Remember The 5 Steps are a Tool, not a Rule.
I’m often asked about using The 5 Steps with children. I wanted to take a moment to explain some of the issues that come up in applying them, as well as how I use them with different children at different ages and stages. Remember The 5 Steps are a Tool, not a Rule. They are not designed to be a formula for behavior modification, but rather they are a tool for guiding children through situations so that they can take ownership of their own behavior and choices as they mature.
I am often asked about situations that require immediate attention. For instance, I do not use all 5 steps with a toddler who has run into the street, especially if a car is coming. I would move quickly to the toddler and use the wording of Step 1, “You need to stay out of the road. It’s dangerous to be in the road if a car comes,” WHILE DOING Step 4, helping, as I pick up the toddler and move him or take his hand and walk him to the side of the road.
Because I am consistent, the child learns more quickly…
This is also the combination of steps that I use when I am working to establish myself with a child. That might mean I’m dealing with my baby and creating the foundation of our relationship. A baby who gets her hand wrapped in my hair is going to hear, “You need to not pull Mommy’s hair. Gentle my hair,” WHILE I’m unwrapping my hair from her hand (Tip: if you gently press a baby’s hand in the palm she will release her grip and you can remove hair or other things from her hand). It might also be what I do when I’m dealing with a 3yo who is persistent at something. Every single time he jumps on the couch he will find me flying them to the floor (helping — Step 4) AS I’m telling him, “You need to keep your feet off the couch. Feet on the floor.” Because I am consistent, the child learns more quickly that he will not be allowed to jump on the couch and stops trying, moving on to whatever his next persistent effort will be.
Sometimes the issue is more the personality of the child. Sometimes the issue is more what I’m addressing. Sometimes the issue is maturity or readiness. I fully believe that when children are able to understand and comply with the instruction and have the impulse control to do so, they will move to do it themselves with the wording of Step 1. I expect them to show me when that readiness occurs. It might be instant moving without a need to escalate the steps, or it might be a foot stomping “ME DO!” from a toddler. Either way, I let them do it themselves and rejoice in the fact that they are maturing and I don’t have to help with everything anymore. If they move into a new stage of pushing limits or events change in their life and they are pushing limits because they feel unsafe, I have no problem shortening the gap and moving back to a truncated version.
I must also admit that even I sometimes need help with some things.
The goal is to have teenagers who respond without help to Step 1, even though sometimes Step 2 is necessary. I must also admit that even I sometimes need help with some things. My husband laughs when I’m eating one of my favorite treats and don’t want to stop and eventually look at him and say, “Please help me stop — I need help.” We laugh as he takes the plate away. Sometimes it’s just too hard to find that self-control.
It also has to be okay to fail. When people don’t believe it is safe for them to fail, they don’t ask for help in advance of failure and they work double time to hide their failure. This results in scandals. I don’t want to raise adults who end up in scandals. I want to raise adults who know their personal limitations, and areas of greatest temptation; I want to raise adults who can and do ask for help when it’s needed; I want to raise adults who know it’s safe to fail, but also know how to succeed.
The language of The 5 Steps is respectful and assigns responsibility where it belongs. It is kind and firm. There are situations that require us to be firm and kind. The 5 Steps are adaptable. Remember: they are a Tool, not a Rule!