“Let’s stay focused. Come on.”
“That’s not what we’re here for. We’re going to be late.”
“Please put that down. You’re going to… oh! *sigh*”
When the whole world is full of exciting new projects, shiny objects to inspect, interesting textures to touch… how do you help your child navigate daily routines without losing your mind (or encasing him or her in a giant hamster ball?)
If your child is often distracted, hard to manage in new places, and just full of imaginative and totally unexpected ways to use your office stationery… congratulations! You have an energetic, creative thinker on your hands.
So how do you keep that beautiful, unexpected, wild imagination alive and still get through a daily routine without a raisin stuck up your nose?
Why are kids so impulsive?
The first thing to know about impulsive behaviour is that it’s completely natural and developmentally appropriate, especially for younger children. Many kids are born to be busy explorers. They are brave scientists, testing theories. They are hands-on learners, and they are excited to be alive!
By the time your child has reached adulthood, his or her brain will be able to do some pretty impressive juggling. Adults can switch attention back and forth. Adults can ignore distractions, to some extent and with some effort. Adults can “override” a tempting offer when it conflicts with the big picture.
How do adults stay on track and avoid distraction?
Long story short: the adult brain can manage “conflicting information.” When two priorities are competing against each other, adults can (usually) weight out the pros and cons, and set the distraction aside. For example, you might want to speed down this empty stretch of road, but you remember to check the gauge and you slow down to avoid a speeding ticket. You see something hilarious you want to share with your friend, but it’s very late at night, so you refrain from texting them, just in case.
Kids are still growing and learning, and they have a long way to go before their brains are fully developed, and they have built up the skills necessary to “override” and “filter” new information as it comes into view.
Your secret weapon against impulsive and distracted behaviour
The very best offense against impulsive and distracted behaviour is a good defense. In other words, you need a PLAN.
Let’s say you and your child have walked into the supermarket. Unless you have a plan, it’s just you vs. the millions of dollars in expert consumer marketing, and that’s not a fair fight. Temptation lines the shelves, and yes, they place that sugary cereal at your child’s eye level *on purpose.* Visual distractions are among the hardest to ignore, too. You might be able to ignore the toys on the bedroom floor when it’s time to get pyjamas on, or keep your to-do list in mind when there’s an ice cream truck blaring on the street outside, but for kids, these interruptions can easily become the main event unless there is already a plan in place. It’s much harder to compete for that attention after it has been “captured” by a distraction.
Planning your mission (and sticking to it)
So, you set up a plan. Here are some quick tips to make your plan approximately 5000% more likely to be successful. (This estimate is entirely fictional, but you get the idea.)
- If your child loves to lead the way, let them “instruct” you by asking questions like “What will we need when we get to ____?”
- Create something together. A picture is worth 1000 reminders. This could be a visual schedule, a drawing, or even a “mission notebook” that your child can check off as you complete each task. This app has been a great help to me too.
- Include your child’s priorities and ideas. Maybe you will stop to feed the ducks. Maybe you will listen to a favourite song in the car. Let your child know his/her needs are important, and you will be able to ask for more cooperation when it comes to your own grown-up priorities.
Trouble-shooting and re-focusing
But wait, what if you need a quick course-correction after the plan has already started rolling?
Here are some tips to get your child’s attention laser-focused again:
- Surprise! (Surprise and fear. No, wait, that’s the Spanish Inquisition.) Nothing stops a child in his/her tracks faster than the unexpected. “Hamburger!” “Heffalump!” “Dingbats!”
- Visuals! If you haven’t got a picture handy, count out the plan on your fingers, or act it out. Most children pay attention to visual cues over anything else, so take centre stage, and grab that spotlight!
- Sing it! You know how hard it is to get a song out of your head? Take advantage of the power of music to build your child’s memory. When you create a chant, or repeat a call-and-response, a ditty can last for ages (no kidding, my mother used to sing a little song to help me get out of the bath safely, and decades later, I think of it every time my kids get out of the tub.)
Do you need someone to help you get unstuck?
If you need to actually see and hear it to understand it, I’m more than happy to coach you through a problem-solving process that is specific to you and your family. It’s much easier to find a solution when you know what clues to look for, so we can talk through your child’s specific strengths and needs.
Let’s find some time to talk (for free) and I’ll share what I’ve learned.