Thoughtful Parenting: Surviving the waiting room

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— Sitting in a waiting room with young children can be a parent’s worst nightmare. Some parents check out and let their kids run. Some resort to bribing and pleading. (“If you sit nicely ...”) Others try to control the situation as fast as possible without making a scene. (“Sit still or else …”)

Thoughtful Parenting

This weekly column about parenting issues is written by local early childhood experts. It publishes on Mondays in the Steamboat Today. Read more columns here.

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I feel like I’m a good parent and my kids have manners, but sometimes things fall apart at the worst time. Sitting there with my kids acting out of control gets worse when I imagine all of the horrible judgments others are making about me and my parenting skills. Where’s the magic wand?

Self-regulation is the magic wand. On top of that, your “teachable moment” is not the moment you are in the waiting room; it’s in the classroom of everyday life. The foundational building blocks of surviving the waiting room include: relationships that teach self-regulation and an environment that sets you and your child up for success. Monkey see, monkey do is not just a saying; it’s how our brains are wired. Next time it feels like your child is out of control, check in with yourself. Are you feeling out of control? Regulation is contagious. If you can remain calm and regulated, your child has a better chance of following suit. Self-regulation does not mean being happy and calm all of the time. Real regulation means being aware of how your body feels (tense, numb, relaxed) and how you are thinking (racing, fuzzy, logical) at the same time. I love being regulated when I feel happy and things are going well, but in the waiting room it must look like I’m desperately holding on to the calm in the midst of a storm.

Here are a few tips:

• Practice taking three deep breaths, the ones that fill your lungs all the way. The key is to practice so much when things are going well that your brain is wired to breathe deeply when you are in the waiting room.

• Help your child wrap his or her mind around what’s going on. Imagine being in line at the grocery store during the holidays and the checker keeps messing up — it’s taking forever, and you are 10th in line — this is how your child feels in the waiting room. You can help your child by explaining the beginning, middle and end of being at the doctors’ office or another waiting room. Help your child understand when progress is being made and when the wait will be finished.

• Remember that your child is just that, a child, and think about what he or she can be expected to do for his or her age. Young children should be expected to sit still no longer than 15 to 20 minutes, and the younger the child, the lower the amount of time.

• Practice waiting room manners during everyday life. The key is to teach what is expected of your child by telling your child what he or she can do rather than what he or she needs to stop doing. (“Walking feet” instead of “Don’t run.”) Instead of sitting still for 30 minutes, walk down the halls or around the chairs every few minutes and make a game out of it.

Remember to think outside of the box. Like skiing or snowboarding, you go where you look. Focusing on what you and your child can’t or shouldn’t do in the waiting room will only take you down the path you are trying to avoid. Taking into account your child’s age and your comfort zone, what can you do in the waiting room to pass the time? Bring toys, cellphone games and snacks, and plan to walk around, sing songs and talk to other people. And remember to breathe!

Sophie Berkley is a certified counselor with Growing Potential. She can be reached at growingpotentialnow@gmail.com or 970-819-6751. She is a member of First Impressions, Routt County’s Early Childhood Council.

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