to think about how you learnt these 'social rules' and that everyday is a school day... right from day dot...

NQP x 

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