Answers to Overscheduling

Calendar and to do lists hanging on refrigerator

Parenting often involves a whole lot of scheduling. It’s your own schedule, it’s their school and activities schedule, their playdates and homework or screen time. It is a lot to juggle.

  • Get a Master Calendar – We have a desk size calendar on our dining room table and have each year since our oldest was six. It has our work schedules, school events, parties, weekend plans and vacations. For a while, it had playdates then homework hours. The kids chore chart is right beside the calendar.
  • An hour a day of downtime – If your family’s schedule always seems full, an hour of downtime a day, every day, may be the first thing to put on the calendar. Downtime for children is truly unstructured, go-play time. It is not time on screens and not full of activities that you provide. It’s a time for them to make their own plans. Ideally it’s a full hour at a time, but it’s okay to break it up when you have to.
  • Consider limits – There are so many pulls on our time. It can be helpful to at least consider limits on screen time, set times for homework (even if it varies throughout the week, at least it’s on the calendar), and have 20 minutes of reading and 20 minutes of being read to daily.

General guidelines – These are all for starters, meaning a good place to start, and then a child may be able to handle more or need to shift to less.

  • In Preschool – In the preschool years, consider only scheduling something fixed on days off. If your child is in school three days a week, maybe plan for two or three activities on the days off. For children in five full days, plan for just one other on Saturdays.
  • Starting Kindergarten – The transition to Kindergarten can be exhausting for children. It is a fast paced, academic environment with little downtime or rest. It may be helpful to lay low on other structured activities for the first month or two of Kindergarten.
  • In Elementary School – Plan for school plus two structured activities at a time. However, there are children who can handle far more and some that school is plenty. Two would men piano and soccer or boy scouts and swimming. It may be helpful to place these on Monday and Tuesday when they are more rested from the weekend, or on the weekend when the rest of the day is relaxed.
  • In Middle School – Plan for school plus three structured activities at a time. Also plan for one major activity and two minor activities at a time. Major activities would be a school sport or being a lead in a school play. These types of activities may meet four or five days a week.
  • Go for variety – For my own children, I encourage them to participate in something athletic and something musical at any given time. I’ve let them pick the instruments and sports, just encouraged them to go broad and try new things often. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests children not specialize in a year round sport until at least twelve years old.

Answers

  • Have a mission statement – When signing up for something, at least consider why you are enrolling and what you hope you or your child gets out of it.
  • Have the child help decide on activities – By about six or seven years old, I’d ask and take their answers in to account. For sure, when they start in the school band, they should pick the instrument. When they register for high school classes, they should have at least half the say if not more.
  • Also fine to have a few givens – In my house, everyone learns to swim. The option may be different in your house. Maybe it’s foreign language classes to be able to communicate with extended family. It is okay to decide some of this for them as well.
  • Make family time a priority – It may be helpful to put this on the calendar as well. Goals might include whole family time, doing something all together at least once a week. Couples time, a date night (even if it’s at home in front of the TV) at least twice a month. Individual pairs in the family, at least once a month.
  • Resist judging them at every turn – Children aren’t supposed to be good at anything. If they join the swim team, focus on enjoying the meets and asking questions to learn about their experience. Focus on their effort and process more than outcomes.

When Children Argue, Build Their Skills

Zwei Kinder streiten sich

So often when children argue, parents intervene and solve the issue. Two children are arguing over a toy, a parent enters and decides who gets the toy and what the other child should do while they wait. Or, two children are arguing over who goes first, a parent comes in and picks which one while giving empathy or direction to the other.

When parents intervene and fix, the children are missing out on a golden opportunity to learn the skills needed to solve such social conflicts. Rather than intervene and fix, it should be intervene and teach the needed skills.

When children are arguing, a good first steps is often empathy all around. If my girls are arguing over a ball I might start with, “I know you are both frustrated, I could hear you from down the hall. You both want that toy.” This also teaches children to start with empathy which is often helpful.

Teach them to listen to each other’s words. This might be, “Did you hear your brother? He said, ‘stop.’ What does that mean to you?” or, “I heard her screaming. She clearly doesn’t like that.” You are reinforcing the other’s words to each child. Often, by the time children are arguing, they aren’t listening well.

