This last Sunday our family attended a rare, two hour long church meeting. My children are very used to sitting quietly through one hour church meetings, but sometimes they struggle a little bit on a two hour meeting.
About three quarters through the meeting this past Sunday my eight year old son asked if he could go to the bathroom. I told him he could, but to hurry back. About twenty minutes later my husband leaned over and whispered in my ear, “Where is Porter?”
“I don't know.” I said. “I thought he would be back by now. He went to the bathroom. We'll need to go looking for him.” My husband sat back in his seat content that I was going to go look. “You will need to go look for him.” I smiled. “I can't go into the boys bathroom.”
“Oh yeah. Oops. Sorry Bunny,” he whispered with a smile as he stood up and walked toward the door.
The closing song began. A few bars into the song, I saw Spencer, my husband, out in the hall passing by the doorway on his way to check the other bathroom in the building. My heart skipped a beat. The large church was filled with hundreds, or maybe a thousand people. What if something happened to my eight year old?
The closing song was now ending and I was anxiously watching the other doorway for my husband or son. My mommy mind started planning how I would not let anyone leave the building until I found my son. Again my husband passed by the doorway without my son.
The closing song ended. I was definitely feeling a bit anxious now. Then I saw him, my son was walking up to me, and in no time climbed onto my lap and folded his arms for the prayer.
Spencer passed by the doorway again and saw us and smiled.
I put my mouth close to Porter's ear as I hugged him and whispered. “Porter, I told you to come right back. You didn't follow that instruction. You were gone for a long time. When we get home we will talk about this and do a SODA (problem solving exercise) about this situation. Okay?”
“Okay.” Porter said as he laid his head back on my shoulder for the prayer.
Why Did Porter Disappear?
Has your child ever done this? I remember doing this very behavior when I was a child. I remember planning exactly when I wanted to have my one allotted potty break so that I could have some “hall time” for a break. I admit, I was a manipulative child. I played lots of systems. Getting out of sitting through church meetings was one of my common manipulations.
There are multiple reasons a child might choose to try to take a break from a church meeting, such as maybe they see a friend in the hall and want social time, or maybe they haven't learned to sit for long periods of time yet. (this skill can be gently taught) However, the most common reason is that they start feeling bored and become preoccupied with changing environments. That is exactly what happened to Porter.
What I Should Have Done To Cure Boredom Before It Started?
Usually I am really good at preparing my children to succeed in situations before they are actually in the situations. I regularly practice deliberate, proactive parenting. My normal parent prep would have at least consisted of a good pre-teach about the upcoming situation. But, this last Sunday I neglected to even do this since we were in a rush to get to church on time.
If I was really thinking I would have also done a SODA with Porter the morning before church. This would have made the problem solving exercise we did after church unnecessary.
Porter's Problem Solving Experience
I did a proper correction and practiced following instructions with Porter. Then, while sitting at the counter we started a written problem solving exercise called a SODA. Here is the SODA we did. I talked through this whole thing with him since it was a totally new experience. I even wrote this one down while we talked it out because I knew that on an empty stomach a lot of writing would be over whelming for him. Sometimes we do them like this, and sometimes Porter does them alone. But, I always give the situation. The children think up the rest.
Situation: I am at church and I feel like I am tired of sitting still.
Options: 1. Stay sitting
2. Go out and walk around
3. Color in my book
Disadvantages: 1a. It's boring
1b. Might bet tired
1c. Might bother people
2a. Get in trouble
2b. Could get hurt or lost
2c. Daddy has to come look for me
3a. Might not learn things
3b. Might distract people
3c. I won't listen to the speaker
4a. Get in trouble
4b. Someone will have to take me out and talk to me
4c. Earn extra chore
Advantages: 1a. Learn all about the church
1b. That you won't earn negative consequences
1c. Learn to sit still
2a. Got a little break
2b. Not bored
3a. It's fun so I'm not really that bored
3b. Might make a cool picture
3c. Could make me happy
4a. Mom knows how I feel
Solution: Stay sitting with the family.
As you can see, doing a SODAS before church started would have been the best idea because it would have prepared Porter for what was ahead. Children are anxious by nature. They don't have much control over their environments, and so are often ill-prepared for environmental success. The best thing parents can do is prepare their children for a successful social situation before the situation occurs.
Of course it is impossible to foresee every situation, but when at all possible, try to look ahead. People who have a social plan before the social situation happens are historically more successful.
This is just one of the tools I use to teach my children problem solving. If a child can problem solve, they can self-govern. The two skills compliment each other perfectly.