The weather is getting warmer and many parents are heading out into the sunshine with their fair skinned tots. Wise parents know it’s sun smart to wear a hat when outside. Unfortunately, most kids simply think sun hats make good Frisbees! It’s infuriating trying to get a wee one to keep their hands off their hats!
Here is an alternative solution to nagging our children about keeping their hats on during the next stroller ride. No tape required!
While lessons taught by Mother Nature (the “natural laws of living”) are the best teachers, they are not suitable if the consequence:
• Is too severe –> like heat stroke
• Is too distant –> like skin cancer
• Involves many others –> like an entire day camp having to leave the park because one child is unprepared for the sun.
So, while I love natural consequences as a tool for teaching very young children, they can’t be applied for sun hats. In such cases we must instead turn to the next best parenting tool: logical consequences.
Logical consequences help children understand that there are also “social laws of living”. They teach children that their personal freedoms also include taking responsibility. In order for a logical consequence to be effective it must meet the criteria of each of the “4 R’s”. A consequence must be:
• Revealed in advance
A simply stated logical consequence for sun hats would be: “You need to wear a hat to be in the sun. If the hat comes off, you need to come inside.” Meaning, if you would like the freedom of going out in the sun, you must show me you can also assume the responsibility of wearing a hat which is required.
Remember that consequences must be logical to the child’s thinking. And the child learns from experiencing the consequence; not from the threat of the consequence, so lectures are not needed. Action is. I know what you are thinking… Won’t it be too inconvenient to come inside whenever hats come off? Sure, initially you may have to haul them in repeatedly, however if you plan for this step (training the child by having them experience the consequence repeatedly) you’ll come to see it as ” teaching time” and not an inconvenience. A trained child does not need constant correction. You will spend more time correcting a child than taking time for training them in the first place!
Here is how it will look in real language and actions:
When you are getting ready to play in the sun say: “We need our hats on. If hats are off, we need to come in.” Proceed to play in the back yard with your child.
When the hat comes off, take them by the hand and state: “Your hat is off. I guess you’ve chosen to be inside.” Extend your hand to lead them inside.
If they do not take your hand, offer a choice: “Can you come in on your own or do you need my help?”
If they resist you can lead them by the hand, stating calmly: “I see you need some help getting inside.” If they refuse to walk, carry them in.
If they repent and ask to stay outside with their hat on, continue inside saying: “The time for deciding has come and gone – you hat off tells me you already picked going inside. No worries, you can decide again when we come out to play later.” You must follow through on going inside or the consequence is lost.
Mistakes are Opportunities for Learning!
The child now realizes they don’t like their decision. They feel they have made a mistake because they are inside and would prefer to be outside in the sun. But, it’s okay to make mistakes. They are just opportunities to learn. Keep the situation positive by telling them they’ll manage and can try again later. Stay positive. Don’t rub their noses in it. It’s hard, but imperative that you drop your desire to lecture and remind. These moves hurt the learning process by putting attention on the parent’s words instead of the child connecting the dots between their choices and the outcomes they produce.
Give them lots of opportunities to try again.
After coming inside, find a brief activity (even as short as 5 minutes) and then try going out again. You want to give your child lots of opportunities for trying out the consequences of their own choices. Hat on, stay out. Hat off, go inside. Period.
After experiencing both of these outcomes repeatedly, cause and effect will be learned and your children will decide for themselves that it is better to keep their hats on, without nagging and scotch tape.
Try it – let me know how you do!
About the Author:
Alyson Schafer is a psychotherapist and one of Canada’s most notable parenting experts. She is the resident expert on The Marilyn Denis Show, CTV News Channel and CBC’s The World This Weekend. Alyson is an “Ask an Expert” Columnist for Today’s Parent Magazine, and sits on the Health Advisory Board for Chatelaine Magazine. Alyson is the best selling author of “Breaking The Good Mom Myth” and “Honey, I Wrecked The Kids” and her latest, “Ain’t MIsbehavin”. She is an international speaker including the inaugural TEDxKids in Brussels and offers free parenting tips at www.alysonschafer.com.