Prep Talks

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We have different expectations for our kids’ behavior based on the type of environment that we take them into. Perhaps you feel at ease when you pull into a playground, and your kids can jump out to just run, yell, and play. But what if you have to take them to a department store to make some returns? Or to an upscale restaurant for Grandma’s 90th Birthday dinner?

Sometimes we have to take kids into environments that challenge both them and us.

In these situations, I find it helpful to use what I call ‘Prep Talks’. Prep Talks are when you simply lay out your expectations for behavior before entering into a potentially challenging environment.

Here’s an example:

“We are going into the doctor’s office, and we have to sit in the chairs and wait. It might feel tough to wait, but I bet they will have some books or magazines that we can look at together. It’s important that you keep your bottom glued down to the chair. If you need to get up and stretch or take a walk outside, let me know!”

A Prep Talk is a short talk that you give your kid in advance of a new environment or life circumstance. This is an example of being proactive rather than reactive when it comes to our children’s behavior.

Here’s why Prep Talks are successful. They lay out the expectations for us as parents and for our kids. When you say the behavioral expectations aloud, you can assess if your expectations are really appropriate for your child. Notice I said for your child. Not for the typical age of your child. Just because your neighbor’s 5-year-old can sit quietly in the waiting room at the doctor’s office for 30 minutes doesn’t mean that your kid can. We have to set expectations for the child we have right in front of us.

That also means just gauging your child at this moment—has your child ate, slept, and moved well today? Because this will impact their capacity to behave in the way you need them to.

The truth is we often have arbitrary, vague expectations of our children’s behavior. We don’t really think about their behavior until they are doing something “bad”. We are often just “winging it” until things fall apart. Then when that happens, we get angry and start throwing around empty threats.

“If you don’t sit down and be quiet, I’m going to take you to the car”

“If you don’t behave, I’ll take away your screen time”

This happened to me just last week. We’ve decided to teach our kids how to ski this year, being an outdoor activity that we can easily socially distance…it seems like good timing. Now let me tell you that I ski the same way I drive. I’m basically just trying to stay alive. I’m anxious, and my shoulders are tense. I’m hyperalert almost the whole time.

So why teach my kids to ski? It’s my husband’s dream. My dream is to start bike touring and get family tandems, which I’ve talked about we just invested in recently. And my husband’s dream is to ski as a family. As many of you know, we sold our house this year, and part of downsizing and living smaller is to enable us to play bigger and do things like this.

That means I’m doing this for my family. I’m praying I will have at least one child that will delight in the greens and blues and ski slow and careful with me. And I will send the other child with my husband.

I digress. I’m telling you this because I had to take my kids into a ski shop last week to rent skis. And it was a train wreck, for lack of better words. It was like my skiing. I was basically just trying to stay alive; it’s was a fast, downward spiral out of control. I’m sure you’ve all felt like that at some point in time.

I didn’t do a Prep Talk, and it showed. My kids had never been in a ski shop before, so they found it highly stimulating, crowded, and novel. 

This is a terrible combination in 2020 when you have to be hyper-vigilant about making sure kids aren’t touching things or getting into other people’s personal space.

I wish I would have done things differently. I wish I would have brought my husband so that he could have taken the kids to the car after we had them measured, and I could have taken care of the rest. I wish I would have called ahead to get the paperwork to fill out emailed me, so I didn’t need to fill out a pile of forms while my kids rolled around on the floor and attempted to touch every.single.thing in the entire store.

But most of all, I wish I would have given them a Prep Talk. This is what it would have looked like in the parking lot before going into the store:

“Hey guys, we are going into a ski shop. They are going to measure your feet and height to see what size skis you need. There’s going to be A LOT of colorful, new things to look at and touch, but it’s important that you keep your bottom glued to your seat and your hands down by your sides. Because of the virus, we have to make sure we aren’t touching things that aren’t ours, and we have to make sure that we aren’t getting too close to other people. I know it’s going to be hard. I think it would be a fun place to play I-Spy, and we can even take some photos of your favorite skis.”

So what did I do there in this hypothetical Prep Talk?

I explained what I needed them to do: Sit down and not touch a bunch of stuff. Notice I didn’t say “be good” or “behave”. I specifically told them how I needed them to keep their bodies.

