Summer is well underway and parents often grapple with the same behavioral challenges that teachers face in the classroom. Rarely, however, is there an exchange of effective strategies for dealing with kid chaos. Below are seven teacher tips for parents that I used in my classwomb throughout my over 20 years as a bilingual elementary educator and literacy coach. These tricks of the trade are time-tested and work with a diverse cross-section of children. Kids respond well to the following techniques: 1) a set structure 2) choice 3) consistency 4) "tough love" 5) reward systems 6) jobs/responsibility 7) individual appreciations.
1) Set structure Children love and need structure. Structure makes them feel safe and supported. They need to know what to expect and where to find things. Let them know when various activities are happening so they can depend on events to take place in a predictable order. Create a space where your child does projects or school work. It can be a desk or kitchen table, but it should be a consistent place and the TV should be off! Many parents find it helpful to set an egg (or cell phone) timer indicating how long the child has to work. It helps children focus when they know that they are working for a finite amount of time.
2) Choice Within the parameters of this structure, I give lots of choice. Choice is equally important for children because it allows them to feel like their voice is heard. If your child is having a temper tantrum, or really insisting on something, propose several choices. You give them power by allowing them to choose, even if you're creating the choices. For example, if they are being finicky about food, say, "You can have four carrots, two sticks of celery or one orange." Don't give them too many choices, or any choices that you're not willing to whole-heartedly support.
3) Consistency Children get restless and want to test our limits. Always be polite, but also clear, firm and unwavering. As a teacher, I might say, "Diego, I need you to scoot back. Thank you." Try lowering your voice to a whisper and coming close to your child, as opposed to shouting across the room. Children are more responsive and obedient when you whisper commands in their ear. Consistency and a "united front" in the home are also paramount. Saying no to a child and then eventually giving in is letting them run the house. They need to know what the limits and rules are in your home and be clear that they can't change them.
4) "Tough love" Approach My students usually describe me as "strict but really nice." I am very kind and respectful towards them, but I am also very firm. Children are starved for attention -- so give them positive instead of negative attention. Use a positive/positive statement. "When you're calmed down, we'll go into the store." Not: "We're not going into the store until you stop screaming." Children also must understand that you will always love them, but sometimes you don't like their behavior. The ability for children to be able to separate out their behavior, which varies on a moment-to-moment basis, from them as people is crucial! You never want to make your child feel that you don't like them or that they are "bad," just that you disapprove of their behavior at that time.
5) Rewards Let's face it: at their core, children like and respond to prizes and positive affirmations. The main way this materializes in my classroom is through the magical, cathartic marble jar. I can actually say that I never yell. No need. For 20 years, I have been able to shake the marble jar and dissuade any undesirable behavior. It amounts to one glass jar, one plastic jar (liter soda bottle cut in half works) and a bag or two of marbles. Every time children behave well -- are focused, quiet, respectful, playing nicely, etc. -- marbles go from the plastic jar to the glass jar. Kids LOVE the sound of the clink-clink as marbles fall into the jar. If they are noisy, shake the jar (as a warning). If they continue being noisy, take marbles out of the glass jar and put them back into the plastic one. When the glass jar gets full, they pick a prize (pencils, stickers, erasers, a Magic School Bus video, special outing with the family, etc.) Your child can accumulate marbles in the jar for doing their homework, cleaning their room, clearing their plate, being nice to their sibling, etc. This extends very well outside of the home. They earn extra marbles for behaving well in a public place. Bribery at its best!
6) Jobs or Responsibilities are tasks that children need to accomplish. Even toddlers can clean up after themselves and be motivated to behave well in order to earn a reward. Children gain self-esteem and self-confidence from helping out. Allow your child to take on some responsibility. Not only does it give them a sense of accomplishment -- it usually lessens your workload as well. If they pick up their toys or clothes, or set the table, you don't have to. They earn points or marbles towards a small, tangible prize -- it's a win-win.
7) Individual Appreciations Children need to hear frequent positive feedback from the adults in their life. "Great job!" "Excellent effort!" "Very creative!" are the kinds of comments you'd hear me say to my students. At home, these types of positive affirmations might happen at the dinner table. A friend of mine got a small star pin at a conference we attended and uses it to give to one of her three children, herself or her husband each night at dinner. The family talks about who deserves to be the "Star of the Day" for their actions that day and awards that person the star for the next day. It works wonders and it's not expensive at all.
As you figure out which of these teaching techniques fit into your family's lifestyle and how to adapt them, keep in mind that I am able to successfully manage large groups of children without ever yelling or, of course, hitting anyone. Children get it when adults get them. It's all about making your child feel happy and successful, right? That's perhaps the most important part of my job. Yours too.