Tuesday, October 12, 2010

First & Then

Let me clarify a little. I do not believe in negotiating with two year olds. More often than not, all this activity will do is teach your child to manipulate you and other people. Not a fabulous skill. It's important for children to learn that they can't always get what they want. The earlier, the better. I sound so strict and dull, don't I?

BUT Ryan and I have discovered a great way to walk Nola through her emotions when she has to do something she doesn't want to do. I don't know who started it, but it was BRILLIANT. Ok, ok, it was probably me. :) This tactic is most often used when it's time to go potty, and she doesn't want to. It goes a little like this...

"Nola, let's go potty."
"Noooooo!" followed by worked up tears and, "Puppy!" while running away from the bathroom and towards her puppy.
"Nola, listen to mommy." I hold up my index finger. "First, potty. Then, puppy."
Nola sniffles, sucks it up, and says, "Ok."

Seriously, it works pretty much every time. It's like magic. And here's why I think it has worked out for us.

We always stick to just two activities. First and Then. Adding a third is too much for her little genius mind to take in. When she's crying for a cookie we don't want her to have before dinner we wouldn't say, "First we'll wash our hands, then we'll eat dinner, and THEN you can have a cookie." This will come when she's older. For now, we're sticking to what her almost-two-year-old mind will be successful with. We would just say, "First, dinner. Then, a cookie."

We always do the "Then" activity immediately after the "First" activity. Say she wants to go outside, but we need her to put her shoes on. We say, "First, put your shoes on. Then, we'll go outside." After her shoes are on, we go straight outside. We don't make her wait while we finish up ten more things. And we don't make her do anything besides the shoes. There has to be immediate follow through. If we have ten things we need to do before taking her outside, we don't use First & Then. She needs to know that we will do what we say we will do. And at her age, that requires fairly quick follow through.

Lastly, we don't use First & Then as a reward incentive program. Or bribery. This seems like a fine line. But it's important to me. Let's take one scenario of going to the park. Let's say I am pretty sure she's not going to want to ride in her stroller. If while I'm popping out the stroller I say, "Hey, Nola! First, sit in your stroller. Then, we'll go to the park." To me, that's reward incentive programming. It might not be as blatant as, "I'll give you a cookie if you get in the stroller" but to me it still has the essence of a bribe.

With First & Then it would go like this: I'm pretty sure Nola's not going to want to ride in the stroller. But while I'm popping out the stroller I simply say, "Ok, get in the stroller." If she starts fussing about it, and possibly running down the driveway ahead of me, screaming "Paaaaaark!" Then I will stop her. I will make sure she is looking in my eyes and say, "First, get in the stroller. Then, we'll go to the park." And she usually will.

What's the difference again? It's just my opinion and my parenting style, but I think it's important that Nola get the chance to obey without the promise of a cookie. In life, she's going to have to do stuff that she doesn't want to do. And there won't always be someone there to say, "I'll give you a cookie if you pay that electric bill." Yes, it is good to do things that prevent tantrums. But not if the tantrum prevention means your child is not ever really obeying you. They're just waiting around for cookies.

Do you think this would work with your toddler? Every child is so different. But maybe there is a similar tactic you could use to coach your child through the emotion of a tantrum. It would be nice to skip the tantrums all together, but I just don't bake enough cookies for that. ;)


  1. So brilliant and it works wonderfully, great parenting skills!!!

  2. We do the same thing with Toby. He's not understanding it completely yet at his age, but I'm not always so good at the immediate "THEN" which is not going to help him learn it :) I love hearing other people's tactics especially when it has to do with being strict and dull:) It makes me feel better about being as strict as we are :)

  3. I love that you keep it simple, and that you have immediate follow-through. I think you are preparing a foundation for her whole life with this. The line does seem fine, but I get your philosophy. And, I like it! Keep up the good work.
    (and send me that picture)

  4. Well, I agree that it's brilliant. And it's so poetic too. "First and then." I like it.