These are questions sent to us by concerned parents and teachers about particular child behavior problems. Read the questions and answers below. The list is updated regularly. You may send us your own questions by contacting us here.
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“If we want to see changes in our children, we need to begin changing ourselves.”
The COMPLETE Model for Positive Behavior Management
Q1: “My seven year old son’s defiant behaviors are wearing us out!”
Response from Coach Dina
Change can be stressful on children and could trigger defiant behaviors and emotional reactions when they are trying to deal with these changes. It is great that you have decided to address these problems by reaching out for support.
First of all, talk to your son and provide him with reassurance that you and your husband will always be there for him, even if you have taken up a full-time job now. You will also need to establish stability for your son to adjust into the new environment (new home and mummy working). One thing that would help is to create a routine for your son to follow to help him connect with you even when you are not there. This establishes a sense of security and stability and strengthens the bond between you. For example, use the time in the car when driving him to school (I’m assuming you drive him to school before going to work) to have positive conversations. If you are still at work when he comes back from school, have him fill out a chart about how his day was and how he felt. This could be a piece of paper with the days of the week and laminated to be used with an erasable marker. Alternatively, you could use a white board. Ask your son to write how he felt that day to express his emotions (you could have a word bank of different emotions on the side. Plan on discussing these feelings and what they mean prior to having him use them). Also, ask him to write ONE thing that was interesting or fun that happened to him that day (e.g. he met a kid his age in his neighborhood or his teacher gave him a star for being ready to learn). This will help him start understanding his own emotions, get him started on self-reflection, and provide you both with an excellent conversation platform.
When you return home, make this the point of conversation as soon as you arrive—he will be eager to tell you about his day and he will feel that mummy is there for him. Children thrive on these little communications that we have with them. Make sure to praise his efforts and acknowledge his feelings. For example, “I’m so proud of you for getting a star! You are always my star!” or “I’m sorry that you felt upset when that girl snatched away your pencil. It IS quite upsetting to have someone snatch our things away. Let’s talk about how you could deal with such incidents next time.” Or “Wow! So there’s a boy your age next door! Why not invite him over?” Or “Great job being a helper during line-up today! Your teacher told me about it and he’s pleased with how helpful you are.” You could also talk to your son’s teacher to ask for their support. The teacher could text you at the end of the day to let you know how your son was at school.
For further connections between you and your son, make the bedtime ritual a fun one that he looks forward to. After he has brushed his teeth and changed into his pajamas, snuggle together in bed, read him a bedtime story and listen to him read. You could also have a conversation about the positive things that happened to them that day and what he is looking forward to. Allow him to express his worries and fears, too. This is an excellent opportunity to help them express their feelings instead of keeping them bottled up. Take turns with his father so that your son could form stronger connections with both of you.
Next, you need to help your son fit in to the new neighborhood. Find out which families have children your son’s age and invite them over for a play day. This will help your son fit in and make new friends. Once in a while, plan for a play day and invite his friends from the old neighborhood over—if the distance is reasonable!
Change is hard on all of us, but it is most difficult with young children. So, as adults, we need to strengthen their need for security and help them adjust by providing them with the support they need to make transitions smooth.
One last thing I would like to add: whenever your son starts being defiant or fights with you again, sit down with them, hold them close and tell them that you understand that they are feeling sad and unsettled about the new changes in their life. Reassure them that you will be there for them all the time, that you love them and that you are there to help them. Hopefully very soon your son will have adjusted well to all the changes.
Q2: “My fourteen year old son is very difficult!”
Response from Coach Dina
Becoming a teenager is difficult. Your son is trying to deal with his bodily changes, emotions and mood swings that are triggered by the hormonal changes happening in his body. When your son says “Nobody cares about me” you need to find out why he is feeling this way. Thank you for reaching out for advice.
Start engaging in daily conversations with him in the privacy of his own room to find out what he is going through, what he is feeling and what concerns he might have. Do not be judgmental and do not jump to giving advice straight away. Just practice active listening, acknowledge his feelings and show empathy.
