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GUEST COLUMN: With children, say what you mean, and mean what you say

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Marg Johnson

I first met Cameron when I was assigned to work with him “with a view to helping him adjust to kindergarten routines.”

That’s teacher-speak for, “The kid is really out of control and generally a pain in the neck.”

In my capacity as a Child & Youth Worker, these were my favourite types of children and I looked forward to meeting him.

I entered the classroom and discovered Cameron (his name has been changed) lying on the carpet on his back, gleefully flailing about and striking other students.

The teacher sighed with relief, and said, “Perhaps Cameron is tired and would like to rest, Mrs. J.?” So I motioned him to join me at the table.

Cameron presented as a four-year-old you just wanted to hug. He was slightly overweight with a round cherubic face, blond to reddish hair, and round glasses that covered huge blue eyes that danced with intelligence and mischief. He spoke with a lisp.

He sat beside me and grinned as he put his head down on the table. In a conspiratorial voice he whispered, “I’m not really sleepy, Mrs. Johnson, I just don’t like all that carpet stuff.” I nodded that I understood.

When carpet time was over, the kids went off to play. Cameron winked at me and smiled as he pushed his chair out and got up. I asked, “Where are you going?” to which he replied, “Carpet time is over and it’s time to play.”

I calmly said, “Not for you, Cameron. If you don’t do the carpet stuff you don’t get to do the fun stuff.”

He threw himself into his chair, leaned in close, scrunched up his face to look really mean, and growled, “I got an uncle! … [dramatic pause]… And he’s gonna come and get you! … [even longer dramatic pause] … And he’s younger than you!”

For him, that should have ended the conversation.

I calmly looked him in the eye and said, “I’m not afraid of your uncle, and when he comes to get me, he’ll see you in a five-minute time out. How do you think he will feel about that?”

Cameron glared for a second, put his head down with a sigh, and did his time.

I have found that if you let children know ahead of time what is going to happen and set clear boundaries [“If you throw that car again, I will take the car away”] you will be more successful in changing behavior if you always follow through.

If you set an unrealistic consequence [“You’re grounded until menopause”] don’t be surprised when she responds, “Mine or yours?

I got this from world-renowned writer and behaviourist Barbara Colorosso, and it should be posted on every parent’s fridge as a reminder:

“Say what you mean, mean what you say, and ALWAYS do what you say you’re going to do.”

Marg Johnson is a retired Certified Child & Youth Worker who worked with behaviour children as an educational assistant for 15 years at the York Catholic District School Board.

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