If needed, teach them to speak up for themselves.  Many children are all over this one, they speak up for themselves quite well. If your child is on the quiet side, you might have to coax some words out of them or give them some words to say, so they can at least hold their own. You might follow this up with reinforcing their new words to the other. It can be helpful to teach your child to use an assertive voice in conflicts.

Once they feel understood or heard, the next step is to help them focus on solutions. You might ask them each to give an idea, or you might suggest a few ideas and discuss. You might teach them to weigh their options and negotiate together. The goal is to give them ways to find solutions and work through the issue together, rather than giving them the solution. This may take time and effort; it may take more empathy. It may also include taking a break and coming back to problem solving once children are calm.

If the problem solving process continues to be difficult, you might step back and coach them to be more flexible thinkers. These ideas for teaching flexible thinking are best done out of the moment, when all are calm.

  • Brainstorm options – Out of the moment of conflict, teach them how to brainstorm. This can be saying, “we don’t have time for bath tonight. Let’s think of three ways to you can get clean before school tomorrow.” Answers might include taking a quick shower, using a washcloth at the sink or taking a bath in the morning. On a game night you might say, “everyone wants to play different games. Let’s think of three ways we can settle this.” Answers might include one game each night for three nights, starting early or playing Rock, Paper, Scissors to decide. When brainstorming, it is fine to include funny or crazy answers.
  • Plan A/Plan B – You might model Plan A/Plan B language several times before you ask them to problem solve this way. You might say, “we were supposed to run three errands today, but we only got to two, and we are running out of time. That was our Plan A, and we need a Plan B.”
  • Big problem/Little problem – It can be helpful to have children decide what are big problems, and what are little problems. In our house big problems may take a few days to solve, or several people. A few days later, someone might be upset. Little problems might only take one or two people, and a little while to solve. No one is upset about it a day later. Point out big problems and little problems in life. Then have children try to categorize their own problems.
  • Play games that require flexible thinking and discuss – This includes Labyrinth (by Ravensburger), Gobblet, Connect Four and Rush Hour Jr.. In all of these games, players have a plan and then it gets knocked out, and they have to make another plan. This may happen several times in each game. While you play, at least occasionally point out having to make a new plan or come up with new solutions.

When children are able to work through arguments, be sure to give them descriptive praise for their efforts, negotiation, flexibility or cooperation. Here is a post about descriptive praise.

Having Difficult Conversations with Children

 

Mother and daughter at home

As a parent, there are so many potentially difficult conversations in front of you. This may include conversations about transitions like moving to a new place or a marriage separation. At some point, you’ll likely have to talk about the significant illness or death of a close relative. Also as they grow, you’ll need to address sex and drugs and alcohol with something more than “don’t.”

Parents set the emotional landscape – How you present information goes a long way towards how they take that information in. I am not saying be a robot, it is normal to be emotional about emotional topics. However, if you present something as “the worst thing ever,” children will take it that way rather than presenting it as “something we are going to work on.” Here is a helpful post about setting the emotional landscape.

Ask what they already know, what they think, how they feel – Before you start, it may be helpful to ask what they already know. If a grandparent has been sick for weeks, you may have not talked to your child directly, but they may have overheard lots. This can give you a good starting point and gives you a chance to clear up any misunderstandings.

A few well planned sentences – For young children, two or three sentences is plenty. This can be longer for older children but good to make it on the brief side and straightforward.

Let their questions be your guide – Once you finish your few, clear sentences be ready to answer their questions. Depending on the topic, the child, and their age, they may have no questions or they may have several. The idea is they are in need of the amount of information they ask for.

Answer all of their questions, honest and small – As difficult as it may be, it’s good to answer all of their questions. Be honest and answer just what’s asked. If it’s too emotional in the moment, or you don’t actually know the answer, it is fine to let them know you need some time, but be sure to follow up with this.

Acknowledge emotions and validate why – If there is upset or anger, it’s good to give empathy and recognize why they might feel that way. It’s not a time to talk them out of their feelings, it’s a time to recognize and help them communicate.

Offer reassurance often – During and following difficult conversations, children are often rightfully thinking, “how does that impact me?” Even if they aren’t able to express it, the concern is there. Reassurance when discussing school shootings might be, “your school is a safe place. Dangers like that in schools are very rare. It is your teacher’s job to keep you safe, and she has a plan.” Reassurance after the death of a loved one, “most people die when they are very old. I am healthy and hope to be here when I am very old. There will always be someone to take care of you.” The idea is to add reassurance to the conversation and remember to reassure as you answer every few questions.

