“Pause” – A Quick Intervention for Bad Behavior

bad behavior

When E first started walking we taught him the word “pause”.  At the time we thought it was a convenient word to keep him from getting too far away from us, but it’s turned out to be useful for bad behavior too.  I’m a huge fan of using keywords for parenting toddlers (more about that here and here), so today I wanted to write about how we’ve taught E to respond to the word pause and how we use it.

E was so tiny, but was so fast when he started walking.  It was terrifying!  I instinctively started trying to figure out ways that I could make sure he wouldn’t get too far away from me.  Initially I tried using the word “stop” for bad behavior, but this word is used so often that it didn’t have the impact I wanted.  Since E hears his teachers, friends, relatives, and the TV say “stop” on a regularly, he basically ignores the word.  I needed a word that E rarely hears, and could recognize that I’m not messing around when he hears it.  “Pause” seemed the perfect alternative.

As E was learning how to walk and getting into everything, I started saying the word “pause” with a harsh tone when I needed him to stand still immediately and not move until I told him he could move. I used every opportunities at home to teach him what to do when I said “pause”. It took a lot of practice for him to learn, but the lesson has paid off time and time again over the past three years.

To teach E how to pause, I treated it like a game and let him say “pause” and then I would stand perfectly still until he came to my side. He was super amused by this “game”. Then I explained to him that it was important he learned how to pause, so that I could help keep him safe. We reversed the game with me saying pause. During the game I made sure to use a harsh tone every time to emphasize the importance of the word.

The next day E was getting into a cabinet I didn’t want him to get into. I said “pause’ in my harsh tone. He didn’t pause, so I walked over to him, gently held his arms to his side and said “mommy said to pause”. He fussed a bit and went about his day.  Later he was getting into the cabinet and I said “pause”. Again, he didn’t stop, so I repeated the same steps, but this time after reminding him I said pause, I asked him to show me how to pause. He did. Then we practiced pausing a few times while taking turns telling each other to pause.

After we had mastered pausing at the house, I started using this technique at the park and grocery store. It worked great for keeping him out of trouble! The moment I sensed he was getting too far away from me or getting into something I didn’t want him to, I would say “pause”.  He would freeze immediately.

One of the first times I used this technique to help with bad behavior in public was during a play date at the zoo with two other toddlers. The three toddlers took off running and just as they were about to turn a curve where the moms wouldn’t be able to see them, I practically barked “PAUSE!”. E instantly stopped while the other two toddlers ran off. The other moms were amazed.  Not only did I look like an all-star, but I realized how powerful a tool “pause” could be.

After that, I started using the word in more and more situations. For example, E grabbed a kitchen knife while I was making dinner. A quick “pause!” caused him to hold it in mid air until I could safely take it away. A few days later, I walked in on E climbing our bookshelf.  A quick “pause!”, caused him to freeze mid climb and stay on the second shelf until I safely got to him. Another time we were at a birthday party and I say his arm come up to hit another kid (I have no idea what they were fighting over), but a harsh “PAUSE!” caused his arm to stop in mid air and kept him from hitting the other kid.

Teaching your child to “pause” is a powerful tool that allows parents to quickly take control of a bad situation.  It has endless uses and is a word I can easily say in public without looking like a crazy mom.  It’s been extremely useful as a quick intervention for bad behavior.  I highly recommend teaching your kid how to “pause”.  You won’t regret it…….

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