Executive Functioning - for parents and children

Executive Function: Parents and Children

By Patience Domowski, LCSW

What is “executive functioning”? It’s a fancy term used to describe certain skills that are usually lacking in a child’s performance, often in school. These skills are the basic skills used to function in everyday life like memory, (remembering homework assignments and the routine), organization (keeping things together and knowing where things are in their backpack, desk, or at home), figuring out how and when to get things done at home and school (planning projects for example), and self-control to regulate their emotional reactions (getting easily frustrated).

Kids with executive functioning impairments are often diagnosed with ADHD or sometimes other disorders as well, or may just struggling with executive functioning regardless of another disorder. If a person has ADHD they struggle with executive functioning, however a child or adult can struggle with executive functioning without having ADHD. Executive Functioning disorder or impairment is often diagnosed by a school psychologist. If your child has this skill deficit they will likely be given some accommodations and adjustments at school to help them learn these skills such as with a 504 or IEP.

If a parent is also struggling with their own executive functioning and is trying to help their child learn these skills, it can be extraordinarily harder than for a more organized parent. The parents should ask for help from the school as well as other friends and family members if needed to learn to put some strategies in place to keep themselves and the child on track. If necessary a behavioral therapist can help as well.

Some basic strategies for parents to use themselves, and then teach their child include:

Organization:

  • Set up and label containers, shelves, etc to organize where items go in the house. Do the same with school work papers. Put old school papers in a basket or box to save, or throw them out. Put current school papers in folders in child’s backpack and label what goes where. Practice with child organizing their own papers, so child learns to do the skill too. Parents can use the same strategy with other important household and work papers using a filing system or even scanning and saving on the computer instead of on paper.

Memory and Planning:

  • Use a paper calendar on the wall at home, and a travel calendar to take with you (unless you use your phone calendar). Have your child use an agenda for school assignments. Write down appointments, reminders, homework, bills due etc.
  • Use sticky notes as reminders. Put them up around the house.
  • Use a checklist for routines and chores at home.
  • Write out a plan for each day including time frames to get the things done. (Example: 4pm homework, 5pm play outside, 6pm chores. Etc, or more specifically: 3:30- math homework, 3:45 reading, 4:00 writing essay, etc)
  • Use timers/alarms to keep you and your child on track for getting things completed. Maybe even make a competition- who can get ready in the morning the quickest, or who can stay on task to finish a chore first.

Self-Control/Self-Regulation:

  • Recognize when you are starting to get upset and frustrated, before it gets worse, stop and take a breath and figure out how to relax or solve the problem. Start teaching your child the same strategy by pointing it out to them (“I see you’re starting to get frustrated with math. How about we take a little break?”, or “Mom is sure getting upset over this recipe not working out. I think I’m going to just try a different thing to make for dinner, instead of getting upset.”)
  • Play games to work on impulse control and feelings management like running through a routine at another time to see if can improve on your timing or efficiency, or role playing how to handle a frustrating situation that might come up (at a time when nothing bad is happening).
  • Come up with strategies for handling problems for both parent and child (can be separate lists) and write them up and hang them in the home where you can see them and use them. You can remind each other to use a strategy.

If needing help with motivation to use any skill or strategy, add in a motivating reward! Such as if you finish your routine in time, without reminders, you get a little piece of candy, or if you calm down quickly you get to play a game on your device for a few minutes. You can make it a fun and friendly competition with your child on who can keep on task the longest, finish their work quicker, or use more coping skills in a week instead of getting upset. Your child will enjoy calling you out when you’re off which will be a good reminder for parents, but also you can help your child recognize and correct their own struggles in a fun way.

Remember to ask for help as needed and not expect yourself or your child to be perfect. These skills take a while to learn but are learn-able, you just need more external assistants like calendars and timers. You can do it- and so can your child!


References and Links:

https://developingchild.harvard.edu/science/key-concepts/executive-function/

Helpful info on how to get helps at school for your child on this website:

https://www.understood.org/en/learning-attention-issues/child-learning-disabilities/executive-functioning-issues/3-areas-of-executive-function

This tip sheet list also includes a free printable handout:

https://www.growinghandsonkids.com/executive-functioning-skills.html

 

Screen Time: How much is too much?

Screen Time: How much is too much?

By Patience Domowski, LCSW

“Screen Time”- how much is too much? Is it affecting our children? Parents want to know!

According to the AAP (the American Academy of Pediatricians) children under age 1 should not have screen time, ages 2-5 should have about 1 hour and be on it with their parents, and over age 6 should set ‘consistent limits’ to make sure they have time for other important things. *

So what should those ‘consistent limits’ be? And how much time do they need for other important things? Unfortunately there is no clear cut amount of hours to recommend because each child and family varies.

What’s important to look at is what types of screen use is the child accessing and are they spending time doing things other than look at screens. Watching TV, or even Youtube videos is more mindless than playing a challenging or educational strategy game on a device. It’s important for parents to be aware of what their child is doing on their devices. Are they accessing videos that are inappropriate or adult-rated websites or violent games? Are they getting into cyber bullying and social media problems? These are things to be aware of and monitor. Check your child’s browser history, phone use, etc, periodically.

It’s important for good brain development and social skills for kids to spend time interacting ‘in real life’ not just virtually so make sure they are spending several hours playing outside, interacting with friends and siblings, and creating something - whether building with blocks or making crafts, or cooking. Being creative is helpful for teaching many important life lessons. Interacting with others provides opportunities for social skills development and promotes happiness. Make sure there is some family time where all devices are down (you too, mom and dad!) and you’re talking and playing together. Daily, if possible!

Is electronic usage affecting your child? Several parents have told me they noticed a big difference in their child’s mood and behavior when the child was on punishment and restricted from electronic usage. The child seemed happier and less difficult when not on their games, after being off for some time. Often children get overly frustrated with games, get upset when it doesn’t work out their way, get addicted to the immediate satisfaction of the game ‘reading’ them with points or level ups. If they aren't progressing in the game they get angry and irritable. If they are playing violent games they start acting out those behaviors on siblings, sometimes.  They are also not spending enough time doing other things if on their screens all the time, so they are getting bored (though they won’t admit it!) and lack of exercise may be affecting them too.

Many children are getting addicted to gaming. Signs and symptoms include:

  • Constantly talking about the game, and no other subject, thinking only of the game all the time

  • Has this drive or need to be on the game at all times, including not wanting to do other activities so can be on the game (wants to avoid school, sports activities, even seeing friends so has time to play games)

  • Cannot go more than a few minutes without being on a device

  • Has no other interests besides games

  • Gets very upset if cannot be on the game or told to get off it

  • Not getting up to use the bathroom, eat, or other important things while gaming

  • Hours spent on the game without any other activity or interruption (often child won’t be aware of how many hours they have spent)

Take a quiz online to see if your child may be addicted.** (Link to quiz in references below). If your child seems to be suffering from this, there are resources out there such as therapists specializing in addiction, support groups, and other tips you can find on reducing gaming time and enjoying more of time outside of gaming. If you are concerned then there probably needs to be some intervention whether its as simple as parents limiting online time, to more intensive options such as contacting a therapist or support group for help.

