AGES 2-4

Scenario 1.

Melika is walking home with her two-year-old, Michel, in a stroller, and her four-year-old, Talya. Talya runs ahead and starts crossing a busy street. Melika calls out, but Talya ignores her. Melika is terrified!

Action 1. Melika runs, pushing the stroller ahead of her. Catching up with Talya, she grabs her by the wrist, yanks her onto the sidewalk and smacks her on the bum. Melika raises her voice and says clearly and forcefully, "Don’t you ever do that again!" Thoughts on punishment.
Action 2. Melika runs with the stroller and scoops Talya up, bringing her safely onto the sidewalk. Melika crouches down to speak with Talya and says, "I’m sorry I had to pick you up without asking. Why do you think I did that?" Learning moment: "The reason I had to do that was because you were in a dangerous situation. I love you so much and I want to make sure you are safe all the time."

Scenario 2.

Sandy’s two-year-old, Marc, keeps taking shovels and trucks from other kids at the park. One of the children starts to cry. There are lots of children playing in the sandbox and many parents and babysitters are around watching.

Action 1. Sandy marches over to Marc and forcefully takes the shovel away from him, saying, "How does that feel?" Sandy hits Marc on the bum with the shovel.
Action 2. Sandy marches over and loudly says, "Look what you did, Marc! You’re being bad. Because of you, we have to go home now."
Action 3. Sandy takes the truck away from Marc and hands it back to the child whose truck it is. Sandy say nicely, "That doesn’t belong to you, Marc. Now say you're sorry." Thoughts on making kids say sorry.
Action 4. Sandy sits with Marc and talks to him about sharing, playing and taking turns. Sandy stays there with the child and plays with Marc, encouraging the sharing of the trucks. Thoughts on being present not punitive.

Scenario 3.

Hélène goes shopping after work for some groceries and her four-year-old, Christine, points to a water gun and insists they buy it. Hélène says no. Christine starts having a tantrum, screaming and yelling that she wants the toy. Everyone is staring at them. Thoughts on tantrums.

Action 1. Hélène tells Christine to be quiet. Christine continues and it gets even worse. Hélène says, "If you don’t stop that, we’ll give all your toys away!"
Action 2. Hélène whispers to Christine, "You’re embarrassing us. Stop it and I’ll buy you a chocolate bar on the way out."
Action 3. Hélène gently leans in and lets Christine know that she understands her frustration. She tells her that she can choose a treat to eat after supper for dessert. Thoughts on chances to change.

Thoughts on punishment.

At COPA we encourage those caring for children to leave the path of punishment and shame and blame, and move toward a focus on learning opportunities.

As our children’s guides, we hope to help children take advantage of life’s many challenges to learn more about themselves and others.

A two-year-old who grabs another’s shovel can learn about sharing, taking turns, and thus learns more about their own needs and their peers’ than if they were punished, developing important awareness and life skills. In fact, at that stage of life, punishment is only negative with learning attached to it.

When a ten-year-old is bullying another child in the playground, keeping them indoors for lunch for a week teaches them nothing about what is wrong with their behaviour. They may feel badly, and embarrassed, but what have they learned about bullying, about their classmates, about healthy relations, about respecting others?

What learning is taking place? This is the question that we encourage adults caring for young people to ask.

Punishing children for mistakes that they make or information they don’t have or even skills they should not have developed yet builds a negative and even hostile environment. While helping them build their problem-solving skills and their ability to recognize and handle difficult situations is essential to nurturing children in a healthy way. Not only for their future, but in their lives, as young people, too.

Thoughts on making kids say sorry.

We often think that making young people apologize gets an important job done and is part of educating children to see the wrong in what they have done.

At COPA, we would like people to re-think the idea of making kids say they are sorry. Forcing someone to do so may mean that we hear the words we want to hear, but we don’t necessarily get at real feelings. We have all had the experience of getting an apology and knowing that the person doesn’t mean it. A forced apology is so different from a sincere one.

Also, making someone apologize for something can make for feelings of resentment—it can make the whole thing backfire. Making kids apologize to each other can even double backfire.

We need to keep in mind that kids, like adults, need to learn about regret, remorse, being sorry and saying so—it’s a skill that can be developed and sometimes the best way for young people to learn that skill is by watching the adults in their lives model it well.

Note of interest: Children and youth that talk to COPA about various issues have told us about their frustration about being made to say their sorry—and how rarely adults apologize to kids.

Thoughts on being present not punitive.

Most of us were raised to think of punishment as normal, natural and even logical.

At COPA, we encourage stepping away from punishment and see that by being present—just by paying attention, being available and listening carefully—we can even avoid many situations that end up in conflict, or become problems or steer us toward punishment.

Thoughts on tantrums.

Definition / An uncontrolled outburst of anger and frustration, usually associated with a young child.

Example / "His child has temper tantrums when he can't get his own way."

It’s hard to imagine that anyone that has taken care of children has not had to manage a child having a tantrum. And there are many articles on the internet for parents and caregivers for handling them. The language about them is fascinating, and worth reflecting on.

A favourite, for example, is the idea that we can try to tame children into not having tantrums. Clearly, the idea behind this is that we think of children as wild animals. One can even imagine being in the cage with them, with one hand holding a whip and the other a chair.

At COPA, we would like to think of young people as (whole) people too—with feelings of helplessness and frustration similar to our own. (It is unlikely to meet an adult that has not wanted to have a tantrum or cannot remember feeling ignored as a child.)

In addition to ignoring their feelings, seeing children as in need of taming can actually harm them, leaving them open to all kinds of abuse. We want to encourage our children to listen to and respect their own feelings—as we respect them too, and hope, too that others will respect ours. Children whose feelings are tamed—shut down, repressed, ignored or belittled—are children that are much more vulnerable.

Yes, tantrums are very hard to deal with. Even harder when people are watching us and often judging us for how we are managing them, but let’s think about tantrums as what they really are: the expression of someone who is feeling helpless and frustrated.

In the moment: Leaning in to our children and listening to empower can defuse a tantrum in moments.

In general: Giving children time and space to express themselves, while learning how to do so in a positive way builds important life skills and makes tantrums less likely.

Thoughts on chances to change.

Parenting is so hard. Caring for children is so difficult. COPA believes strongly in learning, not judging, blaming or shaming—not just of children but of adults too.

We can work at being better at caring for our children, our grandchildren and children in our care. We can make mistakes, we can react, over-react, be angry, impatient, frightened, respond in ways we don’t feel proud of and still take steps to change.

Here are some simple ideas for things that can change our lives with children we care for:

  • Slow down
  • Take a breath
  • Keep breathing
  • Admit you were wrong
  • Ask for ideas for how to deal with the situation
  • Provide choices (younger children)
  • Come up with ideas together (older children)
  • Say you are sorry (and mean it)
  • Listen and let your child express themselves
  • Keep breathing
  • Be available

Order Problem-Solving Together: COPA's Tool for Empowerment