Explain to him that when children develop into teenagers, there are changes that happen in their body and these trigger mood swings. Help him accept these changes and understand that what he is going through is normal. Encourage daily discussions with him to help him voice out his thoughts and feelings. If he is going through any problems at school, this would be the best time for him to discuss them and receive your support. Good times for these discussions are in the evening when there is no hurry to get any chores done. It would be a good idea to ask his father to have regular conversations with him, too. He might have questions that his father would know more about (e.g. male puberty related issues).
Furthermore, plan weekly time to go out together—just you or his father and him. No siblings. Go somewhere he finds fun or interesting. It could be a restaurant for tea or a smoothie, or a walk in the park. Anything they choose. This will help them leave the virtual world of digital technology and help strengthen the connections between you and him.
Also, encourage him to pursue a hobby and a sport. There is nothing wrong with watching YouTube videos or playing video games, but the harm is to spend all their time (or a lot of his time) doing so. This is the right time to help them develop a healthy and well-rounded life style. Sign up your son in a sports team (a sport that he likes) or practice the sport with him a few a times a week. Also, encourage him to find a hobby (such as music, art, etc.) that he enjoys, and help him get organized and started. Discuss with him the health benefits of practicing sports and hobbies. Share some articles with him and read them together. You will be surprised how easily influenced he will be when he reads research about the benefits. Also, explain to him that you are not against him spending time in the digital world, but that spending all his time doing so would be very harmful. You could watch YouTube videos related to their hobby or sport.
Use a lot of positive praise with your son and refrain from punishment. Say things like, “I admire how you are committed to your basketball training!” or “Great job learning how to play the guitar!” or anything that acknowledges the tiniest efforts they are making to improve their lifestyle. Teens love to be praised, even if they appear like they don’t enjoy it! Soon, your son will start feeling better about himself, and the well-rounded lifestyle will make him feel happy and confident.
Just remember: whenever he is feeling down or expressing negative feelings again, take him aside, acknowledge what he is feeling and ask him to talk about it. Teens need our help and support in managing their moods and understanding what they are going through, so try to be there for him whenever he needs you. Active listening, empathy, non-judgmental support, gentle guidance towards what is best for him, help in getting him organized, and daily encouragement and praise will definitely help your son feel more positive and empowered to make better choices.
Q3: “I want my eight year old to comply!”
My eight year old daughter is giving me a hard time following bedtime routine every night. I ask her to wash, brush her teeth and get ready for bed, but her response is always: “No! I don’t want to go to bed!” I end up threatening and shouting. She finally rolls her eyes at me and says that she hates me. I can’t do this anymore. How do I fix this behavior and have her comply?
Response from Coach Dina
Parenting can be quite challenging, especially when we are trying to get our children to comply during every day routines. Thank you for reaching out.
Children are usually reluctant when it comes to ending a game or activity that they are immersed in or enjoying, especially when it’s time for bedtime. To increase compliance, it would be a good idea to motivate your daughter and have her look forward to the bedtime routine. How about you promise her that you will read her a story or play a small game in bed every night if she follows instructions and gets ready without any problems? She would love the extra time and attention she would be getting from you, and that would be rewarding and motivating for her.
In addition to the above, try giving her a notice period a short time before her bedtime routine is about to begin (ten to twenty minutes). Allow a margin of extra time in case she asks for more. For example, if you say: “You need to start getting ready for bed in ten minutes,” she might beg you for twenty. So, be ready to meet her half way and agree on fifteen minutes. Do not give in to her requested twenty minutes, but also do not insist on your ten minutes. ‘Meeting halfway’ is a good skill for children to learn; they love to feel that they were victorious in a way, but that they still have to ‘listen to mummy/daddy’.
Right before time is up, give her a signal by saying, “Time is almost up! Start wrapping up what you’re doing/tidying up your toys.” Then, you could use the COUNT BACK method to signal that she should start heading towards the bathroom. Remind her that if she does not follow instructions, she could risk missing out on the fun time you will be having together.