Getting your child to do more activities may be helpful such as encouraging them to play outside, have real-life playdates, take up a club at school or other program, play a sport, or be involved in some other activity. For teens maybe volunteering, or getting a job can get them doing other things. If the child resists, you can still set limits on the time and type of screen time they are allowed and insist they cannot be on the games for x amount of time or during this time period even if they refuse to participate in another activity. Remember it’s okay for kids to be bored as that bored feeling can foster creativity. Have them come up with some other activities they can do instead of screen time. Maybe even reward them with a certain amount of screen time per other time spent (such as if play outside for 1 hour= can be on the ipad for 30 minutes later).

Important things to think about:

  • Be aware of what your child is doing on their devices, including what websites, what games they play. Are they appropriate, etc. Look at the ratings on games, look online to check what professionals say about them. Plugged in, and Common Sense Media rate movies, games, TV shows, etc for parents so you don’t have to do the research yourself. (See links below). ***

  • Recognize any differences in child’s emotions and behavior when on and off the games- are they more depressed, angry because of the games or when told to get off the games?

  • How much time are they spending on games? Is it all their free time? Do they ever play outside or with other children in real life, or only online? Do they spend time doing anything else? Set limits and parental controls. Use the Media Time calculator, and Net Nanny controls if needed. ****

  • Does your child have other interests besides video games, TV, or social media? Do they spend any time doing other activities? If not- encourage and insist on other activities in and outside of the home.

  • Are their school grades suffering because they are only gaming and not doing homework? Have child finish their homework and parents check it before they can get on any devices.

  • Are they showing signs of addiction? Can they go some time without reaching for a device? If they are showing some concerning signs look into getting some help and support.

References:

*AAP Guidelines: https://www.aap.org/en-us/about-the-aap/aap-press-room/pages/american-academy-of-pediatrics-announces-new-recommendations-for-childrens-media-use.aspx

**Video Game Addiction test and resources

http://www.techaddiction.ca/video-game-addiction-test.html

Internet addiction

https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/addiction/features/video-game-addiction-no-fun#3

Types of treatment for Video Game Addiction

https://www.psychguides.com/guides/video-game-addiction-treatment-program-options/

***Plugged in Magazine, and Common Sense Media- Reviews of movies, TV shows, Video games, including rating their age appropriateness and other content.

http://www.pluggedin.com/

https://www.commonsensemedia.org/

****Media use calculator:

https://www.healthychildren.org/English/media/Pages/default.aspx

Net Nanny- sets up parental controls on devices and provides helpful blog articles

https://www.netnanny.com/blog/

 

Teaching kids to be grateful/Have a gratitude attitude!

gratitude.jpg

Teaching Kids Gratitude

By Patience Domowski, LCSW

In today’s day and age it's hard to raise grateful kids because they are used to getting everything they want and right away. We live in an instant coffee and on demand world. Also the parenting culture today is to provide everything for the kids as soon as possible to make them be happy. As nice as it is to get things right away and provide things for your kids that they want, the problem is that they can get too used to it and not really appreciate what they are given. My advice would be to sometimes give them things they want- like birthday presents, and vacations, but not giving them things constantly or as soon as they ask for it. Have them work for things they want instead- doing extra chores at home or for neighbors to earn money to buy something they want to save up for can teach them the value of things and they will appreciate the things they worked for much more. Encouraging kids to say ‘Thank you’ regularly to everyone even for small things like the waitress handing you a drink, or a cashier giving you a sticker, or even thanking a doctor after a visit. Having kids involved in some volunteer work can be extremely helpful as well- not only do they get a sense of others in need out there but they get a nice feeling of helping others which can help instill some gratitude for what they already have.

 

Here’s a list of some practical suggestions for teaching kids to be grateful.

  • Don’t give them everything they want! It's okay to say ‘No’ or ‘Wait’, or ‘Work for it’.

  • Have them work for some things/earn money to buy things they want (it’s okay if it takes a long time to save up for something big!)

  • Model gratitude and saying thank you yourself as a parent

  • Occasionally go around the dinner table and say something you are grateful for- if creative, make a poster list and keep adding to it so kids can see all the things they have and should be grateful for on a regular basis

  • Volunteer- find a program in the community or at church that allows children to help, or start your own project collecting winter coats, school backpacks, or food to donate

  • Go to a third world country- doing missions/volunteering, not tourism to see how others without live

  • Make them say ‘Thank you’ to others, soon it will become ingrained in their heads

  • Have them send ‘Thank you’ notes/cards for gifts they received for birthdays, holidays,

  • Have the children help go through old items in the home like clothes or toys they don’t need anymore and give to a charity- have the kids be a part of this. A good time is before Christmas or before a season change.

Don't touch that! It's Mine! Sibling issues

Don’t touch that! That’s mine!

Dealing with siblings messing with each other’s things

By Patience Domowski, LCSW

dont_you_dare_touch_my_toys_t_shirt-r1a240bfd4e264c1598499d9de766945d_65o3c_324.jpg

Do your kiddos fight over who is allowed to touch what item and what toy belongs to which kid? Do your kids get super upset and overprotective of their stuff to the point of fighting frequently over it? Do you have a younger child who loves to torment their older sibling just for the fun of it? Well, here’s some help!

Let’s look at the Why this happens, What to do about it, and How to prevent it strategies.

First, Why does this happen? Why are siblings always getting into each other’s rooms, toys, clothes, etc? Often it's for a reaction or attention. So when Sibling A touches Sibling B’s toy and Sibling B gets mad, Sibling A loves to see that reaction! Sometimes it's because they want to play with the toy or are jealous they don’t have the same item. Some kids want to play with it just because it's not theirs even if they have the same thing! Often younger kids want to be like their older siblings and want to do what they do, so they get into things because of that. Some kids are just curious and get into things out of curiosity and exploration. If you can figure out WHY it will help. Often it can be a combination of these reasons.

  • To get a reaction/make sibling mad/get adult’s attention

  • For attention/wants to play with the sibling

  • Wants to play with the toy because don't have one, or because they just want to play with something different, jealous they don’t have the same thing

  • Want to be like an older sibling

  • Out of curiosity/exploring (usually very young kids)

  • Other reasons...

Next, What can we do about it? We want to look at how to shape the behavior of both the sibling that’s getting into things and the sibling that owns the things because both reactions and behaviors are important to address.

Let’s call the sibling that’s getting into the things “JJ”, and assume he’s younger, and the sibling that owns the things “Johnny”, and he’s a little older than JJ.

Here’s the scenario: JJ sneaks into Johnny’s room and starts messing with his lego creations. Johnny comes home and goes in his room and discovers this. He screams and yells and maybe even hits JJ. Mom comes in and finds everyone is crying. Now what? Let’s assume the reason JJ did this is just out of curiosity and wanting to play with Johnny’s toys, not that he was trying to infuriate him.

My suggestion: Talk to both about their behaviors.

-First try to calm everyone down. If they are out of control, send to separate rooms for some alone time until everyone is calm.

-Then talk to JJ about how he needs to ask before going into brother’s room, and also touching his things. He needs to respect Johnny’s space and toys. He should ask Johnny first if he can touch and play with his legos.

