Families can use routines to increase structure and predictability in their households. Routines may be used in the morning, after school, at bedtime, or at any other time when behavior can be challenging. For example, if bedtime is tough in your household, maintaining a bedtime routine that includes bathing, brushing teeth, dressing in pajamas, drinking a cup of milk, and reading a story creates a series of understood expectations for what needs to happen before going to bed. Routines essentially outline the necessary steps to completing a task, and they give children a chance to practice those steps without the risk of the expectations changing. Children gain a sense of security and mastery from knowing what will happen next, which in turn makes dealing with bigger challenges easier in the future.
Routines can help reduce power struggles by eliminating the need for you to tell your child what to do at every moment. For example, if your child learns the after school routine of hanging up the backpack, eating a snack, completing homework, and having free time to play or watch television before dinner, you will not have to provide constant reminders of what she needs to do next -- your child can be “in charge” of herself. Routines can help give a sense of purpose and ownership to a task – rather than you arbitrarily (as your child sees it) commanding your child to do her homework, it instead becomes just another part of her day after school.
Routines can also teach children the concept of having something to look forward to – or delayed gratification. Just as knowing you will get your paycheck at the end of your workweek, it is much easier for a child to get through the tough task of getting ready for school if he knows he can play his videogames for 15 minutes before leaving for school once he is ready.
If routines are new to your household, it may be easier to start with one time when challenges tend to occur. For example, although brushing teeth may be difficult at both the beginning and end of the day, you may choose to focus on creating a routine that incorporates teeth brushing at bedtime when the routine can end with some enjoyable one-on-one time with you. It can be helpful to write or draw the routine out on paper or poster board as a visual reminder of the various expectations of the routine. [Maybe include a picture of this?] For some children it may also be necessary to imbed those more enjoyable activities (computer time, TV time, etc.) within the routine – in other words, “sandwiching” tougher tasks between easier activities. Having fun activities written or drawn into the visual list allows children to actually see that something good comes after the less enjoyable tasks.
With older children you may want to create your list of non-negotiables – things that must occur – and then allow your child to make some choices about the routine (e.g., let them choose whether to brush teeth before or after the bath).
Decades of research on family routines and rituals have suggested that routines are related to improved psychological adjustment, better physical health, improved sleep patterns, and reduced problem behavior in children. Research suggests that in families where routines are less common, children may present with more behavior difficulties.
Another strategy to increase positive behavior at home is to communicate with your children more often. The first step to doing this is to turn off the television and spend more time reading and speaking with your children. Television's negative impact on development language, comprehension, and attention has been documented in many studies . Even having a television on in the background can reduce children's ability to pay attention as they get older.
Reading to children increases language and comprehension skills. Make it a goal to read at least one book a day to young children. Make it fun! Use silly voices, incorporate the child’s name into the book, talk about the pictures, relate the story to something in your own life (if the story is about flying a kite, talk about the last time you went to the park). With children who have a shorter attention span, it’s okay to skip some of the words – it’s more important to make it enjoyable that to read every word on the page.
Children whose parents spend more time reading and playing with their children - rather than watching television with them - show better language development.
Educators also impact the language development of children. Utilizing shared reading techniques, such as defining vocabulary words, asking open-ended questions, and providing children opportunities to talk during reading lessons, is important. Children whose teachers use these shared reading techniques demonstrate larger gains in vocabulary than children whose teachers do not use these strategies .
Additional strategies for increasing communication at home and school:
Ask children open-ended questions (e.g., "What did you do at your friend's house?" rather than "Did you go to the zoo with your friend. Or better yet, say, “Tell me about…” to get a topic started.
Ask… then wait – Give the child a chance to process what you’ve said and to formulate an answer. Observations of classrooms have found that sometimes adults speak too quickly for children. On average, it has been found that students are given an average of 0.9 seconds to respond before a teacher asks another question or moves onto another topic. Classrooms in which teachers gave students an average of 3 seconds of wait time had more sustained conversations.Children may be able to participate in more conversations and answer more questions if adults allow them more time to respond.
Be a good listener – You can’t expect your child to be a good listener if you do not provide a good model for listening. Communication is a two-way street; show your child the importance turn-taking during a conversation, resisting the urge to rush or correct them.
Monitor your body language – Try to get eye-level with young children when speaking to them. Avoid giving directions with your back turned or as you are walking away.
Teach “feeling” words – Talking about emotions and giving them a name when things are calm can help children more easily recognize and express their feelings when emotions are running high.
Difficulty communicating with others can often be what triggers problem behavior – whether it is a true communication disorder or just a general lack or weakness in skills. All of the strategies mentioned above may help children better control their emotions and engage in more positive behavior at home.
At school, a few additional strategies may be helpful to encourage self-regulation, or attention and active participation in class activities. These strategies may be helpful for all students but may be necessary for some students who process information and regulate their emotions in very specific ways. Several frameworks for addressing differences in learning styles exist, including differentiation of instruction and Universal Design for Learning. Summarized below are some of the strategies that are consistent across frameworks that may assist with self-regulation:
Auditory Techniques for Getting Students’ Attention
- Use a clap pattern. You clap a pattern and the students repeat it back to you as a way of indicating that you have their attention.
- Use a chime or rainstick to signal auditorily that students need to attend to you.
Visual Techniques to Obtain Students’ Attention
- Flash the lights
- Raise your hand. Students then raise their hands until the entire class is quiet
- Write a key word or draw a picture on the white board to indicate that students need to attend
General Tips for Keeping Students Engaged
- Move around the classroom, remaining visible
- Incorporate manipulatives and hands-on activities into the presentation
- Encourage students to write down brief notes during lectures
- Encourage active learning by asking students to say and do something with the information being taught..
- Differentiate instruction through the use of flexible grouping, interest groups, and independent projects.
Keeping Students On-Task during Seatwork
- Scan the room frequently and praise students who are on-task and those trying to be.
- Use study carrels and quiet areas for students who may be easily distracted.
- Provide students with a task list or a “to do” list at their desk. Format the list in such a way that students can cross off items as they are completed.
In summary, there are many things that we, as adults, can do to prevent problem behavior in our children. Implementing some or all of the strategies listed above may be easier than trying to stop a problem behavior once it starts, so give them a try!