Behavior Strategies:

We here at Sunflower Counseling in MT often get questions about parenting kids.

It can be incredibly overwhelming parenting young children! Especially with the change in schedule during COVID and the kids are at home. You might be asking yourself “what to do”? How can I get through this and stay in control? Here are a few ideas for how to regain control.

Ask yourself: What is the function of the behavior?

There are four categories of behavioral responses in kids:

1. Sensory: they are seeking stimulation to the pleasure center of the brain. This can happen when they’re anxious or excited When this happens provide calming activities or approved alternatives such as: play-dough, feathers, and yummy smelling things like lotion.

2. Escape or Avoidance: an attempt to remove undesirable activities, situations, interactions. When this happens provide clear directions giving order to the expectations: “first put 2 toys in the toy box then you may play with the paints.” Notice when tasks are under stimulating or too easy versus too hard. Often a correction which involves adjusting the level of difficulty of the expectations can lead to greater understanding from the child. They may then understand if they are capable of performing the task.

3. Attention: When social attention is desired. A child may often present with a tantrum when they are really seeking attention from their parent or adult caregiver. Ideas for giving attention ahead of the attention-seeking behavior is listed below under
“creating connections through play”.

4. Tangible: when a child desires an item or specific person. A transition activity can be helpful in this case.

Behavior Consequences:

  • Consequences must be consistent and predictable
  • Short: 1 minute break- remove stimulus (boring)
  • Make consequences immediate: no discussions
  • Use a timer
  • As soon as the break is over allow the child to continue activity or play
  • Note: The break doesn’t start until the child is calm. This may take a long time initially.
  • Consequences must also be administered equally to all children. This way kids don’t see an in-balance. They also learn the rules of the house.
  • Use consistent language:
    • “I’m waiting until I see a calm body and zero voice”
    • “You may go back to playing as soon as you take your break”
    • “You are choosing to miss out on…”

Creating Connection through Play:

Young children do not have the verbal ability to communicate everything they are feeling. They also do not fully understand emotional identification. Instead of communicating through words, children communicate through their play. A great way to create connection and to show children we understand them and appreciate them is by making observations while they are playing.

Observations should not have any judgments such as: “that looks great” or “you are so smart”.

  • Instead simply state what you observe:
    • “I see a lot of blue and squiggly lines on that painting”,
    • “ you are building a really tall tower using wood blocks”
    • “ you are playing dolls with your sister

Children are always coming to their parents saying “look at me” or “watch this”.

  • By making meaningful observations we are showing our kids we understand them and we are giving them the attention that they want and need
  • After this first step of making observations is mastered, the next level is adding emotion identification language into the observations:
    • “ Your doll is crying and feels sad.”
    • “ That truck crashed into the tower! It might be hurt.”
  • Adding emotion language into their play teaches children how to be expressive with their emotions, and also teaches empathy skills for understanding other peoples’ emotions.

Creating Systems to Support Positive Behavior:

  • Be looking for positive behavior in your kids
  • Recognize this behavior by using for example: a sticker chart, or a marble jar, or a bean collection
  • These positive reinforcements happen consistently throughout the day
  • You might say, “Jaime you are playing quietly with your cars, thank you I’m going to put a sticker on your chart” or “I noticed everybody put on their shoes the first time I asked. I think we all earned marbles for the jar.”
  • These reinforcements can happen on an individual basis – or you could make a group reward. You will find out quickly what works better for your family and kids.
  • When the kids earn enough stickers, marbles, beans, etc they can then draw a “wacky prize”.
  • “Wacky prizes” are short silly rewards that kids love:
    • Examples: dance to favorite song for one minute, play with sensory box, walk backwards for 30 seconds, etc.
    • It works the best when the family comes up with the prizes. Kids really enjoy the mystery of what prize will be drawn! Everyone gets to participate in the prize. If someone chooses not to participate they must sit quietly until the prize is over. These prizes are short, meaningful things that the kids enjoy!