-Talk to Johnny about his reaction. Explain that JJ was just curious and wanting to check the toys out because he’s too little to build things that cool, so he likes to look at them. Suggest that next time Johnny ask JJ nicely to not touch his toys, and suggest another activity or toy that JJ can play with instead, or show him nicely how to build things with some other legos, possibly. If JJ doesn't listen, then ask mom or dad to step in.

-If possible have the siblings act this out again. Have JJ pretend to go into Johnny’s room, Johnny comes in, and practices saying nicely “Please don't touch my legos. Let’s play with your blocks downstairs”. Have JJ ask “Can I please see your airplane you built? It’s so cool!” etc… Praise the children for acting this out appropriately.

(Acting out/role-playing appropriate behavior is a more effective way of teaching good behavior, than just talking/discussing what to do next time, as the act of doing the right behavior builds ‘muscle memory’ instead of just a lecture).

Another situation. Let’s say little brother Bobby loves to make older sister Haley mad. Here’s the scenario: Haley is playing nicely with her dolls in the living room. Bobby runs in, snatches the doll and pulls its hair, throws it down, and runs out of the room. Haley starts screaming and crying. Bobby laughs. Haley chases him down, intent on bodily damage. Mom/Dad comes in and starts yelling at everyone to stop.

Suggestion: Ask everyone to calm down. Have them sit down to discuss when calm. Address Bobby first. Ask what did he do wrong and what would’ve been a better idea. Bobby: “I grabbed her doll. I probably shouldn't touch it”. If he’s able to discuss why see if he can explain (some young children are unable to answer Why questions just yet). Bobby: “ I wanted to make her upset.” Or “Dolls are stupid.” Mom can say something like “Okay, that’s not very nice, let’s think of a better way to interact with your sister”. Bobby: “I could ask her to play with me.” “I could ignore her”. Parents may need to prompt some appropriate responses, such as suggest if he wants a reaction maybe tell her a funny joke, or story, or ask her to play something together. Then talk to Haley. What could she have done differently or better? Haley: “I should’ve told mom/dad instead of chasing him and screaming”. Parents; “Right, when you scream and chase him- that’s what he wants! He’s trying to make you upset. While it's not right what he’s doing, a good way to make him stop is to just ignore him, ask him nicely to please stop, and then tell mom/dad if he isn't listening/continuing. If you keep screaming when he does these things, it makes him happy, which makes him keep doing that. I know it's really hard, because its infuriating when someone hurts your toys or grabs something from you, but if you are calm, he won’t get the reaction he wants.” Haley: “He should be grounded for a year!” …

Then have kids re-do the scenario in a better way. Haley pretends to play with doll. Bobby comes in, thinks ‘I want attention!’. He can say ‘Hey Haley, did you hear this funny joke?’ Haley can say ‘What joke?’. Then have Bobby touch her doll. Haley can say ‘Please don’t touch my doll, Bobby. It makes me upset when you touch my things.’ Praise the kids for making better choices.

Key strategies:

-Teach the one that is messing with the things to ask and respect property and space

-Teach the over-reactor child to ask the sibling to please not touch, ask first, and react calmly. Get parents to help if sibling isn't listening

-Role-play/Act out how to make better choices next time

-If behaviors continue- give out consequences to the child who touches the stuff, and if needed, the child who overreacted (if severe reaction like hitting/etc)

How to prevent this: Talk to all the children about the importance of respecting each other’s space and stuff. Gather them all together and ask them why they don’t want people touching their things, and how they feel when someone messes up their toys. Have them share with each other why it bothers them and what they would prefer. If the children are struggling to share, discuss how this makes others feel, and emphasize why it's important to share sometimes, and sometimes it's okay to keep things to yourself. Ask them how they feel when they are getting into someone’s things, and why they do it. Have the children calmly tell each other why it’s not a good idea and why it upsets them. Have the children figure out what toys/spaces are shareable- maybe the playroom and the blocks are for everyone, but the bedrooms and stuffed animals are individually owned, for example.

Remember- its okay for kids to have some items or space that is just theirs. It is good for them to have some ownership over things and it helps them feel secure to know “this is mine”. However it's just as important to learn to share spaces and toys and knowing which is which and how to respect boundaries is important for children to learn as they are growing up.

Key points: If someone asks you to stop or not touch, you need to listen. If it doesn't belong to you you need to ask for permission before touching or using it.

Aggression in Children and How to Handle it

Aggression- how to decrease behaviors

By Patience Domowski, LCSW

Aggression in children is really difficult. From yelling to hitting, its very disruptive and sometimes even dangerous. Especially as the child gets older it becomes more of a safety concern. A 3 yr old hitting a parent is not that big of a problem, but a 13 yr old could really hurt someone.

To solve this problem we need to figure out why it is happening. Here are some possible causes:

-Child cannot manage their emotions (needs coping strategies), gets easily angry, anxious, frustrated, etc

-Child cannot effectively communicate (hasn't developed full speech due to age or speech delay, or autism)

-Child has a mental health diagnosis (autism, bipolar, ODD, …)

-Child has observed and copied aggression from older siblings, parents, violent TV

-Child is very impulsive (can’t stop and control themselves)

-Child has discovered that this gets them what they want from others  (example: if they hit then people leave them alone, if they yell then dad gives in, etc)

-Child gets attention from their behavior (even though it is negative, some children still want this attention).

-Other reasons…

For some children there may be a combination of reasons. Sometimes the reason is easy to discover but other times it may be more complicated. Collecting data (writing down the behaviors and what happened before and after) and doing an FBA (Functional Behavior Analysis) can be helpful. Ask your child’s teacher or behavioral therapist about how to do one if it is difficult to figure out the ‘why’ for the behaviors.

To correct the behavior we want to teach the child a combination of better coping strategies and a more effective way to get what they want.

For example: if they get angry easily when their sibling takes their toy we want to teach them to calm down, and also the skill of asking for the toy nicely, or asking a parent for help. If the child wants attention then teaching the child a more appropriate way such as saying “Mom, play with me!” instead of hitting would be helpful. Also the parent should ignore the inappropriate behavior until the child does the expected response.

If the child is copying others aggressive behavior- whether in person or on TV shows/games/ etc it is important to limit this exposure. If the parents are showing aggression such as yelling and hitting children, then it's likely the child will copy this as well. If the parents can try to be more patient and handle their frustrations in a more appropriate coping way, this can greatly help the child. Parents may want to seek therapy on their own, or try anger management groups, or even medication to help, if they are really struggling with depression for example. If older siblings are exhibiting aggression it is helpful to try to get them some more help and teaching the younger child to not copy those behaviors. If the child is watching violent TV shows, movies, video games, eliminate or at least reduce the frequency the child is exposed to that. If the child resists, explain that if they reduce their aggression they can slowly return to those games/shows etc. Pay attention to the ratings on games and shows however and the child’s age.

