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Helping Your Little One Resist Temptation

Katie Malinski


“Front-loading” is a trick I teach mothers and fathers in my therapy and coaching practice.  It’s a positive and effective way to help children avoid temptation of almost any kind. Basically, to front-load is to give your child the information, expectations, and limits about something that is going to happen before they actually have to deal with it.  The reason this works is that most of us handle things better when we have a little lead time to think through and prepare.  When our brains are running on impulses, we don’t have access to our highest and best brain functions, including the ability to control those impulses!

Here’s an example.  Imagine the public library where you take your 3 year old for storytime has a set of stairs right next to the check out desk.  But, the stairs have a sign on them saying “Keep off,” and the librarians get grouchy if your preschooler even sits on the first step.  The situation is complicated by two more details: (1) your preschooler loves stairs, and (2) your hands and focus are otherwise engaged when you are at the checkout desk.

The last few times you went to the library your child couldn’t help himself and walked up a stair while you were talking to the checkout clerk.  So this time, before you even go in to the library, you pause and quietly talk with your child.

  • You might remind your son about the stairs and the rule—“Remember how those cool stairs are right by the desk?  I know how much you love to climb stairs.  But remember, the librarians here have a rule that no one is allowed to climb their stairs.
  • Then perhaps you brainstorm together about how to handle the challenge:  “What can I do to help you follow the rule?  Would you like to hold hands?  For me to give you some kisses while we wait?  How about if we both tell the librarian about our favorite book while we wait?  Would that help you to be able to stay next to me and not climb the stairs?”
  • And when you are approaching the checkout desk, you remind your child about the earlier conversation.  Remember honey, we are going to be at the desk next to those fun-looking stairs in just a second, but we’re going to hold hands and tell the librarian about the book we just read, so that we can resist those stairs.  I know you can do it!

No parenting trick works the first time and every time, but this one, when repeated, is great for helping children learn, remember, and follow expectations—because you are engaging the very best part of their brain.  Give it a try!

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Katie Malinski

Katie Malinski LCSW is a licensed child and family therapist and parenting coach. In addition to her one-on-one work with families and children, she presents dynamic parenting workshops on a variety of topics, including: Beyond Birds and Bees, Parenting Through Divorce, Typical Parenting Conflicts, and many more. Learn more about Katie at