I gave myself a reality check: I mentally and verbally acknowledged that these behavior expectations would be challenging because there’s so much cool stuff in there. This was a BIG ASK of my kids.

I quickly brainstormed some simple ideas: On the fly, I came up with some ideas I could initiate if/when things started to go south, and they were struggling with sitting. This also gave me a reality check that I would probably need to engage them more purposefully with I-Spy or pointing at our favorite products, rather than just telling them to sit down, hold still, and be quiet. That probably wouldn’t be enough in this situation.

But in this situation, I didn’t do any of the sort. I just kind of panicked and filled out the paperwork a million miles and hour and ran out of there as fast as humanly possible after my kid bumped into the plexiglass for the 100th time. 

Being a kid isn’t easy because they have a natural curiosity that drives them to explore and learn. Usually, we love that, but sometimes it can make behavior feel difficult. Whenever we have to take our kids into a high-expectation kind of environment, it’s good to get them moving first. Definitely take them to a playground and run off some of the energy before asking them to sit down at grandma’s fancy 90th birthday party.

That natural curiosity and need for movement make integrating small children into adult life tricky. But we also ask them to do a lot of code-switching. Code-switching is when we adjust our speech, language, behavior, and appearance based on the environment and the people we are surrounded by. Code-switching is a natural part of socialization that we do as adults without any thought. You talk and act differently with your brother than you do with your boss. As a kid, you spoke and carried yourself differently with the school principal than you did with your best friend.

Some kids pick up on social cues very well, and they can pre-emptively adjust behaviors without a Prep Talk. They code-switch easily. But many (or maybe most) kids are still acquiring this skill. Therefore, Prep Talks can come in really handy.

ESPECIALLY THIS YEAR. Because environments that we previously could relax in and let our guard down now demand a much more intense level of hypervigilance with our kids.

Here’s an example of a conversation you may not have needed to have a year ago:

“We are going into the grocery store to get some blueberries and cereal. I need you to stay right next to my side and you can’t touch anything. Remember because of the virus, it’s important that we keep our hands down by our sides while we are in the store, and we only get close to the people in our family.”

Will Prep Talks work and make your kid behave perfectly every time? No. I’m not making that promise. But they will help both you and them.

We have different types of expectations on the behavior of our kids, based on the type of environment that we take them into. Perhaps you feel at ease when you pull into a playground and your kids can just jump out and run and yell and play. But what if you have to take them to a department store to make a bunch of returns or an upscale restaurant for grandma's 90th birthday dinner. Sometimes we have to take kids into environments that challenged both them and us. And in these situations, I find it helpful to use what I call prep talks. Prep talks are short talks that you give in advance or in preparation to lay out your expectations behavior before entering into the potentially challenging environment. I'm going to be sharing more examples of this today. Hi, this is Denaye. I'm the founder of simple families. Simple families is an online community for parents who are seeking a simpler more intentional life. In this show, we focus on minimalism with kids, positive parenting, family wellness, and decreasing the mental load. My perspectives are based in my firsthand experience, raising kids, but also rooted in my PhD in child development. So you're going to hear conversations that are based in research, but more importantly, real life. Thanks for joining us.

Hi there, and thanks so much for tuning in. I want to thank Prep Dish for sponsoring today's episode. Prep Dish is a meal planning service, and it is one that has helped my family find more balance and predictability, and rhythm. When it comes to mealtime at home with practice, you get a weekly email and in that email, you get a PDF that comes in three parts. The first part is your Grocery List. So you know what to buy. I usually click and order these things right straight off the list and pick up my groceries. The second part is the Prep Day. You set aside a day to prepare the ingredients that are going to be needed for the week. I find this really helpful because I'm able to schedule a time that my husband can help me and we can do it together since he's not usually available during the week when I'm getting the meals on the table.

And the third part is the final steps on Dish Day to actually get the meal on the table, which usually only takes about 15 minutes. I encourage you to give it a try, go to prepdish.com/families to get two weeks free. Again, that's prepdish.com/families. I do want to give you a heads up that I'm going to be doing a special offer for the simple families foundations program right after Christmas. So if you're looking to simplify your life in 2021, then I would love to have you on this proven roadmap with me. So file that away in your brain. The special offer will start the day after Christmas and expire on January 1st. All right, prep talks a short talk in advance or in preparation for taking your kid into a circumstance or environment that has the potential to be challenging.

