It is clear that routine and a consistent schedule is helpful and healthy for kids. However as parents and educators can tell you, we can’t always stick to the same pace or keep our usual routines. As we have seen during the pandemic, life can certainly throw its curveballs and we aren’t always ready to swing.We have to be flexible and this can be particularly difficult for our children. No doubt with the huge changes that have crashed into our lives, this has been a difficult transition, even more so for kids and having to cope with these changes can develop into some challenging behaviours. Here are some strategies and techniques to add to your toolkit when working through melt-downs and trying to troubleshoot through behaviour management.
Find a Focus Challenge!
Interrupt the behaviour instead of reasoning – when the meltdown begins and a child is lost in a wave of emotion, often trying to use logic won’t work. Temporarily ignore the behaviour to pivot a child’s attention. Use a focus challenge – this can be a means to allow your child to de-escalate. For example: “Let’s play a quick game! Do you think you can beat me? Can you point out three things that are blue? Find two soft things! How many cars can you count? How fast can you run on the spot for 10 seconds? Can you hop on one leg more than once?”.
If a child is unable and disinterested to engage in these types of prompts, consider creating a “Brain Break” bank with them, a series of motivating activities, tailored to their interests. It could be colouring, Lego, an I Spy book, a dot-to-dot picture, listening to a favourite song etc. Ideally a Brain Break will be something low key and of a short duration). It is recommended to avoid technology or a favourite app as this can quickly turn into a battle for more screen time. Remember this isn’t a surrender of behaviour, rather a pause. Once a child has had a chance to stop and think and break from their strong emotional response, it is likely they can be calm enough to have a conversation about what went wrong and how to work together to find a solution.
Show you care and see if you can combat the negativity with positive praise and offer your child the chance to ‘turn it around’. Put the behaviour into question, not the kid in question.“That behaviour is not like you. I know you usually make the kind or appropriate choice. How can I help?”. Demonstrating that you have gratitude for a child when they are making good choices builds connection and an expectation of behaviour. Consider using the moment to be a way to practice empathy.Try to see if you are able to relate to your child with a past experience of your own. “I had a hard time yesterday too when…it didn’t feel nice when”. Then flip the script. “How do you think I feel right now when this is happening? How do you think we can make this right? Let’s try this!”. Being able to stay calm and collected yourself as a guide through behaviour or a ‘facilitator let your child guide the next steps is a gift that will serve you both through tough moments. Remember praise is also an important part of the conversation after a solution has been found.
Reframe a task or the behaviour.
As mentioned focus challenges and brain breaks are a great way to hit pause and prevent behaviours from escalating. However another way is to reframe the situation. Can a bedroom clean-up conflict easily be converted into a game? Get out the timer and find the fun! Or maybe take the behaviour out of the house and try to put it in another context. Children love to be helpers. Consider using roles like ‘team, teammate, coach”. “Are we sticking to the team plan? It’s important as a part of the team, we all follow the rules.How do you think we should lead the team?” Try alternating between the roles of ‘coach’ and ‘teammate’. Is it possible to turn a disappointment or problem into a win? Also never hurts to use future incentives to help shut down behaviour in its tracks.
If you have lost your child to their emotions, see if you can reel them back in by doing something unexpected and light-hearted, start singing a familiar song. Make a funny face, do a silly dance or turn the light on and off. Sometimes the unanticipated can allow a child to switch gears and as we all know, a good sense of humour can help offset bad energy.
Do a Quick Snack or Nap Check!
The day goes by fast and whether your child has been away at school, daycare, or romping around the house, you may have not had a chance to be totally on top of their eating or sleeping schedule. A snack or nap check can prove vital to allowing a kid to have the much needed energy to self-regulate.Even a designated quiet space to let a child go off to, play with fidget tools and a calming atmosphere can do wonders.
Sometimes a Child just needs to be SEEN
If you’ve already asked if your kiddo wants to talk about what’s wrong and they refuse, ask if they would like to draw or write out what is upsetting them. Have them try putting these feelings in a letter! If they are too upset or not yet writing, offer yourself to scribe this note and your child might just feel seen and important enough to go along and get their feelings out.
Step Out and Someone Else Step In
A partner, co-parent, another educator, sibling or another caring adult in your child’s life can be the miracle worker you’re looking for. Raising and working with children is not for the faint of heart and the energy output can be exhausting. It is okay to recognize when you may be burnt out and it is the time to ask another caring adult to step in.Sometimes a neutral third party can be the best problem-solver. A fresh face might just be the antidote called for and give both you and your child a chance to move on and start anew.