For cursing- if it’s in conjunction with anger and aggression, use same strategies already listed to teaching better coping behaviors, but besides that mostly ignore it, or teach a silly replacement word “peanut butter jelly sticks!” The more attention you give the curse word, the more powerful they become. You can tell them not to say that word and maybe even why, and if necessary punish for it, but if you make a huge deal about it (such as yelling and lecturing) it will likely make it worse. Also make sure parents and older siblings are refraining from using those words completely. Even if parents tell child not to say a word, if they are saying it themselves, the child will still learn it and repeat it. With any behavior, parents need to model good behavior and not to do anything they would not want their child to do (for the most part). Sometimes an old fashioned ‘swear jar’ is helpful. The person that says the bad word is ‘fined’ and has to pay real money into the jar.When the jar is full some families will use it for a fun activity, sometimes the money would go to the non-swearing person, or maybe the family would donate it to a charity.

Make sure the child’s aggressive behavior is not getting them what they want. If they are hitting their sibling to get them to leave them alone, and its effective, that is going to maintain the behavior. Try to teach the sibling to respond better and quicker and teach the aggressive child to request space in a better way. If the aggressive behavior is getting them the attention or item they want from parents, parents need to try hard to not give in. Even though it makes the screaming stop now, it will just make the behavior worse the next time if you give in.

If the child has not developed appropriate speech, due to age or delays, it maybe be helpful to teach a simple hand gesture/sign language to use to communicate. Maybe a clap means ‘Can I have it?’ or a hand tap means ‘I need help’. Ask your child’s speech therapist for some ideas to figure out what will work best for your child’s speech needs.

For kids who don’t have good coping strategies have them write up a list (or draw) several things they can do when they are angry and then hang the list in a well-trafficked area in the home (living room or kitchen is usually good). The list should be visible because when someone is angry they are not going to go searching for a paper in a drawer to figure out what to do. The strategies can include deep breathing, walking away/ignoring, asking parents for help, doing something fun to distract yourself, and remembering to ask nicely for things. There are many coping strategy lists that can be found online. The key is to find which ones work best for your child and to have your child identify these as well. The more the child is involved in identifying the strategies the more likely the child will use them.  Also have the child act out the appropriate coping strategy when they are in a good mood, as a role play, or after they made a poor choice to reenact making a better choice.

Try giving a reward to the child for using a strategy. For example if the child takes a deep breath instead of hitting mom, or stops screaming by deciding to go chill out in their room, give them a piece of candy, access to a special toy, or extra ipad time for making a good choice. Praise your child for calming down, whether it took 10 seconds or 1 hour, immediately praise them when they are calm so they associate positive attention with calming down.

Try behavioral charts. Children are often not motivated to make a better choice internally - it’s easier for them, or not big deal for them to yell and hit versus breathe and ask nicely. But if you sweeten the deal by offering candy, toys, extra time, other privileges then they are more likely to make the better choice. Some kids will need the reinforcement reward immediately and some can wait until the end of the day or week. Think about your child’s needs and personality to figure out the immediacy of rewards. If you aren't sure how to do this seek out a behavioral therapist who is experienced in this and can help you. Once your child learns the strategies to handle their feelings more appropriately they are likely to reduce aggression and you can fade out the behavior chart, or use the rewards to target another behavior.

Sometimes if the child is so out of control and aggressive they have to be restrained. Parents can learn appropriate ways to restrain their children (ask the school, doctor, or a therapist). If the child is in danger to themselves or others it is okay to restrain them until they are calm and in control again. The police and mental health crisis workers can also be helpful in these situations. If aggression is a regular occurrence, behavioral interventions are not effective, and the behaviors are fairly severe, medication may be necessary. Talk to your child’s doctor or seek a child psychiatrist for help.

Helpful Links:

Swear Jar: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swear_jar

Child Restraining: https://www.k-state.edu/wwparent/courses/rd/toolbox/rdtool-37.html

Causes of Aggression:

https://childmind.org/article/aggression-in-children-causes/

Handling aggressive behavior:

https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/how-to-manage-aggressive-child-behavior/

Taming Aggression and Coping for parents:

http://www.parentingscience.com/aggression-in-children.html

Anger Strategies (Other helpful blog articles)

Getting on the Same Page, even if you're not in the same book!

same page

The Same Page: Helping Parents Agree on Discipline
by Patience Domowski, LCSW

Many parents struggle to be on the “same page” with parenting. This is totally normal because both mom and dad have their own different personalities, upbringing, thoughts, and ideas that they bring into the relationship. But it can be so frustrating when the parents cannot agree on the same strategies or level of enforcement for discipline at home. Some parents are not only not on the same page, they aren’t even in the same book! Mom might be really strict with the kids because she’s home all day and needs them to listen to her, and dad feels bad he’s not around much so gives in all the time. Or maybe mom’s the nice soft pushover and dad’s the strict one the kids know they can’t get away with anything around him. There does not have to be a “strict parent” and a “fun parent” or a “good cop”/”bad cop” in a parenting couple- there can be the a balance for each parent. It’s really important to try to figure this out so that there is less arguing between the parents, a more cohesive family, and the children aren’t playing parents against each other.

Here are some ways to try to get on the same page with your spouse or co-parent.

1)     Agree on something!  Try to find even something small you agree on – even if it’s just the outcome like you want your children to be “good people” for example. (Then later define what that means and how to get there!)

 

2)      Decide on an outcome. Do we want our children to be happy, balanced, independent, highly educated, etc. Then work on what’s the most important to focus on for our family (Such as school/education, life skills (like learning how to cook, do chores, etc), sports/activities , being social, being creative, future independence, just being “happy”, spiritual/faith based, being healthy, etc) Do the kids need to work on improving their grades? Or are we worried they will live with parents forever because they won’t do chores and get a job? Do we just want them to be happy, we don’t care what they do for the most part?

 

Parents should decide what they’d like to see in the future so they know what they are working towards. It doesn’t have to be super specific like “my child will be a doctor” or “my kid will never eat red meat” or “I really want them to be married or they won’t be happy”. Outcomes can be more general like “I want my child to be independent” or “I want my child to be as healthy as possible” (if child has health concerns, this might be a goal, for example).

 

 

3)     Discuss both parents’ backgrounds and where they come from. Where her parents strict and his super passive? Was she a “child of the ‘60s”, and he from a super conservative family? Discuss child rearing of the parents, how did the grandparents discipline them, what do you want to do the same and what do you want to do differently. Even discuss where they grew up (urban, rural), cultural backgrounds, even socioeconomic status, etc. (Especially if you don’t already know this, or it wasn’t covered in your pre-marital counseling- for married parents).

4)     Try to find a compromise somewhere. The plan doesn’t have to be all mom’s way or all dad’s way. In fact- it really shouldn’t be that one sided. (Because then the other parent will be upset, or one will undermine the other).

5)     Eachparent make a list of what is important to you- then compare and see which things are the same/almost the same.

6)     Decide which behaviors we’re going to “let go” and which we will make a big deal about. Not everyone will agree on what needs to be focused on and that’s okay. [If you can’t decide, see my other article on hierarchy of behavior for my suggestions.]

7)     Even if parents are split and kids go between homes it would be better to still be on same page at both homes for consistency for the children (if this is possible).