Parenting books and children’s books – For any life transition or difficult conversation, there are good children’s books available. It can be helpful to search Amazon’s children’s books by topic or head to the book store to ask. Reading and discussing books together can be a base for your conversation or a way to help answer questions. There are also parenting books available for several difficult topics.

Know school’s curriculum and stay ahead of it – Some of these topics are addressed in school. Sex education, drug and alcohol abuse are all covered in school health classes or D.A.R.E. programs. If your children are participating, it is good to know what will be covered, and it’s better to discuss these issues with your children before they hear it in school.

Small conversations scattered across time – Once a topic is open, it is normal for children to have questions over time. As they grow they are learning, being exposed to new information and new opinions. Good to let them know they can always talk to you about anything, anytime. It’s good to keep the topics open and answer them in honest ways as they ask you more.

Calm conversations – For them to feel like they can truly talk to you about anything, you have to stay calm when they bring up the difficult or challenging topics. You might read Screamfree Parenting by Runkel, Peaceful Parents, Peaceful Kids by Drew or attend our Calm Parenting workshops for help on this. Here are a few helpful posts on calm parenting.

 

Want Your Older Children to Really Talk to You? Practice Open Talk Time

Family time

When my girls were little, I practiced Stanley Greenspan’s floortime with them as a way to really connect with them in play. Here is a post with the basic guidelines of floortime.

As they got older, there was a gradual shift from floortime to open talk time. In my family, this shift started around 8 years old. Again inspired by Greenspan, open talk time is a way to encourage real conversation with your children. It’s a way to build their trust, for them to learn they really can talk to you about anything.

Like floortime, the goal is 20 minute stretches a few times a week. This is a time when you are fully engaged, really listening and not checking your phone or going up and down to make dinner. In my house, this happens after tuck-ins. Once everyone is in bed for the night, I lay down beside someone and we talk.

It’s fine for your child to lead the topic. It’s good to have positive conversations about things like what they enjoyed over the weekend or what interesting things they are learning about at school. It is equally good to have more difficult conversations about things like what they didn’t like about their summer camp or what they don’t like about you. During the more difficult conversations it is important to listen, reflect, accept and understand. If they are discussing challenges they have within your relationship, you might comment, “yeah, that would be hard if I were my mom.” They are learning you will stay calm, you can listen without judgements. The goal is to avoid any defensiveness, argueing, big opinions or upsets. By all means, if you feel you must weigh in, just give it a day. Come back later and say, “I was thinking about our conversation…”

It was February of Alicen’s eighth grade year. I was making dinner and she was setting the table when she said, “Okay, I have to tell you about this thing that is happening at school because no one is telling their parents.” I sat down. She proceeded to tell me a pretty horrible thing that was happening at school, and while all the students knew and were talking with each other, the teachers and parents were unaware. Usually when the girls tell me things of concern from school, we brainstorm how to best handle it. This time I just said, “You don’t need to worry about this one, I will speak with your principal tomorrow.”

What exactly was happening isn’t the point here. The point is she told me about it. When no one was telling their parents, she felt comfortable to tell me about it. She knew I wouldn’t lose it. There’s no way to be sure, but I feel it’s our open talk time that got us to that point.

 

 

Helping a Child Learn to Calm Down

Little girl closed her eyes and breathes the fresh air. Black an

Does your child get anxious, angry or frustrated easily? In the moment, it’s often best to err on the side of support; rather than, challenging or giving logic and reason as an answer to their emotion. It’s often helpful to acknowledge the emotion, provide empathy and give time and space to let a child calm down. It can also be beneficial to spend some other time teaching them ways to settle. Many of these techniques offer the child a distraction from the upset or anger which can be enough to help them start to calm.

Best to teach these things out of the moment – Don’t wait until your child is freaking out to try teaching them how to take deep breaths. When people are angry or upset, they aren’t in a good place to learn something new. It’s far more effective to teach new skills or introduce new ideas when they are calm, or when all is well.

Make a calm down spot, an alone zone, a content apartment – In our house, this was a corner of the living room stacked with a few bean bags, pillows and favorite stuffed animals. A mom said her son liked a cardboard box with a door cutout and flashlights inside. The idea is to make a space that is inviting for your child, and is known to be a good place to go to calm down. This space shouldn’t also be tied to discipline or used for time-outs.

