It’s a moment that’s forever carved in stone in my mind: I opened the door and found 12 four-year-olds jumping on chairs, climbing on tables and/or trying to escape out the window. My first impulse was to turn around and run for my car. My second was to close the door (OK, truth be told it was more like slam the door) and start yelling at them.
But I knew none of those things were options for my Sunday School class. For one, yelling at small children didn’t really go with that day’s sermon. For another, I was a junior in college studying child development, and I knew if my professor could read my mind, I had just ended my college career. And last of all, the room’s fourth wall was a curtain that partitioned us off from a larger room, full of children and LOTS of adults who would hear my cries!
In that split second, I knew I had to act. The kids were now looking at me, with smiles and giggles no less, as I figured out what in the world to do next. Since I had ruled out my impulse reactions, I knew I had to dig deeper. And since I was desperate, I decided to put my professor’s wisdom to the test.
During my 8:00am class on guiding children’s behaviors, I took copious notes and recorded everything that my professor said. As I hurriedly scribbled her words, I thought to myself, “There’s no way this stuff works. My Sunday School class can testify to that.”
So what do you think I decided to do in my moment of need? That’s right- the words of my 8:00am professor sounded loud and clear in my head. And I’d soon know just how well her theories worked- one way or another.
I reached over and turned the lights off in the room, quietly bent down to the child closest to me, and whispered, “Put your feet on the floor. Then we’ll play a game once everyone else is sitting down.”
And wouldn’t you know- that first child sat down. Not immediately, but it happened (I may have raised an intimidating eyebrow or two). So I moved on to the next one, and the next one, and wouldn’t you know those kids all wanted to know what game we were playing? Talk about fast thinking, I now had to create a game out of thin air. Luckily, you can make anything seem like a game to four-year-old kids, so I was able to pull that one off with more quick thinking.
After that incident, I thought about laminating my notes from that professor. Even though her classes had a reputation for being hard, I eagerly signed-up to be in them whenever I could. While getting a “B” wasn’t my favorite, her words of wisdom were priceless, and since then, I’ve never met a child that I couldn’t get through to somehow.
It’s hard to be a mom. And moments of frustration are frequent indeed. While yelling can seem the best way to get kids’ attention in a noisy situation, they often tune it out and hear nothing, causing us to feel even more frustrated (and often to yell even louder). Quiet, even whispered requests, seem to conquer their attention more so than yelling.
Kids expect the yelling, so they brace for it. But a soft voice catches them off-guard. They have to calm down to hear you. If you yell, they can still hear you while they misbehave.
Another thing to couple with that is swift action. If you pause too long, they’ll know you’re trying to figure out what to do- and that gives them the upper hand. Act confident, even if you don’t have a clue what to do next, and they’ll be more apt to listen to you!