Your kids are a joy to live with for weeks at a time — polite, pleasant, responsible, fun — when without warning they seem to be replaced by evil twins. Suddenly they’re immature, rude, impulsive, and display a distinct lack of self-control. What happened? Getting your child to behave is impossible when you don’t even know why they’re acting out.
All kids have their “moments,” but inconsistencies in behavior are particularly common in children who have learning, attentional, and social/emotional difficulties. This misbehavior is often symptomatic of larger issues of self-control and self-awareness. Fortunately, there are some things parents can do to help children develop more consistency in their behaviors, and they’ll work even better if teachers are on board too. In this edition of the LearningWorks for Kids Beyond Games series we give you five strategies for getting your child to behave.
Listen up. Is your child interrupting? Not listening? Active listening skills are easy to demonstrate, and modeling them can snap your child back to reality when they realize they are being heard. Practice having conversations with your child during which each person says a certain number of sentences before the other person can respond and then must verbally reflect what has been heard before contributing their own thoughts. Teach them to summarize and repeat back using phrases like, “So you’re frustrated about…” or “Oh, you really enjoy…”. Help your child delay the impulse to talk and commend them on using listening skills like making eye contact, not interrupting, and acknowledging what the other speaker has said.
Good things come… Teaching response inhibition can prevent impulsive behavior. There are easily-learned strategies that can help a child practice self-restraint. Help them identify situations that require self-control and encourage actions that will make it easier to remember and practice. A child might benefit from strategies like putting their hands in front of their mouth to prevent interrupting, sitting on their hands when it is not time to get up and move around, or keeping their hands in their pockets while in line to prevent putting their hands on others. Let your child play a video game that helps them exercise self-control to help round out exercising this skill in a fun way.
Catch them being good. Don’t wait until they’re being rude or uncooperative or breaking the rules to speak with them. Positive reinforcement can actually be more effective than punishment. Use verbal praise and rewards when you observe your child practicing restraint. A child should praised when they remember to use strategies for being reflective and stopping an inappropriate response. Positive behavior should be reinforced frequently, sometimes in a private, (rather than public) fashion. Choose one or two specific impulsive behaviors to address — blurting out answers or not taking turns — and provide your child with strategies to avoid this behavior while in class or at home, such as covering his mouth with his left hand while raising his right hand. At home, rewards for appropriate behavior could include extra screen time or a special project or outing. At school, a child might be appointed teacher’s helper, run an errand, earn a homework pass, or help the teacher grade papers. Use an app like SuperBetter to turn working on skills into daily quests that your kids will get points for.
Talk it out! Discuss and model self-verbalization to encourage momentary delays and reflection. As you go through your day together, say things like “I’d really like to eat now, but I also want to go exercise, and it’s harder for me to exercise after eating.” Your child’s teacher might say, “Let me think about that for a minute before I answer you.” The process of self-verbalization demonstrates the type of self-talk that can help impulsive children, they just need to understand how to use it.
Redirection. Don’t just discourage misbehavior, redirect your child’s energy. Training children to respond effectively to redirection reduces the need for more intensive disciplinary practices. If a child is drawing on something they shouldn’t, provide them with an artist’s pad. Digging up the lawn with their toys? Give them a gardening chore. Arguing with their siblings? Have them complete special jobs at separate ends of the house. There are many creative solutions for addressing misdirected energy and getting your child to behave. You might even use an app like ChoreMonster or HabitRPG to help curb sudden outbursts.
Featured image: Flickr user Lotzman Katzman