Make a few calm down boxes – Fill a few empty shoe boxes with small, quiet toys. This might include lacing boards, invisible ink books, or matchbox cars. We had a few boxes filled with felt board story pieces. You might hand your child a box when they need to calm down or keep a stack of boxes by your calm down spot.

Art, drawing even scribbling – In addition to calm down boxes, you might provide art supplies. Many people find painting, drawing or even making things to be calming things to do. If your child finds this helpful, it’s good to openly provide supplies and encourage their use.

Build a calm down library – It can be helpful to read and discuss children books related to any expected skill. Good books for children on calming down include:

  • Calm Down Time by Verdick
  • Cool Down and Work Through Anger by Meiners
  • A Boy and A Bear by Lite
  • Sea Otter Cove by Lite
  • Cool Cats, Calm Kids by Williams
  • Peaceful Piggy Meditation by MacLean
  • Mermaids and Fairy Dust by Kerr
  • Enchanted Meditations for Kids by Kerr
  • Relaxation and Stress Reduction Workbook for Kids by Shapiro

Deep breathing – This is the simple one, and it can be so helpful if your child buys in. In our house this was counting five slow, deep breaths and then focus on breathing in a regular way for a few minutes, then another five slow, deep breaths and regular again then repeating until you feel calm. For a younger child, you might provide breathing shapes. This would be cutting out construction paper stars and putting a dot in one corner. Teach your child to start with the dot and take one deep breath for each corner. Others suggest it may help to describe deep breathes with a flower and candle. This is taking a deep breath in through your nose like you are smelling a flower, and then out through your mouth like you are blowing out a candle.

Counting – Counting can be enough of a distraction task to give your child a chance to calm down. This might be counting slowly to 10, or counting backwards from 20, or counting as high as they can by threes or sixes. The idea is to either slow them down or give them a slight challenge to get them thinking. As an alternative, it can be helpful to inventory something. This might be counting ceiling tiles or number of people in a crowded area.

Visual counting -This one can take several practices before it’s useful in the moment. First, help your child pick a favorite activity or sport. Let’s say it’s soccer. Then, instruct your child to close their eyes and imagine themselves kicking the soccer ball down the field and into the goal. Have them keep their eyes closed and picture it once for as many years as they are old. For a six year old, they’d picture making six goals. After a few practice rounds, let your child know that when they are getting angry or frustrated it can be helpful to close their eyes and count their soccer goals.

Think of a favorite time or place – An easier visualization task may be to have them close their eyes and think about a favorite vacation or time at their favorite playground. Again, practice a few times and then recall this in the moment.

Mantras – My own mantra is, “breathe, breathe, breathe…”Whenever I am stressed, just reminding myself to breathe and focusing on each breath is helpful. A parenting mantra might be, “no one goes to college NOT potty trained,” for that difficult stretch of time. A child’s mantra might be as simple as, “I’m okay, I’m okay…,” or, “I can do this, I can do this…,” A mantra might follow one of the other suggestions like, “let’s just count, let’s just count…,” until they can get themselves started.

Get physical, run, swing or dance – Movement is calming for lots of people. This may be repetitive movement like swinging, or more physical exercise like running or climbing. It’s great to give kids movement opportunities often and movement outlets for their negative emotions when needed.

Muscle relaxation – There are a few mucle relaxation clips for children on youtube including relaxation: clip 1 and clip 2. Once you get the hang of it, this is something you can walk your child through, or they can do it by themselves. In our social skills groups we play a few related games including Melting Snowman and Tin Soldier. We start off as ice-cold, frozen snowmen. Then, the sun comes out and ever so slowly the snowmen melt until they are just puddles on the floor. For tin soldiers, we sit as upright as we can with our arms and legs and back held straight out. Then, we turn into ragdolls and flop on the floor. The idea in both is to end up relaxing your whole body.

Yoga (gymnastics, karate, ice skating) – If a child enjoys these activities, it’s good to encourage them to continue. While the movement itself can be relaxing, there’s also the long term benefit of children learning to control their bodies and be disciplined to practice.

Fully describe something – Describing something is another way to distract from an upset. This means looking around the room and finding something to fully describe to yourself for a minute. This might be a painting or a toy.