8)     Make a plan! Specific behaviors to target, discipline techniques, etc. Write it down and even post it in the house so everyone knows and remembers what to follow. Look online for templates or ideas for making House Rules, chore charts, behavior charts, etc.

9)     Consult with a therapist if needed. A couples/marriage counselor can help get parents to be on the same page, and a child behavioral therapist can help parents come up with specific behavior interventions for their children.

10)Try to get grandparents, babysitters, etc on the same page with the parents for consistency. If the kids know grandma will say yes if mom says no, or the babysitter allows kid to do this and dad would not, it’s going to be difficult to maintain the level of control and discipline you may want in the home. So try to get everyone on board, if possible.

Little Tattle Tales

dam beavers tattle tale

If your kid likes to tattle on classmates at school or siblings at home, it might help to have a conversation about "tattling" versus "telling" on someone, when its necessary.

Use this Decision Worksheet to figure out if you should tell an adult about something or not. 

Bored List

bored kid

If you're tired of hearing "I'm bored" especially around the school break days have your kids make a "Bored List"- basically a list of everything they can do around the house and when bored they can pick something from the list. Here's a sample one or make your own! 

Bored List Example

Bedwetting

bed wetting

There are several different reasons children struggle with bedwetting past the age of 4. It’s normal for a child to be unable to hold their bladder all night up to age 4 and sometimes even up to age 7. However after age 7 its considered diagnosable (nocturnal enuresis). If child was nighttime trained and then regressed it could also be a diagnosable problem. See reasons below.

Note: If children are wetting during the daytime past the potty training stage, that is likely a medical problem or trauma related. Seek a doctor’s recommendation.

1)     Medical/Health problem

The child could have a bladder problem, Urinary tract infection (UTI), immature bladder (not ready to be able to hold it all night), some other health issue. It could be genetic too.

Solution: To rule this out see your child’s pediatrician and/or an urologist.

2)     Heavy sleeper

Some kids sleep too heavily at night and are unaware when their bodies need to go. Their body doesn’t automatically wake them up at night to go. 

Solution: Limit fluids a few hours before bedtime, wake them during the night to use the bathroom, try a ‘Bell Pad technique’ device that vibrates or rings when child starts to wet and it wakes them to finish peeing in the bathroom. Try a reward system for a dry bed. If these don’t work there are medications that can help. See urologist for options.

3)     Trauma

If a child has been through a traumatic experience, especially sexual abuse, it can cause bedwetting. The child may be sleeping fitfully, having nightmares, or their body is unconsciously trying to fend off people by wetting self to push people away.

Solution: Seek a child therapist. If you’re not sure if your child has been through a trauma or been abused but you see some signs, have them evaluated by a doctor or therapist.

4)     Behavioral

If the child is refusing to get up during the night or wetting the bed in the morning, it could be because they are lazy and don’t want to get out of bed to use the bathroom. If the other reasons above have been ruled out this might be the problem.

Solution: Provide reward/sticker chart for using bathroom and dry bed. Have child strip sheets off bed and wash them themselves or bring to laundry area for parents. Have child make their own bed with clean sheets (or help make the bed). Have child wash their body themselves in the morning. If problem continues see a therapist. 

Attention Seeking Behaviors

attention seeking behavior

Attention Seeking Behaviors ~ by Patience Domowski, LCSW

If your child is a little “Attention Whore” constantly craving attention and trying to get attention even if they are given plenty of positive attention from parents, etc, parents might need to try some strategies to teach appropriate attention seeking behavior.

·        Teach your child it’s okay to play alone

-have them go play for a few minutes at a time, slowly increasing the time spent alone, and then give them a lot of one on one attention after those few successful minutes

-give your child some toys they can only play with/have when mom/dad is too busy to engage with them (like while driving, on the phone, in a conversation, etc).

·        Make a list with your child of things they can do alone, such as

-play with toys

-color/draw

-read a book

·        Teach your child how to ask for attention appropriately

[instead of hitting/yelling/etc]

-such as by saying “excuse me” and waiting until good time to talk

-start a conversation

-asking a question

-ask someone to play nicely

-ask for a hug

-ask for attention “Mom, can I have some attention!”

·        Ignore your child if they are asking for attention at the wrong time or in the wrong way.

-Remind them to ask appropriately and wait for them to do so.

- Then immediately provide social reinforcement such as praise when they do so appropriately.

-Provide attention when it’s appropriate time and they ask correctly

[Note: If you are giving your child attention such as answering their questions/doing what they request/ etc when they are asking for attention inappropriately (such as hitting/interrupting/etc) then they will continue that behavior. Instead have them wait or ask appropriately for what they need and then parent should give attention at that time. ]

Sibling Squabbles

sibling fights and mom referee

Sibling Rivalry ~ by, Patience Domowski, LCSW

Siblings love to fight. It’s typical for brothers and sisters to not get along at times. However they should love each other at other times and often get along together. If siblings are constantly fighting and never getting along that’s not typical and it needs work. If the sibs are rarely getting along, don’t like each other, and not engaging together positively, that is a problem.

Try these activities (besides seeking therapy) if these issues are severe.

Work Together Activities

Have the siblings work together to create or make something together. For example:

·         craft project

·         make something out of recycling items (water bottles/cardboard boxes, etc)

·         make a puzzle out of cardboard/cardstock paper

·         cook/bake something together- a cake, brownies, cupcakes, etc

·         science experiment

[Look at Pinterest or DLTK and other mom blog websites for ideas!]

Positive Reinforcement

If siblings are constantly fighting with each other try to stop it with this simple behavior chart strategy. Have them each draw about 20 circles on their own paper/poster (more if they fight very often!). Then whoever starts a fight, or whoever continues a fight get an X on their circle (per parents, not kids!). Whoever has the least amount of X’s and the most leftover circles earns a prize at end of the week (example- go out for ice cream as a treat!). This teaches healthy competition and reduces fighting.

Conflict Resolution

Teach the children to solve their own problems (instead of mom/dad having to solve it all the time). Try to have them come up with some creative solutions themselves. If they can’t or refuse to do so then take away the toy/activity they are fighting over or send them to time out to think about a solution and then return and try a new strategy.

Some suggestions for solving conflicts:

·         Compromise

·         Take turns/share

·         Find something to do separately if can’t get along

·         Take a break

Circles template

 

"If I have to tell you one more time!"

parents yelling at kid

“If I have to tell you one more time!”

Reducing frequency of prompting

An Explanation of 123 Magic and Supernanny’s “warnings” techniques

by Patience Domowski, LCSW

 

Do you find yourself telling your child to do something (or stop doing something) a million times and they don’t listen? Do they ignore you until you really start to lose it and scream at them? Do you find yourself threatening things but nothing seems to work? Or are you always arguing with your child? Well here’s the secret solution!

To reduce telling children a “million” times to do something you need to have a specific consequence tied in as a result for not listening. So if the child isn’t doing what you’ve asked right away they learn they get something taken away and then they start learning to listen right away. The power is in the consequence. They might not care that you are frustrated, but they sure do care when you take away that ipad!

You may have heard of 123 Magic but don’t have time to read the book. I thought I’d summarize the strategy here. (Okay I’ll admit I haven’t read the book either, but I know the strategy!). Remember the “Magic” is in the consequence, not the words!

