It doesn’t seem to matter the age or the gender, kids seem to be pushing all sorts of limits these days. It is easy to equate them to a carousel horse (the never ending circle, the ups and downs of emotion). For instance, the other day I was in awe and happily surprised at the kind way my older daughter helped her younger sister built the ultimate dream Lego house. Cut to the not so distant future and I’m blown away by the pitch at which she’s screaming at the same sister. SMH. If your house is anything like mine, having some tips to deal with behavior in your back pocket can be life saving.
Parent Tip: Leave your frustrations and anger at the door before stepping into the Danger Zone. If you are with them at the moment of impact, leave the room and count to ten. You can even say, “I really need a minute before I can deal with this.” It helps them see how others regulate their emotions. For more suggestions and information about ways to regulate your own behavior when disciplining your children, check out Mindful Discipline: A Loving Approach to Setting Limits and Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child by Shauna Shapiro PhD and Chris White MD. It has some great suggestions and exercises.
Kid Tip: Does your child become a terror when they’ve reached their emotional limit and there is no way that you can move them anywhere without it getting worse? Don’t move them. Move yourself and anyone else in the room. This can sound like, “It seems like you need some time to calm down. Little brother and I are going to give you some space and we are going to go play outside. We’d love for you to join us when you’re ready.” When they come to join in play you can talk about what happened and some better ways to cope with the situation.
Kid Tip: My older child is starting to talk about the consequences of negative versus positive behavior. This is greatness; however, picking the moment to talk is crucial. You don’t want to do this during the bad behavior situation. It needs to happen once deescalation has happened; talk through what happened and help them come up with a pros and cons list of how they acted. Just know, this doesn’t mean they’re able to immediately think of them every time they explode, but it does allow us as parents to remind them about the pros and cons, which is helping to create that inner voice of reason managing their frustrations.
Parent Tip: Give your kids a warning of the consequences. Remind them, “If you do XYZ one more time, you won’t get dessert.” Don’t give a consequence without following through. For example, don’t warn them that they will miss out on the already purchased trip to Disneyland. They can see through that empty threat. If you warn of a consequence, be prepared to back it up.
Parent Tip: Not all kids respond to negative consequences, mine don’t. For example, everytime my older would act out, I’d take something away. Didn’t work for her. She ended up forgetting about the items I had taken and they spent the next three months in my closet. Everytime that dolls stared at me while I was getting my outfit for the day was a constant reminder at my failed attempts to discipline. HA! What I do see working is rewarding good behavior. Tangible rewards work best in our house; my children can actually see their good deeds. We use a penny jar, good behavior equals a penny. Pick whatever you think might motivate your child visually (pompoms, Legos, etc.) Let them choose what goes into the jar. If I worked on a token system, I would earn foot massages.
Wanna try the token system? Here’s how it works for us:
Each child gets a jar (*cue Oprah. “You get a jar. And you get a jar. And you get a jar!)
– not too big now; they need to see progress. If you are doing pennies, consider the 4 oz baby food jar. If you have an older child (think junior high or high school) these tokens can be points towards a desired game, dress, pair of shoes, etc.
Shopping!!!!! Take your children to Target, the dollar store, Forever 21, H&M, Home Depot, Game Stop (whatever floats their boat) and let them pick out things they will want once a certain amount is earned. Obviously the amount of things will vary depending on the price tag.
Talk with your child about how a reward system works. Now isn’t the time to get into specifics about what each item is worth, it is more just to introduce them to the idea of working towards a goal or desired outcome. For older children this can also be translated into jobs in the community and their first paychecks. It can lead into budgeting talks and help you see how far off they are on the realities of money.
Determine what the intervals will be for rewarding good behavior. Initially, you want your child to feel rewarded for their good behavior A LOT. MAKE IT RAIN!!!!! Just know it can’t rain all the time. HA! Maybe they reach prize level of earnings everyday, but as the system goes on, the expectations change. The price for prizes is higher, better quality. The behaviors to reward change. Some ages or children may need to be rewarded once a day, others once a week. My girls initially have to earn 5 pennies to get a reward. Then it moves up to 10, then up to 20, etc. until the jar is full. If you chose something other than pennies, such as pompoms, the jar might fill up more quickly. Side note: this can also help with counting; my younger loves to dump her jar out and count how many pennies she has collected.
Talk and write out examples of the positive behaviors that will earn rewards. Obviously this is going to vary with age. Toddlers get pompoms for sharing. Elementary kids get pennies for playing fairly with their sibling or from switching from playing to homework or bedtime routine without complaining. Teens get points for doing homework and chores before using technology.
Keep your tokens handy. Reward every good behavior in the beginning and have conversations about why they are positives.
You cannot take pennies out of the jar for bad behavior. This exercise is really only about positive behavior. Obviously, they still need consequences for bad behavior; the token system is associated only with good behavior; that way they’ll want to keep earning.
Parent Tip: Whatever method you choose, consistency is key. If we are consistent with our children by rewarding good behaviors, they will display more positive behaviors, which will then turn into habits. YAY!