Focus on solutions – Focusing on solutions can be calming to anyone. If I am frustrated by how messy my house is, and I continue to focus on the mess and who made it or how they don’t help, I am just upsetting myself. It can be calming to make a plan for cleaning, and make decisions about how it should look in the end. For a child who is angry about how a game is going, this is getting them to focus on the solution, how to best resolve it. Even better if they can brainstorm and come up with a few options for solving.

Music – Listening to a favorite song or happy music can be a way to help children calm. It may be useful to have them build a playlist and keep it handy.

Mindfulness – This is teaching children to stay present and to let go of worries about the past or anxieties about the future. It’s slowing down and being aware of your feelings. Here are a few fun ways to get started: midfulness clip 1 and clip2. This may include meditation. Here are a few links to meditation ideas for children: meditation clip 1 and clip 2.

 

 

Finding a Balance in Offering Children Choices

fitting

I am a firm believer in the steps of positive discipline as a framework for effectively managing most discipline exchanges. An active step is offering your child choices about how, when or where they can do the behavior you want them to do. If you want them to put on a coat you might offer, “the red or the blue.” If you want them to start homework you might offer, “start with reading or math,” or, “work at the kitchen table or your bedroom desk.” The goal is to gain the behavior by offering your child decision making power. The child buys into the behavior by making a choice.

Choices offer a more flexible step than consequences, and should be used in rotation with challenges and contribution first for most behaviors. It’s also good practice to offer choices occasionally outside of discipline moments. It’s nice to give even young children choices about what to eat for breakfast, what to wear or how to spend their time on a Saturday afternoon. Here’s a full post on the use of choices in discipline.

I’ve met parents who fall at either far end of the continuum on their use of choices. There are parents who feel children shouldn’t be given choices. That all things go easier when children are told what to do, and discipline provides the follow up. That offering choices gives too much power and creates a struggle where there wasn’t one previously. There are also parents who give their children too many choices, choices for everything all day. When these parents offer a choice and the child says, “no,” the parent may offer another choice and then another until the child agrees. There is a good balance between these two extremes. Choices tend to gain compliance, too many choices and behavior runs amok.

Choices too often – When children have choices for absolutely everything, it may be a struggle for them when choices aren’t available. The idea is to use choices, challenges or contribution before consequence language for most discipline exchanges. It’s also great to give choices at other times during the day. It becomes too much when the child is frustrated if there aren’t choices available. The goal is for children to be flexible to this and equally follow requests or directions when there aren’t choices available.

Too many choices – Giving a three-year-old a choice of eight things is likely overwhelming and can lead to frustration. The idea is to start with a choice of two and go wider as they ask for a third choice.

Giving choice, after choice because the child doesn’t like the options – You offer a choice of two things and the child says, “no,” so you offer a choice of two other things and then another. This can quickly become a pattern that repeats often and adds frustration to the system. The answer is to stick with the first offered choices and help children to choose.

If you end up choosing – If the child doesn’t choose, you can choose for them, but you have to let them know that’s coming. You might say, “this is taking too long, you can choose, or I will choose for you.” If you then end up choosing, it is good to stick with the choice you made. Sticking with it encourages children to choose when you say, “you can choose, or I will choose for you,” moving forward.

Continually changing their choices – Let’s say you offer the choice of a red or blue coat, and the child chooses red. The coat is on, you are leaving the house, and the child yells for blue. Once the follow through has happened, as best you can, it is good to stick with the first choice. This helps children to choose well the first time, rather than going back and forth as a game.

Choices are meant to make a discipline exchange easier. If choices are adding to the difficulty, it’s good to step back and think about how the choices are off track. I am happy to answer questions about this or any other discipline questions in the comments below.

 

 

 

What to Do When They Don’t Like Lessons

A children baseball player don't want to play

Last summer your four-year-old agreed to swim lessons, and he even seemed a little excited. However when swim lessons started, he clung to your leg and cried through the first lesson. He sat on the side for the next few lessons that followed. Here are some ideas for the next go around:

Ask what they’d like to do – At any age, it is good to ask their opinions and really listen to what extracurriculars they’d like to do and why. It’s fine if there are things you require like learning to swim, but for most of their activities it helps when they have a say.

Preview or smaller related experiences – If your child wants to take gymnastics classes, maybe start with a free trial or host a birthday at the gym. At the very least, watch gymnastics videos on youtube.

Enroll with friends – Everything’s better with a buddy.

