Sunday, November 27, 2011

Ignoring: Why it happens and what to do about it


Why kindergartners ignore their parents


You ask your kindergartner to put away her art supplies so you can set the table for dinner. But — can you believe it? — she keeps right on cutting, coloring, and pasting. You repeat yourself, she mumbles "Okay," and the handiwork continues. Why is she ignoring you?

The good news: Your little girl is growing up. The bad news: Your little girl is growing up. "Kindergartners like to be in charge of themselves — they like to make their own decisions and demands," explains Roni Leiderman, associate dean of the Family Center at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale. As your 5-year-old develops a stronger sense of identity, it's normal for her to assert herself by rebelling against your authority. Rather than make a scene, she might pretend not to hear you, or respond as s-l-o-w-l-y as she thinks she can get away with. Take heart: Pushing parents' buttons is part of a kindergartner's job — the key is getting your youngster to cooperate while providing her space to practice her independence.


What to do when your kindergartner ignores you


Be clear and realistic. Make sure your requests are specific and doable. If you say, "Clean your room," your kindergartner might manage to push the clutter around a little bit. But if you say, "Please put your shoes in the closet and your toys in the toy box," she'll know exactly what to do. Since some tasks can seem pretty daunting to a 5-year-old and it's easy to assume that kindergartners know more than they really do, it might also help to lead her through a big job for the first time or break it into smaller parts. Instead of saying, "Help Daddy clear off the table," for instance, show her how to scrape the dishes with the spatula and stack them by the sink. When she's fumbling around with her art supplies, say, "You put the crayons in the box, I'll put away the scissors and glue, and then we'll find a great place to hang your picture."

Simplify your requests. Your kindergartner may be ignoring you simply because she doesn't understand what you want her to do. Keep your directives simple, with no more than three or four steps at most ("Please go to the upstairs bathroom, look under the sink, and bring the bandages back to me").

Follow through. If you ask your 5-year-old to get herself dressed before school, encourage even the smallest steps she makes toward that goal. If she refuses, simply lead her to the car with shoes in hand. When you ask her not to bounce the ball in the house and she keeps using the walls as a backboard, take it away from her until she's ready to cooperate.

Motivate your kindergartener. The truth is, we're all tempted to answer, "Because I said so!" But there are better ways to motivate your child to cooperate with your requests. Try to remember that you don't want her to do the right thing because she's afraid not to. You want her to do the right thing because she wants to. Kindergarteners love to please, so compliments and encouragement will go a long way toward getting yours to comply with your wishes. ("Allie, I'm so proud of you for getting ready for school all by yourself" or "Wow, you sure are a good listener!")

You might also give your 5-year-old an incentive for doing what you ask: "When you put the puzzle pieces back in the box, we can go the park." (Hint: Don't say "If you put the puzzle pieces in the box.") Kindergarteners also thrive on stickers and charts — or, if your youngster's beyond the sticker stage, try a written contract. The contract might simply read:Katie will put her pajamas beneath her pillow every morning after she gets dressed for school. When she's done this for three mornings in a row, Mom will take her to a movie.Sign it, let her color it or add computer graphics, and then post the contract where she can see it. She'll not only feel included in the process, she'll appreciate the level of responsibility the contract bestows on her.

Use alternatives to "no." If your kindergartner ignores you when you tell her no, maybe it's because she hears it too often. Try other approaches to the N word. Instead of barking, "No! Don't kick the ball in the kitchen," for instance, say, "Let's go outside to play ball." Remember, kindergartners love their independence, so try to offer choices liberally throughout the day: "Would you like to wear the red, blue or yellow shirt today?" or "Would you like to invite Casey over to play or would you rather go to the mall with me?" When you give a child a choice, you're giving her a chance to assert herself in an acceptable way.

Say yes instead of no whenever you can, too, and take every opportunity to encourage rather than dissuade her. If she's excited about the idea of building her own birdhouse, for instance, respond by saying, "Sure, you can try!" or "Daddy will help you" — which both sound a lot more positive than "No, you might get hurt."

Naturally, there will be plenty of times when you'll have to be firm about stopping her from eating sweets before dinner or playing computer games 'til midnight. The point is, choose your battles and put your foot down only when you must. If you provide an environment that's both safe and stimulating (the YWCA as opposed to Grandpa's study, for instance), your kindergartner can exercise her independence with few holds barred.

Try to be understanding. Imagine you're reading a novel or chatting with a friend when, all of a sudden, you're ordered to stop what you're doing because something else has to be done right now. The reality is that we don't always have time to cajole our kindergartners into the car or beg them to wash their hands. But whenever possible, it really helps to give your child notice before you rush her into the next activity or errand: "We're leaving in ten minutes, honey, so try to finish up." If your kindergartner is like most, she still won't be thrilled about having to wrap up a computer game or put aside her coloring book, but at least she'll have fair warning that it's time to switch gears.

If your kindergartner seems to ignore you more often than she listens, talk to her pediatrician about the problem. The doctor may recommend a hearing test or other developmental evaluations.

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