One of the many things I’ve learned about children is their ability to hear and understand the words being said is directly proportionate to the distance between adult and child. If there is more than an arm’s length between child and adult, the chances of them listening and complying are slim to none. Here’s what’s happening:
- At this age and younger, children are in a cause and effect world. In other words, they do something and something happens. Do you remember playing all those innocent chase games inside the house? For a young child, this is a great game and needs to be played. When a child is outside and you tell them to stop then start running up to them, they immediately go to that chase game and the game is on! This has nothing to do with defiance and everything to with playing a game.
- Frontal lobes are required to think about future consequences and at this time of their lives, the frontal lobes are in stand-by mode. They’re not concerned with the street corner that’s 100 feet away or all the cars zooming around in the street. The only thing that matters most to them is running away from you.
- Independence! Most young children want to be completely independent and will do everything possible to gain their freedom. When they’re running away, that feeling of being free is as strong as ever.
So, what do you do? The most obvious thing is to keep your child within an arm’s length at all times. I realize young children want to walk on their own (and they should) and we need to stay within that arm’s length. If you’re pushing a stroller, ask them to hold on to the side and help you push the baby. When they start getting too far ahead, the word “Stop!” is useful because it’s not “No!” Then, comes the choice “You can walk next to me or you can hold my hand.” Here are some other ideas:
- If your child is more than an arm’s length away, say nothing until you’re able to hold their hand. Once you’re holding hands, tell them it’s time to go inside for some lunch.
- If you happen to have more than one child, walk up to one of the children, take their hand and tell them “Let’s go see what your sister is doing.” When both children’s hands are in your hands, that’s the time to let them know you’re going inside for lunch. Twins and triplets are experts at knowing when they need to scatter without saying anything to each other!
- If safety is an issue, don’t say anything! Start running like the wind! If you say anything, they will go into game mode, start running, and accidents may happen.
I realize at some point children are being defiant and need to listen to mom and dad. The challenge is identifying when that switch from game to defiance occurs. For me, it’s all about their eyes and facial reactions. If they are looking directly at me, do the wrong thing (whatever that might be), and keep looking at me, I know they are in defiance mode. The icing on the cake is when they show a mad face or one with some kind of angry contortions. When this happens, I know they are truly in defiance.
Children are great people who are learning about life and whom they are in the same manner as you and I did.
I hope this helps!