Here's an, we get out of the car ready to go into the doctor's office. Here's what I say. We're going into the doctor's office and we have to sit in chairs and wait. It might feel really hard to wait, but I bet they're going to have some books or magazines that we can look at together. It's really important that you keep your bottom glued down to the chair. If you need to get up and stretch or take a walk outside, let me know when we can do that. A prep talk is an example of being proactive rather than reactive. When it comes to your kids' behavior, it only takes a minute or two, and it's really simple. And here's why it's successful. When you give your kid a prep talk, which you're probably already doing in some situations, you're laying out the expectation for yourself as a parent and for your kids.

When you say those behavioral expectations aloud, you can assess if your expectations are really appropriate for your kid. Notice I said your kid, not for the typical age of your child, just because your neighbor's five-year-old can sit quietly in the waiting room at the doctor's office for 30 minutes, doesn't mean that your kid can, we have to set expectations for behavior for the child that we have right in front of us. And that also means gauging your child at that moment, keeping in mind, did your child eat and sleep and move well today? Because this also impacts their capacity to behave in the way that you need them to. The truth is that we often have arbitrary big expectations of our kids' behavior. We don't really think about their behavior until they're doing something quote, unquote bad. We're often just kind of winging it until things fall apart.

And then when that happens, we get angry and we start throwing around to empty threats. If you don't sit down and be quiet, I'm going to take you to the car. If you don't behave, I'll take away your screen time. This actually happened to me just last week. We've decided that this year we're going to teach our kids how to ski. It's an outdoor activity and we can easily socially distance. So it seems like good timing. Now, let me tell you that I ski the same way that I drive. I'm basically just trying to stay alive. I'm anxious. My shoulders are tense and I'm hyper-alert almost the whole time. You might be wondering why am I going to try to teach my kids to ski that? So it's actually my husband's dream. My dream, which I've talked about recently is bike touring and getting family tandem bikes.

And we did that recently. And my husband's dream is to ski as a family. Many of you know that we recently sold our house this year and downsized in a big way. And one of our goals with living smaller is to enable us to play bigger and to do things like this that we've really always wanted to do with our kids. So I'm doing this for my family. I'm praying that I'm going to have at least one child that is going to delight in the greens and the blues and ski slow and carefully with me. And then I'm to send the other kid with my husband. I digress. So I'm telling you this because I had to take my kids into a ski shop last week to rent skis for the season. And it was a train wreck for lack of better words, kind of like my skiing.

I was basically just trying to stay alive. It was this slow downward spiral out of control. Actually it wasn't so slow. It was kind of a fast downward spiral out of control. I'm sure you've all felt like that about your kid's behavior at some point in time. So I didn't do a prep talk and it showed the thing is that my kids have never been in a ski shop before. And it was no surprise, highly stimulating, crowded, and novel. Everything was new to them, not to mention there are a certain energy and excitement in a ski shop at the beginning of the season with people who have been waiting months and months for the first snow. So highly stimulating novel crowded, terrible combination for 2020, when you have to be hyper-vigilant about making sure that your kids aren't touching things or getting into other people's personal space.

Now, I wish I would've done things differently. I wish first of all, that I would've brought my husband so that he could have taken the kids to the car after we got them measured. And then I could have taken care of the rest. There were mountains of paperwork to fill out. And I also wish that I would have called ahead so that I could have filled out the paperwork in advance so that I didn't have to sit there filling out a million forms while my kids were rolling around on the floor. I was cringing and they were attempting to touch every single thing in the entire store. But most of all, I wish that I would've given them a prep talk. And if I had, this is what it would've looked like in the parking lot before going into the store, Hey guys, we're going into a ski shop.

