One of the most common problems I have encountered through my years as a school social worker and now as a child/teen therapist in private practice in Washington, DC is families reporting significant struggles with behavior and self-regulation at home, while school reports great behavior and positive social emotional skills. This issue can be particularly frustrating for families who are seeking support through the school–The teachers and school staff may see fewer difficulties for the child, and the parents experience challenging behaviors at home. This dynamic leaves the adults struggling to know how to support the child best.
I believe this contrast exists for several reasons. One of the biggest reasons is there is often there is a distinct contrast between structure in the home and structure in the school. Good schools and classrooms are a result of strong routines, procedures, and interaction strategies-teachers have to have clear messaging, consistent practices, and a focus on building strong relationships with their students in order for the day to day functioning of the classroom to run smoothly. Families and home life are inherently different from school-yes, many families have consistent routines, procedures, and positive interaction strategies utilized in the household (which is fantastic!), yet home life is usually not as routinized as a classroom is. This is not to say you should be converting your home life to reflect that of a classroom-not at all! But, there are some useful tips that many schools and teachers implement that can be generalized to home life, which could create promote better behavior, improved relationships, and self-regulation skills at home. Here are some of them:
Special Time at Home: Many teachers will schedule special time with their students to build rapport and strong relationships with their students. Parents can do the same! Scheduling 10-15 minutes per day that is completely dedicated to your child is priceless in continuing to build a strong relationship between you and your child.
This time should occur daily, regardless of their behavior that day (non-contingent special time). Special time should include a joint activity that the child chooses and be interactive (i.e. coloring, reading a book, building blocks together, etc.). During special time, a parent can use these interaction skills (PRIDE skills) to promote your child’s self-esteem, self-regulation, and the relationship between parent and child:
- Praise appropriate behavior: Example-“Excellent job keeping your hands to yourself!”
- Reflect Appropriate Talk: Example-Child says, “I made a star”, parent responds “yes, you made a star!”
- Imitate Appropriate Play: Example-Child says, “I’m putting baby to bed”, parent responds “I’ll put the sister to bed, too”
- Describe Appropriate Behavior: Example- parent says, “that’s a blue block”, “you’re drawing a rainbow”
- Enthusiasm: Example-parent uses excited language, such as “wow!”, “that’s fantastic!”
Use reminding and positive language for redirections: If your child is engaging in a behavior that you would like them to stop, rather than focus on the STOP behavior, focus on the START behavior. For example, if your child is running and you would like them to stop, instead of saying “stop running!”, tell them “remember to use your walking feet”. It is easier for children to pivot to a start behavior when you name what you want them to do, rather than just point out what you want them to stop.
Embed Choice within a demand: When you think about it, children spend essentially their entire day being told what to do. It’s exhausting! No wonder they protest. In order to ensure some more compliance, embed choice within the demand. This does not mean that when it’s clean up time, you give them the choice to clean up or not. Give children forced choice within what your demand/expectation is. For example, if it’s clean up time, tell your child “it’s clean up time! Would you like to put away the cars or the blocks first?”
Buffer Demand with a Positive: Another strategy to increase compliance with your child is to buffer a demand with two positives. For example, you could say “Johnny, you’ve done such a good job sitting with the family for dinner. Now it’s time to clear your plate and help clean up. I know you can do it!”
My hope is that sprinkling in some of these tips and tricks will help you see positive results at home with your children. It’s amazing how some of these small interaction tips can shift dynamics so greatly!