The transition from preschool classroom to Grandma’s car was going great- until it wasn’t.
You know. Change is hard. Especially if you’re 3 ½ (boy, let’s call him B) or 4 ½ (girl, or G) years old.
As every parent, grandparent, or caregiver knows, things with kids can change at the drop of a hat – or, in this case, an accidental head bump with a younger brother.
Suddenly no one would get into the car seats. No one was happy.
“I don’t want to get in the car seat!”
“I wanna go to your house, not our house!”
“B won’t give me the bigger bunch of grapesI”
“She touched me!!!”
Everyone under 5 was whining.
Everyone over 5 (me) was getting this close to whining – or to yelling.
The preschoolers were safely inside the car, tho nowhere near getting into the car seats. I was already late for rehearsal. I could feel myself about to lose it.
So I gave myself a time-out.
I stood outside the car’s open backseat door, watching the chaos. Then I took a deep breath, closed my eyes, and rested my forehead on the car.
Weirdly, that’s what got their attention.
“What are you doing, Grandma?”
“I’m giving myself a timeout. So I don’t start yelling.”
And I started counting to 20.
At about number 14, B was in his car seat. Yay! I buckled him in, and moved around to the other side of the car where G was stubbornly standing, doling out the snacks.
One down, one more to go.
I tried the usually effective technique:
“You have two great choices here. Either you can get into the car seat yourself, or Grandma will be your helper and I’ll help you get in the seat. (Thank you, Claire Lerner’s book, Why Is My Child In Charge?). I’ll count to 10 and you can let me know your decision.”
All of this said, as best as I could manage, in a loving and nonjudgmental tone.
This acting challenge was getting really difficult.
And, by the time I got to 9 – counting painfully slowly – I could see that it wasn’t going to work.
G just wanted to win this one, and her own indecision and stubbornness were adding to her own stress – not to mention mine.
So I said this:
“I’m going to give myself a timeout until my mad mood goes away and I don’t feel like yelling anymore. I really hope you’ll be in your car seat by then. But if you aren’t then at least I’ll be able to help you into the seat gently.”
I turned away from G, took deep breaths and counted to 20. At 15, I said to myself (out loud, so G could hear):
“Gee, I sure hope G is in her seat by the time I get to 20.”
At number 19, she climbed in.
Score one for Grandma…and also for G, who had made the decision herself, without (I think) feeling like she had lost some battle of wills.
I think I discovered, quite by accident, another use of the “timeout.”:
By taking one for myself, I may have shown the kids that timeouts are not punishments, but rather opportunities to regroup and take responsibility for one’s own mood.
At least I hope so.
But it worked. Even if G had not gotten into the car seat, at least I showed her, by example, how I realized I had to recognize, and take control of, my own feelings.
I sure hope it works next time.