Early childhood researchers have long observed that kids come with certain personality characteristics. Fussy, demanding babies often become rigid, demanding children, while docile, easy-going babies become preschoolers who go with the flow. Nature certainly plays a role in determining your little one's personality, but don't forget the power of nurture. With time, you can teach your little dictator the art of flexibility. These early lessons teach resilience, a trait absolutely essential for dealing with the serious challenges most of us face as adults.
1 Set the example. Do you freak out over minor schedule changes or insist on a perfectly spotless house? Chances are, your little one will be tightly wound, as well. Roll with the punches to teach your little one how to be flexible. When something goes wrong, express frustration and then look for solutions. For example, "I'm annoyed that the party was cancelled because I was looking forward to it. Let's make cookies and go to the park instead."
2 Maintain a predictable, but flexible, schedule and routine. Kids need some rules and boundaries to feel safe. If life is too laissez-faire, kids sometimes become rigid and inflexible as a way to create a sense of order. For example, eat dinner together as a family on school nights, but loosen the rules a bit on the weekend. Spread a blanket on the family room floor and eat pizza while watching a movie.
3 Listen to your child. If you're constantly changing the schedule and calling the shots, your little one soon feels resentful and anxious. Instead, ask for your child's opinion occasionally. "Do you want to watch a movie or play a board game?" for example, gives your child some control, which paradoxically, allows him to relax and become more adaptable to change.
4 Make it easier for your child to adapt to change. Expectations often create reality when it comes to parenting. If you pussyfoot around your child, worrying about upsetting her when something goes awry, chances are, she's going to be upset. If, on the other hand, you matter-of-factly accept change as part of life, your child will too. Calmly say, "I'm sorry Janie can't come to our house to play today. She'll come another day when she's not sick. What do you want to do instead?" Then move on.
5 Praise your child when she handles disappointment with grace. Say something specific like, "I know you felt disappointed when you didn't win. I really loved the way you congratulated the other team and went right back to practicing the next day."
6 Point out the positive and keep perspective. When something goes wrong, it's fine to acknowledge feelings of sadness, anger or disappointment. Then look for the silver lining. "It's a bummer that the game got rained out, but I'm glad we're safe and dry at home." Help your child understand that a problem may seem very big today, but in a few days or weeks, he may not even remember it.
- Teaching a child flexibility takes some balancing. On the one hand, don't go out of your way to create upheaval or distress. Children need consistency and security. On the other hand, don't shield your child from inevitable disappointments. Kids need to learn that they won't always get their way, and they can be happy anyway.
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