To use 123 Magic you give the direction and say “That’s One” to the child to let them know you told them what to do once. Wait a few seconds/minutes and if the child doesn’t comply you give the directive again and add “That’s Two”. After a minute if the child still refuses to comply then you say “That’s Three” and give them a consequence. Important note- 123 Magic is NOT counting to three. So it’s not “Pick up that toy, 1. 2. 3. Okay you’re in trouble now,” but rather giving the direction 3 times after 3 occasions of refusals.

Now before you start this you should prepare your child by explaining how it works (during a calm time, not in a moment of noncompliance). You should also have a go-to ideas of consequences in your head that you can use. It doesn’t always have to be the same consequence but it needs to be something the child cares about, and something that you are able to enforce/follow through with. Also don’t use a consequence that will punish yourself. Like taking away TV time when you know that’s the only time you can actually shower, for example!

Here’s how you can explain the new program to your child “Mom and Dad are tired of telling you MANY times to do things. It’s frustrating for us and then we yell at scream at you. I'm sure you don’t like when that happens either. So we’re going to use a new strategy. It’s called “123 Magic”. Isn’t that a cool name? Basically we will only tell you THREE times to do something and then you get a consequence. The consequence will be ____ (examples: lose a toy/go to room/loss of privilege/etc). So when we ask you to do something we will tell you “That’s one” so you know we told you the first time. If you don’t listen right away then we’ll remind you “that’s two” so you know this is the second time we asked you to do something. If we get to the third time we will see “that’s three” and you will have the consequence right away. You still have to do what we told you to do but you also get a consequence. If you do it before we get the Three then you don’t get the consequence.” Then practice it with something easy like throwing trash in the trash can or putting a toy in a box so the child gets in the habit of listening right away and understands how it works during a calm time/teaching time, not just waiting for a problem time.

After you’ve used this strategy a few times the child learns that they do not want to get to Three. They know you MEAN IT and you don’t have to scream at them. You just have to say “That’s three. Now you’ve lost ipad time tonight” in a calm tone. [Ignore any resulting screaming/crying and still insist the child completes the direction you gave them].

When you FIRST start using 123 Magic you might want to remind them of what they are going to lose. Here is an example for when you FIRST start using this system with a child who is refusing to follow directions.

Example “Pick up your jacket and hang it up. That’s one.” (wait a few seconds). “Remember if we get to 3 you don’t get to go out for ice cream with us tonight.” (wait a few seconds). “Pick up your jacket and hang it up. That’s two. If we get to three, you lose ice cream tonight.” (wait for compliance). “Okay this is 3. You lose ice cream tonight. You still need to pick up your jacket.”

After that there should be no more explanations. No more pleading. Nothing else. Just “That’s one” “That’s Two” “That’s Three”. You should NOT be saying “If I have to tell you again…” or “I’ve already told you x times” or explain why they need to listen, etc. Just give a simple direction with the numbers. Because they will know what the consequence is. Then take away the privilege or whatever the consequence is calmly and quietly.

Supernanny has a similar system where she calls it “Warnings”. It’s really the same thing. You can do it that way too. For example “Stop hitting your sister. That’s the First warning”. (behavior continues) “Stop hitting your sister. This is the 2nd warning.” (behavior continues). “This is the 3rd warning.” (wait briefly, if behavior continues then) “Okay that was 3 warnings- now no more computer time tonight.”

The “magic” is that there is no more arguing and parents don’t have to repeat themselves many times. Children soon learn to comply within 1-2 prompts instead of 20!

Check out the 123 Magic books program and read some articles by Supernanny as there are some great strategies there. Links are below. 

Also see my "resources" page for links to more articles. 

Reference:

http://www.123magic.com/1-2-3-magic 

http://csgreeley.org/sites/default/files/files/1-2-3-magic.pdf 

http://www.supernanny.co.uk/Advice/-/Parenting-Skills/-/Routine-and-Teamwork/Parent-child-power-struggles.aspx

http://www.supernanny.co.uk/Advice/-/Parenting-Skills/-/Discipline-and-Reward/Punishment-or-positive-discipline.aspx

Arguing- it takes 2 to tango!

mom kid arguing
tango

Arguing

Just like it takes two to tango, it takes two to argue. So when a parent says the child constantly argues they are implying that the parent is arguing back too. How do we stop this as parents? Simple answer: STOP ARGUING. Don’t answer back. Ignore constant invitations to engage in arguing behavior. Remind your child you already gave them a response and that’s it. If they continue to ask, perhaps give a consequence.

Arguing problem example

Child: Mom, may I have a cookie right now?

Mom: No, we are saving the cookies for dessert tonight.

Child: But mom, I’m really hungry! I want a cookie now!

Mom: No, you just had a snack. It’s almost dinner time.

Child: I’m still hungry! I can’t wait for dinner! I want it now!

Mom: I told you, you have to wait until dessert time after dinner.

Child: But I want it now! You never let me have anything to eat! You starve me all the time! You’re the worst mom ever!

Mom: No, I feed you all the time, We’re eating dinner in about 15 minutes anyway.

Child: (Starts to cry/tantrum) I want a cookie! I hate you!

Mom: (loses cool) What is your problem?! I’m the best mom ever- some moms never give their kids cookies! If you keep acting like this I’ll never feed you again!

… okay maybe not to that extreme… In this example the child engaged mom in arguing, even though Mom did a great job sticking to her word and not giving in to what the child wanted, the child still was arguing to get what they wanted and mom was losing her cool and getting upset.

Let’s try this instead. Sometimes its called “Asked and Answered” (I didn’t invent that term, but it makes a lot of sense. Basically you just remind the child you already gave them a response. You might explain why, if not obvious, but then you let it go.)

Arguing Solution:

Child: Mom, may I have a cookie right now?

Mom: No, we are saving the cookies for dessert tonight.

Child: But mom, I’m really hungry! I want a cookie now!

Mom: I already answered your question. I’m not going to talk to you any more about it.

Child: I want it now! I want a cookie! I can’t wait! I’m starving! You never feed me! Why can’t I have one now? (etc…)

Mom: (ignores child)

Argument over.

Child can continue to scream/tantrum but knows he’s not going to engage mom in discussing this anymore.

Sometimes if child does this kind of behavior a lot I would add this..

Mom: If you keep asking for a cookie/screaming/crying, then you won’t get a cookie after dinner for dessert at all. It’s your choice.

Hopefully child will stop at this point. If they don’t then mom needs to stick to her word and no cookie during dessert time. Next time the child will likely remember this consequence and avoid this behavior completely. It may take a few tries to get to that point! 

Autism/Aspergers and teaching social skills at home

autism

Autism/Aspergers

If you have a child on the autism spectrum you are probably realizing that parenting this child is extremely different that parenting neurotypical children.

[If you aren't sure if your child is on the autism spectrum have them evaluated by any of the following: their pediatrician, a developmental doctor, a licensed therapist, psychiatrist, Early Intervention evaluation team, child psychologist- either independent or at the child's school.

