I taught a two-hour class this month on the topic of patience and responsibility to a group of child care providers, most of them in-home providers. It was toward the end of the week and I could tell that many of the women in the group were worn out and more prepared to sit back and listen than participate.
So I was pleasantly surprised when, into the second hour, some of them began to open up about their experiences and share their methods for handling feisty children.
Feisty children are those children who tend to test our patience with their larger-than-life reactions, their energy and craving for attention. Although they can feel like the worst kids when you are trying to fulfill the needs of a group of children, I try to emphasize to parents and childcare providers that feisty children can be great leaders if their energy is channeled appropriately.
For example, a child who is "bossy" can be guided by putting her in charge of a project or duty. She can be the line leader or the snack helper or be in charge of making sure the shoes are lined up and coats put away. It is also important to model good behavior to these children because they look to adults to deal with their low frustration tolerance and high sensitivity.
Be aware of your reactions to stressful situations. The bigger their meltdown, the calmer you need to become. Take a breath, think, and speak softly.
A child who has a meltdown or cries at the slightest frustration can be encouraged when adults acknowledge their helpfulness, their intelligence, or their accomplishment when they have persisted at a difficult task. "Try, try again. I know you can do it. You are so smart. I really appreciate your help on this."
As the providers began to open up, they shared some great ideas. One provider started her day with one child by requesting a hug while the parent was still there. "I really need a hug so my day goes well," she told him. She said it is really improving the child's behavior to have that positive physical contact right away in the morning.
Another provider practices a lot of time-ins by giving children lap time and having them help her. Sometimes she'll have a few children on her lap, she says, but they love it and seem to get along better through the day.
A provider with sons said that she requires them to say something nice about each other when they are fighting to diffuse tension and encourage empathy. What a great way to build positive communication in your home!
I encourage parents and childcare providers to find others who share their challenges and stage of life in order to gain new insight and ideas on patience and discipline. Sometimes it just helps to feel like you're not alone. And that next idea could be the perfect thing to help a feisty child soar to new heights (not literally, of course. I don't advocate soaring in the house.)
Seriously, from a mom who has her own feisty child, take a second look at those challenging children. They have beautiful gifts to share with someone who believes in them.