Finish what you start (don’t sign up for year long programs) – I am a fan of encouraging children to finish what they start. To make that happen, it’s best to enroll in shorter programs until you both have a better sense of what they like to do.

Give matter of fact empathy before, during and after – When a child is complaining that they don’t want to go, many parents answer with logic and reasoning saying, “all of your friends are there,” and, “you had fun there yesterday.” This is all just stuff to argue with. It’s far better to meet complaints with empathy and move forward saying, “I know you don’t want to go. This is hard,” as you put on their shoes or walk out the door.

It’s okay to stay, but if you do disconnect and be boring – Unless it’s meant to be a parent-child class, it’s best to sit off to the side and not participate. When a parent stays a few days while their child adjusts to our preschool, we ask the parent to bring work to do or something to read while they sit off to the side paying no attention to their child or the class. If the parent is boring, the child is more likely to join the rest of the class.

Don’t push them to join, let the activity and teacher pull them in – If you stay, it’s okay if your child sits nearby. While you are being boring, it’s best to disengage. The more you tend to push them out, saying things like, “you should go play blocks with them,” the more they tend to cling.

Okay to leave, if you do ask for direction – If your child is struggling and you’d prefer to leave, it’s good to check in with the teacher first. This way the teacher can be ready to offer support, and you can both make a back-up plan for if it goes poorly and decide a way to communicate later.

All comments in the positive – Following the class, focus on anything positive. Let’s say your child sat by you for 55 minutes and played with legos for 5 minutes. On the drive home it’s good to say, “those legos looked like a lot of fun!” not, “I don’t know why I even take you places, you sat with me so much.”

Avoid overscheduling – This bullet point deserves to be it’s own blog post or three, but here goes, children need downtime. At a minimum, I tend to think an hour of downtime a day, and it can even be great to have whole days of downtime. This is unstructured, go play time. Also though, classes and clubs are great too. Think of building a balance.

Look for patterns – Your child may be more of an independent athlete, rather than enjoying team sports. Your child may be more of a chess club kid than into drama. They may do better with weekday evenings at home, and enjoy classes and sports on the weekends. Note what works and discuss it with your child.

With an older child, it’s fine to agree on a trial period – When it’s available, it’s reasonable to try a new sport, class or instrument for a set period of time and then evaluate. It’s good to stay open and flexible.

All that said, if it’s miserable it can be okay to quit – So you’ve tried several things on the list, and both you and your child are still miserable over them attending a class. It’s fine to drop out. It’s good to discuss the reasons why and consider changes moving forward. Quitting four-year-old swim lessons doesn’t mean they’ll be a quitter for life.

Deciding they don’t like it at the end of an 8 week session isn’t quitting – If your child lets you know they are done with an activity at the end of a session, it’s good to discuss and really listen to and about why. Deciding they’d like to take a break or the activity isn’t for them isn’t quitting, it’s making room for other, preferred activities.

Coaching: Encouraging Behavior Change a Few Minutes at a Time

A mother and daughter drawing in a book on the kitchen

I teach parenting workshops on positive discipline often. At least weekly, I am reviewing the language of I messages, empathy, positive intent, choices and natural and logical consequences. This language is meant to provide parents with a framework for managing children’s behaviors in the moment. It is a flexible and effective approach for shaping behaviors and often helps to calm the parent/child exchange.

To me, for behavior change over time, positive discipline is half the answer. The other half of the answer is coaching. Coaching is best done out of the moment and when all is well. Coaching time is focused on teaching the child better ways to behave and giving better options. A key to coaching is to avoid lecture, to make it more engaging and more of an exchange.

There are so many ways to coach wanted behaviors. When I review these ideas with parents, it can seem overwhelming. The idea is to think of having one conversation or doing one small activity each day towards coaching what you want kids to do. Even if it’s every other day, after a month you’ve focused on teaching the positive behaviors fifteen times.