It's going to be really exciting. They're going to measure your feet and your height to see what type of skis and boots that you need. There's going to be a lot of colorful new things to look at and touch, but it's important that you keep your bottom glued to your seat and your hands down by your sides because of the virus. We have to make sure we aren't touching things that aren't ours. And we also have to make sure that we aren't getting too close to other people. I know it's going to be hard. I think this would be a really fun place to play. I-spy, or maybe even take some photos of your favorite skis and snowboards. Okay. So listen to what I did there, in that example of the prep talk, first of all, I explained exactly what I needed them to do.

I told them specifically, I need to sit with their bottoms, glued to the chair and their hands down to their sides. Notice they didn't say be good or behave. I specifically told them how I needed them to keep their bodies. And they also gave myself a reality check. I mentally and verbally acknowledged that these behavior expectations were going to be hard because of the exciting energy in the room, because there's so much cool stuff in there. This in and of itself was going to be a big ask of my kids. And I needed to remind myself of that. It might've been asking them to do something that they weren't even capable of. And lastly, what I did was I quickly brainstormed some simple ideas on the fly. I came up with some ideas that I could initiate when things started to go South, when they started to struggle with sitting, this was also giving me a reality check that I would probably need to engage them more purposefully with I-spy or pointing out our favorite products, rather than just telling them to sit down and hold still and be quiet because just giving those demands probably wouldn't be enough in this situation.

So hindsight is 2020. I didn't do any of those things. I didn't give a prep talk. I didn't come up with any smart ideas to engage them. I just kind of panicked. And I filled out the paperwork, a million miles an hour, and I ran out of there as fast as humanly possible after my kids had bumped into the plexiglass for the hundredth time. So there's no guarantees that even if I had given them a prep talk, it would have gone swimmingly, but I do think it would have helped. And even if they didn't sit there with their butts, glued to the chair, I would have been emotionally and psychologically prepared for what I needed to do. And for what it was really fair for me to ask them to do being a kid isn't easy because they have this natural curiosity that drives them to explore and to learn.

And usually we love that about our kids, but sometimes it can make behavior feel difficult. Whenever we have to take our kids into a high expectation kind of environment, it's good to get them moving first, definitely take them to a playground to run off some energy before taking them to sit down at grandma's fancy 90th birthday party, that natural curiosity and need for movement makes integrating small children into adult life. Kind of tricky. We're asking them to do a lot of code. Switching code-switching is when we adjust our speech and our language and behavior and appearance based on the environment and the people that we're surrounded by, code-switching is a natural part of socialization that we do as adults, without any thought, just like you talk and act differently with your brother, then you do your boss. As a kid, you probably spoke and carried yourself differently with the school principal than you did with your best friend.

Some kids pick up on social cues very well, and they can preemptively adjust behaviors without a prep talk. These kids code switch easily, but many or maybe most kids are still acquiring the skill as they're being socialized. Therefore prep talks can come in really handy, especially this year because environments that we previously could relax in and let our guard down a little bit now demand a much more intense level of hyper-vigilance with our kids. Here's an example of another prep talk before going into a grocery store, we're going into the grocery store to get some blueberries and cereal. I need you to stay right next to my side and you can't touch anything. That means hands down. Remember because of the virus, it's important that we keep our hands down to our sides while we're in the store. And we only get close to the people in our family.

Now will prep talks work and make your kids behave perfectly every time? No, definitely not. I'm not making any promises there, but they will help. They'll help you frame and articulate your expectations and they'll allow your kids the chance to practice listening and adjusting their behavior and their body and their language to the environment at hand. Remember baby steps. Okay. I hope you found this episode useful. If you have take a screenshot of yourself, listening to it, and post it up to your Instagram stories so I can reshare it. I'd love to hear from you there as always. Thank you so much for tuning in and leave a rating or review when you have a minute that helps the show to reach more people. I appreciate you and happy holidays.

Denaye Barahona

Dr. Denaye Barahona is a loving wife and mama of two. She partners with families to tackle the challenges of raising children. Denaye is a minimalist who claims to be a decluttering expert (don't let her near your closet). She loves to travel, talk health-and-wellness, and give unsolicited advice. She has been featured on the likes of The Today Show, The Wall Street Journal, The Huffington Post, The Minimalists, Motherly, Becoming Minimalist, and numerous other media outlets. Denaye holds a Ph.D. in Child Development and is a Clinical Social Worker with a specialty in child and family practice.