Signs of autism include at least some of the following symptoms -extreme difficulty with social interaction (including poor eye contact, difficulty understanding other person's tone or intent/meaning, struggles to make friends/initiate conversations, "tuned out", doesn't seek out others for interaction, doesn't understand emotions/how others feel), difficulty with communication (either not talking by age 2, barely talking, difficult to understand, difficulty with conversation skills/pragmatics/turn taking), repetitive behaviors/sensory problems (head banging, flapping, spinning in circles etc), restricted interests (will only play with dinosaurs, lines up cars, etc), other difficult behaviors (defiance, lack of focus, extreme inflexibility, difficulty transitioning between activities, needs a lot of help with basic life skills activities).] 

Children on the Spectrum need visual directions often, and help learning every behavior that most other kids will naturally pick up on without having to be specifically taught. I recommend find a good therapist and get them in a school/classroom that will meet their needs. Because autism is such a spectrum: from the severe nonverbal kids that might also have intellectual disability to the high functioning brilliant Asperger’s kids that your child’s treatment needs to be individualized and work best for their needs.

There is not really a one size fits all treatment for every kid on the spectrum but some basic tips include:

- use visual cues and directions

(social stories, picture schedules, show pictures or gesture/sign language of what you are asking them to do, write down reminders, instead of telling them what to do use picture cards or list the directions)

-don’t give long explanations just short, concise directions

With typical children explaining WHY is really helpful. With kids n the spectrum they often don’t care or don’t understand. Its usually just extra words they are confusing. SO just state what you want them to do in as a short a way as a possible. Example: “Put toys in box”- for autism child. For typical child you might say- “Please clean this room, because we are having guests visit tomorrow and I don’t want them to trip”.

-Teach and encourage your child to interact with peers.

Instead of expecting them to invite friends over to visit, you might need to take the initiative and invite the peers over and even teach/tell your child what they will play with. They might need some adult directives to play together instead of alone.

-teach them how to recognize and manage their own feelings as well as recognize and react to others feelings

Point out how you feel and how they feel so they start to recognize it.

Examples: “Mom is happy because you just gave me a hug! You can tell I’m happy because I’m smiling!” or “Dad is sad because you just kicked your brother. You can tell I’m sad because I’m frowning and shaking my head”.

“You seem so excited about going on vacation! I know you are happy because you are jumping up and down and smiling!” “You seem angry because your brother took your toy. I think you are angry because you have a mad face and are stomping your feet.”

-if they have sensory needs get them the sensory tools they need to help and a good O.T./therapy to help. [See sensory article] 

Homework battles

homework battle

Homework battles

If your kid is giving you a hard time about doing homework there are a few options:

-let the teacher handle it/school consequences

-set up a reward system

-don’t allow child to play/watch TV until homework is completed

-offer help if they ask nicely

 

Parents vary on their stances on homework such as:

 

-“as long as it’s done”

-“it has to be done perfect”

-“I have no idea if he/she did it or not”

There are pros and cons of each approach. The first one is pretty typical and avoids most battles but still makes sure the work is done, the second one makes sure child is learning the work but can involve a lot of power struggles because parent makes child do it over and over to get it perfect. The third one inspires independence for your child but if they aren’t doing it the parents don’t even know until perhaps they start getting graded on homework (middle school, sometimes earlier depending on your child’s school). 

Disrespect/back talk

disrespectful child

Disrespect/Talking back

If your child has many difficult behaviors, including disrespect, I would recommend focusing on the other behaviors first. If your child is being disrespectful just to get a reaction from you, then just ignore it.

However if that is not the case, and when you are ready to focus on disrespect then try a few things:

-be respectful to your child (don’t call them mean names, belittle them, etc).

A lot of parents don’t realize that they are being disrespectful to their child. This doesn’t mean we treat child on same level authority-wise as adults, but think about would we talk to our friends or spouse the same way we address our kids? If we can talk nicer to them they will often respond nicer back.

-expect respect, and correct them by having them try again in a better way. You model/say what the child should say instead of what they did say and have them repeat it back. [See article on error correction]

-provide a consequence for constant disrespectful behavior [see article on consequences]

If disrespect continues then you might need to figure out what’s gone wrong with your relationship with your child/teen and work on that. In order for children to follow directions and be respectful, etc parents MUST have a good relationship with their child. Relationship is the MOST important thing!! Many teens will say their parents are mean to them or disrespectful so they refuse to listen to them. Or they feel their father (for example) doesn’t have a relationship with them so why would they listen to him. If you don’t have a good relationship with your child work on that relationship FIRST before expecting better behavior or more respectful responses. 

Depression Coping strategies

sad angry boy

Note: Depression in children often looks different than depression in teens and adults. Instead of constant sadness, unable to function, crying, and suicidal thoughts, a child may be angry often, easily upset, grumpy/irritable most of the time, doesn't find things fun, complains often, and sometimes aggressive behaviors as well. For a diagnosis please see your child's pediatrician, or a licensed therapist. 

Some suggestions for depression:

·         Try to do something fun every day even if you don’t feel like it!

·         Incorporate exercise into your routine

·         Go to bed and get up on a regular schedule and try to eat balanced meals

·         Look for evidence that your negative thoughts are true. [For example if your thoughts are “I'm unlovable” then change that thought to “Is it true no one loves me? Oh wait, my mom does” so then you realize your thought isn’t true.]

 

ADHD tips for parents

ADHD

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

ADHD- if you don’t think its “real” just ask a parent or teacher that has a child with this diagnosis! It can be so frustrating to work with a child with ADHD because they are usually a typical child with no delays or obvious special needs but yet they tend to lack focus, have to be told to do things that are a normal routine and they are usually unorganized and forgetful. Some kids are hyper and impulsive- sometimes in girls its hyperactive talkativeness instead of physical motor activity.  

If you are seeing these symptoms have your child/student evaluated by a doctor or therapist and get some behavioral therapy. Some children may need medications (even some adults too!) but some may do fine with only behavioral interventions.

Some strategies to try to teach these skills:

·         Fun focus activities: hidden pictures, mazes, word searches, etc (trains child to concentrate on something hidden which forces their brain to ignore the external stimuli/distractions)—can find lots of these for free online!

·         Play Simon Says game to work on following directions

·         Use reward system as kids with ADHD are often motivated by rewards!

·         Do “following directions coloring pages” and activities- up to 3 step directions. For example: “color the tree orange, the flowers purple, and draw a sun in the sky”—this teaches child to remember 3 directions at once. Can use it for motor activities too like a game where you give directions and they have to try to remember all of it: “grab your jacket, two shoes, and put on your socks”.

Tiperoo: don’t give a child TOO many directions at once. If they are having a hard time just give them ONE at a time until they master that, then move on to about 3 directions at once.

·         Make Checklists! Make one for morning routine, completing any task where they forget the steps -make a list and have them check it off daily! (can pair it with a reward chart). There are many free printable checklists online or you can make your own. Use this also for chores.

