During the current pandemic most children are at home and will not be returning to school or daycare for many weeks to come. This can create chaos in the house and make parenting a difficult and sometimes overwhelming experience. This article is about creating a structure in your home so that its not becoming a never ending free-for-all. Let’s look at some common behavioral challenges and how structure can help you, as a parent, to reduce some of these problems.
Consistent routines and rules help create order and structure your day. Things go more smoothly when you and your child know what to expect. When things are reliable and predictable it can relieve anxiety and apprehension.
It’s normal for young children to test the limits. That’s how they learn what is right and wrong. But, it can be frustrating and really test our patience as parents! One way to keep control and help children learn is to create structure. Structure is created by consistent routines and rules. Rules teach children what behaviors are okay and not okay. Routines teach children what to expect throughout the day.
Structure helps parents and their kids. Kids feel safe and secure because they know what to expect. Parents feel confident because they know how to respond, and they respond the same way each time. Routines and rules help structure the home and make life more predictable.
Three key ingredients to building structure in the home:
Consistency means that you respond to your child’s behavior the same way every time no matter what is going on or how you’re feeling. Misbehaviors are less likely to occur again if you always use the same consequence, like ignoring or time-out. Good behaviors are likely to be repeated if you let your child know you like them. This doesn’t mean that you need to give consistent attention to ALL of your child’s behaviors. Think about something you want your child to do more often. This could be sharing, cleaning up, or following directions. To increase those behaviors, praise them each time you see them occur. Your consistent response will help those behaviors happen more often.
Predictability means your child knows what will happen and how you will respond. When your daily routines are predictable, your child knows what to expect for the day. When your rules are predictable, your child knows how you will react to her behavior.
Following through means that you do what you say you will do in response to your child’s behaviors. This is often called the “say what you mean and mean what you say.” If you tell your child a behavior will be punished, you punish it every time it happens. If you tell your child he will be rewarded for a behavior, you give him the reward after he has done what you asked. To be consistent and predictable, we need to follow through. Follow-through is important for ALL behaviors. This includes behaviors we like and don’t like. Use the Reward Menu and Consequence Chart (below)
The concept of a reward menu is to have incentives that you can easily use to promote desired behaviors. Poll the child/children to see what kinds of things they would like and create a list with a variety of their choices that you agree to provide. Some items may be food rewards, video game time, staying up late, getting out of a chore, reading a book with mom, etc. The menu can offer the five to ten most popular choices.
The concept of a consequence chart is to get your child/children to participate in their own punishment choices for 3 levels of infractions. This process creates a kind of contract with the kids. For each level, negotiate up to 4 consequences. By doing this at a time of calmness and cooperation, executing it during a battle becomes a much easier way to enforce the consequences. Also, you as a parent have a ready made list of choices that are appropriate for the right level of infraction. It is probably not fair to be on restriction for 3 months for leaving the lights on.
- Level 1: YELLOW ZONE – minor infraction
- Level 2: ORANGE ZONE – moderate infraction
- Level 3: RED ZONE – major infraction
Establishing a bedtime routine is very important. This routine includes what your child does before bed and where your child sleeps at night. It may be helpful for the routine to include things that help your child relax, such as reading a story. Once you decide on the activities for the routine, talk about it with your child. Some parents like to make the routine into a song and sing it with the child. For example, you can sing, “After you take a bath, we’re going to put your PJs on, brush your teeth, get you in your bed, read a story, and then it’s time for sleep!” Your child may try to push the limits and get a “few more minutes” of awake time before sleeping, but do not allow this. At the end of the routine, leave your child to sleep. By creating a bedtime routine and sticking with it consistently, your child knows exactly when and where she should be sleeping.
Troubles With Transitions
Having trouble getting your child to go from one activity to another during the day? Daily schedules can help because they take the surprise out of what will happen next.
A structure that helps your child learn to behave has routines and rules that are consistent, predictable, and have follow through. There is a basic routine you follow and rules you live by on most days of the week. You set appropriate expectations and limits for your child’s behaviors. Your child learns how you are going to respond to behaviors that are okay or not okay.
- Wake up at 9:00 a.m.
- Cartoons until breakfast at 9:30 a.m.
- Get dressed for the day
- Snack at 11:00 a.m.
- Art or Science activity until lunch
- Lunch at 1:00 followed by nap/quiet time at 1:30 p.m.
- Outdoor play following nap or quiet time around 2:00 pm
- 3:00 pm Snack and Video games/TV/reading
- 4:00 pm chores (older kids)
- Prepare dinner around 5:00 p.m., eat around 6:00 p.m.
- Bath time around 7:30 p.m.
- Read or do something together, like a game or art project, around 8:00 p.m.
- Pajamas, brush teeth and then to bed by 8:00 p.m. (younger kids)
- Read story and quiet/asleep by 9:30 p.m. (older kids)
- Instead of looking at large time blocks, make the day into short, manageable chunks (think 30-minute blocks).
- Be flexible! Don’t stick to the time listed in the schedule, it’s more about flow. If the kids are playing nice – don’t stop them because the schedule says it’s snack time. Let it be.
- Adjust this to fit your child – you know your kid(s) and what they need. You know how long they can tolerate certain activities. Adjust for them.
- Don’t rely on screen time to save the day: use screens as your tool and reserve it for when it’s crucial.
- It’s important to give some of your time to engage in activities with the kids, but also encourage some independent play for kids so you can get some time to yourself also.