  • Model behaviors – If you want to teach your children to greet people, go out of your way to greet people often and warmly when your children are with you.
  • Highlight daily happenings – When your child finally waits nicely for a turn with a toy, notice it and give descriptive praise. Descriptive praise includes describing the behavior and giving it a label. It might sound like, “you waited for a turn. That was so patient!” or, “you waited patiently for a turn. You were being a good friend.”
  • Read related story books – There are children’s books on so many common behaviors or concerns. There are books about how to make friends, sharing and turn taking, how to calm down and work through anger and so much more. On Amazon Books, you can do an advanced topic search under children’s books. On this blog you can visit our children’s book list.
  • Tell related stories – It can be fun to make up your own stories. My girls are Alicen and Claire. When they were little, I told a lot of Amy and Catie stories; Amy remarkably like Alicen, and Catie remarkably like Claire. If Alicen and Claire had a big upset on the swings, that night Amy and Catie would have a similar upset at the sandbox. It’s like a lecture without being a lecture.
  • Ask children to make up good outcome stories OR give choices in your stories – If they are old enough, you could give kids a story starter and ask them to finish it in a good way. You might also build a few social choices in to the stories you tell.
  • Role play – It can be helpful to act out scenarios with your child. The idea is to encourage everyone to make good choices about things to do and say. Talk about how to make situations work better.
  • Give puppet shows – In a puppet show, your child might be the audience while you tell a story with good choices. Even better, your child can participate.
  • Draw pictures of it going well – Before a friend comes over to play, you might draw pictures together of how to share toys and how to ask mom for help with sharing toys.
  • Make comic strips – As kids get older, you might draw comic strips together and fill in the words.
  • Brainstorm lists – You can make lists of ways to greet people, ways to ask for turns, ways to express anger and ways to calm down. You can always review lists to try new techniques or put lists in order with the best idea on top.
  • Ask hypotheticals – We call asking hypotheticals the “what if” game in our house. For a child learning to take turns, “what would you do if you were in the sand box and you wanted a shovel, but the there were only two shovels, and they were already being used? What would you do?”
  • Ask multiple choice questions – You might also ask, “let’s say I am in the sand box using a shovel, and you want a turn. Would you; A) throw sand at me? B) take the shovel and run? or, C) ask me nicely?”

There are countless ways to coach behaviors. If you have a particularly challenging behavior, you might google, “ways to teach kids to…” Get creative and engage your children. Think to coach as often, if not more than you discipline.

It’s Okay for Your Child to be Frustrated

Little girl looking angry in the kitchen with mother in background

It’s okay for your child to be frustrated. It’s okay when your child is disappointed. This is not something for you to avoid or fix for them. It is something for you to connect with, and to help them move through.

A dad of a four-year-old questioned, “we have a routine when we run to the grocery store of stopping for an ice cream next door, and then the toy store to sit on a rocking horse, and then to get groceries. Some days time is tight and I want to just get groceries, but he gets upset so I feel I can’t. Do I have to get ice cream and visit the toy store?”

While it is a nice outing, it is life to have changes in routine. It’s better to help your child learn to cope, than to tip-toe around it and avoid the upset.

You might help by preparing them for the change. On the way, you might say, “I know you like stopping for ice cream and the toy store. Today we only have time for the grocery store.” You might then offer a choice, “would you like to pick the ice cream or the cereal?” or a challenge, “can you count all the items we put in the cart?” or a job, “I need a cart pusher,” to get them thinking about the grocery store rather than the ice cream or toy store.

For the upset that still may follow, it’s good to provide empathy; “I know it’s frustrating when we have to change our plan,” or, “I know you really like the other stops.” Often it’s good to connect with hugs or hand holding.

Out of the moment, it’s good to coach them on emotions and ways to manage when their triggers happen. Here is a link to a blog post which includes way to coach emotions and the importance of triggers: https://parentingbydrrene.com/…/preventing-tantrums-emotion…/

The idea is – prepare the child for the path, not the path for the child.

Calm Parenting: Mantras

frustrated african american businesswoman with baby in office

Mantras are often cited as a good way to calm down in general. When I am stressed about anything, I repeatedly remind myself to, “just breathe, breathe, breathe.”

Targeted mantras can help in parenting. A mom, who had been working on potty training for weeks with her three-year-old son, reminded herself often, “no one goes to college not potty trained.” This helped her put the momentary frustrations in check.

Another mom reported she had a mantra only when her mother-in-law was in town. This mom said she would print out and tape on her refrigerator, “gnaw off their own arm.” I had to ask. She explained that no matter what her mother in law was doing that added frustration, her mantra would bring calm. It reminded her that, aside from her and her husband, grandparents are the only people in the world that would consider gnawing off their own arm to save her child’s life. She said this put the extra cookies and missed naps into perspective.

Your mantra might be general like, “I can do this,” or more specific, “tantrums will end.”

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