Kids are great! We love our kids. But, let’s be honest. Kids can also drive us up the wall sometimes.
Why? Because we’re human, and they’re human. We’re all human.
Their whining can feel like nails on a chalkboard to us. They’re tired, they’re hungry,
they’re bored, they’re fighting with their siblings, they refuse to brush their teeth.
Whatever the issue is, it’s not fun for adults. And it can make you feel like banging your head against a wall.
Now that COVID-19 has forced us all to stay at home, wear masks, and limit our social contact with others, the volume is turned up on everything. Kids need more attention, and adults are more stressed about everything. We’re all trying to cope with the new reality, and the fact that we don't know what's in store for tomorrow.
As adults, we generally have the language skills and maturity to cope in healthy ways, but children usually don’t. They often express their fears and frustration by acting out.
As a special education teacher turned school social worker and child therapist, I live in a world of whining, refusing to follow directions, and visualizations of laying on the beach with a good book.
Rather than constantly putting out fires, I try to prevent them from happening as much as possible.
Here are five tips for managing kids’ behaviors at home:
1. Visual Schedules
I love visual schedules! One reason kids have trouble transitioning from one task or activity to another is that they don’t have a heads up. It’s especially hard if they have to transition to something they don’t like.
That’s the case for adults too: how many of us love putting the remote down to do laundry? I know I don't!
Visual schedules combine pictures with words and let kids know what to expect during the day. The pictures can be really simple (I usually use clipart), and making it can even turn into a craft activity!
It’s important to review the schedule regularly so that kids know what’s coming next, whether it’s something they like or not. If there’s something they really don’t like, make sure to follow it up with something they love. For example, you can say “so now we’re going to take a bath, and then what comes next? TV time!”
Click Here to see a really simple (but effective) example:
2. Positive Reinforcement
When some hear this term, they think it’s bribery, but it’s not! Positive reinforcement means rewarding someone for their hard work. As adults, we get reinforced all the time! How many of us would stay at our jobs if we didn’t get a paycheck? Would anyone try to eat healthier if it didn’t result in looking and feeling better?
Positive reinforcement means doing something to encourage the child to keep doing what they’re doing. So, maybe after finishing her math homework, your daughter gets to watch a TV episode. Or, for every three bites of vegetables he takes, your son gets one bite of his favorite food.
Whatever it is, it should always be accompanied by verbal praise. A simple, “you did a great job focusing on your work today” will do the trick!
You won’t remember to reinforce everything, because nobody does. Try doing it with just one behavior you want to encourage and take it from there!
Click Here to see an example of an easy to make points chart for doing chores
Timers are amazing! Most kids have a hard time putting their toys down to do something boring, like homework or going to the store.
As adults, we have a hard time too. When that alarm goes off in the morning, how many of us hit snooze because we ‘just need 5 more minutes…’
You can use any kind of timer you want. I usually just use the one on my phone. You set the timer for whatever amount of time you want, and explain that when the timer goes off, the [really awesome thing they love doing] gets put away.
The most important part is following through. When you first start using this strategy, the sound of the timer will likely elicit lots of “can I just have 5 more minutes pleeeeeeease?” etc. It’s tough, and you may get an upset reaction in the beginning, but it’s important to take the [really awesome thing they love doing] away once that timer beeps.
If you’d like to add a visual component to the timer (great idea for younger kids and/or visual learners), you can get small sand timers, or use an online visual timer like the ones here:
4. Set realistic expectations and communicate them clearly
I recently tried distance running. My friend is a marathon runner and wanted me to try it. I figured, sure, why not?
(I certainly need the exercise 😁)
Did my friend ask me to go on a 15 mile run with him right away? Of course not! I’m sure attempting that would have been a huge failure and possibly would have landed me in the hospital. And it probably would have discouraged me from trying it again.
So, I started small and aimed for half a mile.
I did it! It was hard, but I’m so proud of myself for doing it. Why didn’t my friend try to get me to do 15 miles? Because that would have been super unrealistic! It’s common sense right?
The same goes for kids.
Just because two kids are the same age, doesn’t mean they have the same strengths and challenges. Just like adults, kids are individuals and need expectations to be realistic for their individual abilities. You’re the expert on your own child, so tailor expectations to what’s realistic for your child.
For example, if your daughter is usually able to tolerate 10 minutes of math work before needing a break, sitting her down and expecting her to do 20 minutes of math isn’t very realistic. If that’s a behavior you want to improve, take baby steps: try to push her to sit for 12 minutes and see how she does. After a few days of 12 minutes, try bumping it up to 14.
It takes some trial and error, and that’s okay. The important thing is to try to think of what’s possible for your child.
Also, remember that young kids often need to hear things several times before they absorb what you’re saying. Being clear about your expectations and repeating them multiple times is always a good idea!
5. Take a breath
When consistently used, these strategies will definitely improve your child’s behavior, but it may take a moment to see it. Sometimes, behaviors get a little bit worse before they get better; but it’s worth the wait!
Remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day, so take it one step at a time. Start with one behavior you want to change and focus your energies there.
Also remember, you’re doing your best. It won’t be perfect, but it can and will get better!
And then go reinforce yourself for all of your hard work with a bubble bath or a nice glass of your favorite drink. Because you deserve to reward yourself too!