·         Remove distractions, like the ipad, preferred toys, etc, from your child’s room/view in the morning. You can reward them with play time if they finish their morning routine tasks within enough time (show them a timer or clock). [See Morning routine section under Section 1]

·         Use a Timer!! They are great to teach time management skills. You can download free visual timers on phones and ipads or order a ribbon timer or other visual timer from www.timetimer.com

Tiperoo: set a timer and have them “Beat the timer” as a competive game to teach them to move quicker through getting dressed, showering, etc

·         Have them clear/clean out their backpack weekly- remove all old papers, re-organize current necessary papers. Perhaps eliminate multiple folders and keep everything in one large binder or one folder with multiple sections to make things simpler. Try color coding and clear labeling of where things go (can attach to a reward chart for keeping it organized)

·         Clearly label and organize your child’s room/toy space for them and teach them to put things where they go (follow up weekly). For example bins/drawers for each clothing, toy, papers, etc.

Tiperoo: Take a photo of what the space or task should look like and then tell your child to make it look like the picture. For example their bedroom, desk, shoes/coat area, loaded dishwasher, toy bins, etc.

·         Keep their homework work space clear of distractions (visual and audio) by keeping it quiet area, no TV in background or other people, toys, etc. Check in with child often to make sure they are on task and keep working. Timers and little reminder cards can be helpful to keep them on track too.

·         Try a “keep working slider”. Put a button or bead on a pipe cleaner/string on a card and slide it along the card as your child completes their work so they can see their progress toward being finished. You can also do this with putting velcroed cards that say “start”, “middle” “end” etc or numbers 1-5 that you keep putting in a row to complete as they work so they can see their progress as well and know how much time is left to be done!

·         Take movement breaks between things that require a long time of sitting such as walking around/jump on trampoline between homework subjects, classes at school, long car rides, sitting through church, a play, movies, etc.

·         If your child is struggling in school ask the school to evaluate your child. Then request a 504 accommodation plan (this would include things like quiet space to take tests, teachers making sure they turn in their homework, extra time for assignments, sitting close to the teacher, etc) or IEP plan (includes goals for behavior and /or academics and may include specially designed instruction where teachers would have to tailor their approach to meet your child’s needs or may need to place child in a more appropriate classroom setting). 

Oppositional Defiant Disorder- specific tips for ODD

ODD kid

Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD)

by Patience Domowski, LCSW

Oppositional Defiant Disorder, “ODD”, is a childhood behavioral disorder characterized by extreme defiance, opposition to adult authority, including angry mood, easily irritable, argumentative behavior, often vindictive- does things purposefully to annoy others or get back at others, refuses to comply with directions, blames other people for their own mistakes. These behaviors often occur across settings (home, school, and community), however sometimes it may only occur in one or two settings. It can occur from preschool ages through teen years.

Children with ODD often need a different parenting approach than their typical peers or siblings. They need a lot of structure. They need a very consistent and strict parenting approach. Instead of explaining why or giving reason for things, like might be helpful with other children, ODD kids need a simple, clear direction. They often don’t care about the why, they just want to argue and a logical explanation is not effective for these children. They need a regular routine, if possible. Knowing the expectation and what comes next can avoid a lot of problems.

Children with ODD need rewards and consequences. Often children with ODD and other behavioral disorders (such as ADHD) lack an internal feeling of happiness or pride in doing a good job, pleasing their parents or teachers, or feeling good about doing things they should do. They often need to be given a reason to motivate them to make a good choice or do what they are told because internally they don’t care. They often have that “what’s in it for me” attitude. If a child does not have an internal motivator, then they need an external motivator (reward) in order to comply.

They don’t need a bribe (giving them something first and expecting something in return) or a negotiation. They need simple direction and an opportunity to earn a reward. They also need clear (not vague) consequences for misbehavior. Use First/Then terms. First you have to do this behavior, then you can have/do what you want. Example: “First eat dinner, then you may watch TV”.

Use the word No sparingly. If it’s an absolute NO, use it. If it’s a “later”, use that term instead, as it may help avoid a tantrum from hearing the word No. They won’t be able to hear anything else after that word. Example: “You can play outside, as soon as your homework is done” instead of “No, you can’t go outside now”.

Use a reward chart system. Have the child earn rewards by doing certain behaviors – can be on a daily or weekly basis. There are many printable free reward charts online. A popular idea is the traffic light behavior chart where child is on “Green” for good listening, “yellow” for warning, and “red” for consequence.

Another similar (but non visual) strategy is 123 Magic, by Thomas Phelan. This is not the same as “counting to 3”. Basically the parent tells the child to do something and says “That’s one” along with the direction. If the child doesn’t behave after a reasonable wait time, the parent repeats the direction and adds “that’s two”. Again, the parent would wait, and if the child doesn’t follow the direction, the parent would say “that’s three” and immediately invoke a consequence. The consequence could be immediate or later, but the child would know at that moment that since they reached “3” they would get the consequence. However the direction still has to be followed.

Avoid empty threats. Don’t keep giving warnings and chances because the child will take advantage of that and try to manipulate parents to get their way and continue their behavior in order to get what they want.

Sticking to the consequence, providing rewards, and staying firm can go a long way in helping a child struggling with Oppositional Defiant Disorder. Seeking help from a behavioral therapist is helpful for the child to learn some strategies as well as helpful for parents to learn some different ways to handle their child’s behaviors.

 

Books by Patience Domowski, available on Amazon.com, print and Kindle versions

 The (Un) Common Sense Guide to Parenting by Patience Domowski, LCSW

“Julian Learns” Series includes 3 stories in one book- stories include: “Julian’s Anger Story”, “Julian’s ODD behavior” and “Julian Learns Respect”.  Book also includes reward chart ideas and worksheets for each story for child to practically apply their newly learned skills from the stories.

Emotionality/Handling Meltdowns in children

crying girl meltdown emotionality

Emotionality and handling Meltdowns

When your child is very emotional/gets upset easily/meltdowns

Do’s and Don’ts for parents~  by Patience Domowski, LCSW

Do…

·         allow your child to express their feelings (as long as they are safe)

·         provide a safe spot for your child to go to calm down

·         give your child space (if they are really angry don’t keep talking to them, let them calm down first or they will just get more upset)

·         use a “code word”  (silly secret word) for your child to say if they need space and need to be left alone when upset and respect that word by not continuing to engage with them at that time (Alternatively parents can use the word when they need child to give them space too to calm down)

·         come up with a list of coping strategies/chill skills for child to use when child is in a good mood and post it where they can see it

·         try to remind child of coping strategies BEFORE they become extremely angry (include an incentive like extra time with something or a treat if they use a chill skill to calm down)

·         try to help our child recognize the middle part between annoyed and furious so they can work on calming at that time instead of when they are super angry

·         wait until child is calm before problem solving

Remember: FIRST Calm, THEN problem solve!

Don’t…

·         tell your child not to feel angry/anxious/sad/ etc (they can feel what they feel)

·         punish your child for feeling [discipline for “behavior” not “feelings”]

·          keep yelling/pushing your child to do what you asked/discuss the problem/etc when they are getting upset

·         allow child to be disrespectful or aggressive even if they are upset. [If they do so have them apologize afterwards ]

·         threaten things you don’t mean or won’t follow through with such as a punishment

·         give in to child’s wants when they aren’t making a good choice, or after saying no already (even if it means a meltdown is coming)