Parents of young children are wearing many hats this month – parent, educator, work at home employee – all while facing a loss of control over what is happening in the world and in our own lives. And you’re getting advice from EVERYONE on how to do it all. How to use technology to educate your children, how to use technology to do your job, how to develop schedules to keep everyone on task, how to keep kids busy so you can work. Guess what! You can’t do it all. My heart goes out to you. I don’t have young children at home but can imagine how difficult this is. My Facebook and news feeds are full of articles on how I can do more and do better during this already stressful time. It can feel overwhelming
And yet, here I am with another idea for you. Like so many, I need to feel useful these days. I’m not a health care worker, postal carrier or grocery store employee. I’m a behavior interventionist so this is my way of helping. I’m going to offer my idea with the hope one person can use it right now. So take it or leave it. It’s possible this topic doesn’t apply to you at all. Or maybe it’s too much to take on right now. That’s okay. Maybe you’ll find it useful at another time. Or maybe you’re just curious about some of the behavior strategies used in your child’s school.
It’s possible one of your children has developed a behavior you’re not especially fond of. Or maybe you hadn’t noticed the behavior, because prior to the month of April, your child hadn’t been with you all day, every day for an extended period of time. Teachers have a lot of experience replacing undesirable behaviors with more desirable ones so their classrooms function efficiently. The most effective tool I’ve used is the point sheet. It utilizes positive reinforcement to create an environment where kids want to please their teachers, friends and parents. This tool has an added benefit right now. It forces us to pay attention to what our kids are doing well. I think we could all use some help focusing on positives right now.
The tool looks like this:
Here’s how it works. Let’s say your daughter, Elena, has fallen into the habit of whining when she wants something, as opposed to asking or telling using a positive tone of voice. Because you’ve been cooped up together for close to a month, she’s getting whinier and your patience is growing thinner. You sit down together and have a chat similar to this one, following the formula:
State Your Concern + Seek Child’s Input + Express Empathy = Positive Solution for All
You: Elena, I’ve noticed when you ask or tell me things, you’re sounding very frustrated. It’s difficult for me to hear you talk that way. It’s easier for me to help you when you use a direct and pleasant voice. What do you think about that?
Elena: I’m just so tired of being in the house and not being able to visit my friends. Plus you don’t get me my snack when I want it and Peter (brother) never lets me use the iPad.
You: That must be frustrating for you. What do you think we can do to fix this?
Elena: You can take me to my friend’s house, give me snacks and make Peter give me the iPad.
You: I like your ideas. I wish we could visit your friends and I know it must be very sad for you. Unfortunately, it’s just not safe right now. I promise you that as soon as it’s safe, we will schedule a time to do that. Let’s write it down on a post-it note so we don’t forget.
You: I’m sorry you’re frustrated about not getting snacks when you want them. How about the two of us choose a time when we will have snack and I will do my best to get it to you at that same time each day?
You: I also have an idea for the iPad. We can give you an opportunity to earn some time on it each day. Would you like that?
You: Okay! Here’s how it will work. We’re going to start a chart like this one. Each time I hear you ask for something or tell me something without using a frustrated voice, I’m going to X out a square on your chart and let you know how proud I am of you for doing that. Each X on your chart = 1 minute of iPad time. We can add up the Xs before bed and you can use the iPad the next morning at 9:30. (This happens to be the time of your daily Zoom call with your supervisor.) How does that sound?
There are four critical pieces to using this tool
- Make sure the reward is something the child is excited about and something you can deliver consistently. Quite often, what they really want, is time spent on a fun experience. And quite often, they want the experience to be with you.
- Allow the child to correct their behavior to earn an X, especially in the beginning. For example, if Elena whines, ask her to re-state her request in a direct, pleasant way. If she does, cross off an X. If these behaviors are indeed driving us crazy, they’re probably well-formed habits and will take some time and assistance from us to break.
- Create the chart with a symbol that is meaningful to your child. Add race cars, super heros, rainbows, or anything else that will create extra buy-in.
- Finally, put yourself in your child’s shoes. Their problems may seem small to us but they’re very real and big to your child.
I hope this is helpful. Comment below or send me an email if you’d like a copy of the chart. Sending healthy wishes to you and your families!