I’m sure bedtime routines will start being more manageable in your home. Remember: motivation is key, and spending quality time with our children is motivational.
Q1: “I’m having a hard time controlling my fourth graders!”
I teach fourth grade and I am having a hard time controlling them. The problem I’m facing is that every time the bell rings, they rush out of the classroom and run through the hallways to the playground. I’ve tried punishing them and talking to them but they still do it. Even when they do not rush out and manage to exit the classroom in a nice line, they end up leaving the line and running through the hallways. They usually behave well inside the classroom, but I would like them to behave well even outside! What should I do?
Response from Coach Dina
It’s a tough job being a teacher! Thank you for reaching out.
It seems that your students need an explicit reteaching of the behavioral expectations for break times. The best way to do this is to allocate specific time during your lesson to go over those behaviors. First of all, write down clear behaviors that you expect students to follow when leaving the classroom for break. Make sure the behaviors are clear, describe what you expect to see them do, and are phrased positively. They could look like this:
Behavior Expectations for Break Times:
We are Responsible, Respectful & Safe during Break Times:
We line up by the door in a nice, straight line and wait for the teacher.
We WALK through the hallways with our hands and feet to ourselves.
We use voice level 0-1 in the hallways (0=silence, 1=whisper)
We WALK directly to the playground.
We use voice level 2-3 in the playground (2=talking voice, 3=loud voice)
Next, you need to make a poster to use when you teach these behaviors. Show the poster to the students and go over them. Give examples and non-examples. Do a fun activity where children practice the behavioral examples. Always act out the non-examples yourself, and have the students act out the examples. After that, take the children out to the hallways and practice in the natural setting. Give immediate feedback to every student and make sure you praise every little effort. Finally, make sure that you explain how you will reward them every time they follow the behavioral expectations. This could be using tokens, tickets, points, etc.—anything to reinforce the desired behaviors that you want to see occur again.
To further provide the support your students need to be successful, teach them to wait for your dismissal signal. Students cannot leave without your dismissal. To help remind them, be ready when the bell rings and stand by the door to remind them of the expectations. Before you open the door, say, “Remember class! You need to be responsible, respectful, and safe! You do this by (go over the expectations quickly)…”. End your reminders by saying something like, “I’m positively sure that you all will behave well! I’ll be giving out the points/tickets/etc. as soon as you return from break, to those following expectations.” With practice, you will become skilled at this process and it should take you ten to fifteen seconds!
If you follow this process, you might be left with 5-10% of your students who still need further reminders. Take those students aside and speak to them. Remind them of how important it is to be responsible, respectful and safe. Encourage them to try harder next time, and provide immediate praise the moment they follow the expected behaviors. You might want to walk close to those particular children in the hallways just to give that extra support that they need to behave well. I wish you all the best!
Q2: “I have to keep reminding my sixth grade student to stay on task!”
I teach sixth grade. Every time I assign work and say BEGIN, I have a student that doesn’t do anything. He sits and stares at his paper or the wall and does not do any work (at all) until I walk up to him and ask him to begin. Then, he starts working. However, throughout the independent work time, I catch him staring out the window and not doing his work. I remind him to stay on task and then he does. I’m getting really tired from him not being on-task!
Response from Coach Dina
Some children need an extra nudge to get to work, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with providing that nudge. It is quite tiring for teachers, though, when they have to keep prompting students to get to work. Instead, it would be a good idea to incorporate those prompts and reminders into our behavior management methods, rather than singling out individual students. So, before you tell students to BEGIN, make sure that they all understand what they have to do. Ask for a THUMBS-UP from all the students to make sure they are all ready to begin. You may also walk around the classroom and tap on students’ desks gently asking them all if they are good and ready. Receiving that NOD or YES affirmations from all the students helps you know that they are all ready, and gives them the message that you care about them and that you care to know if they are ready or not.
Students who need that extra nudge benefit from these reminders, and this way, they receive the reminder in a subtle way when you are checking with the entire class if they are ready to work.
After that, when students begin working, you may move closer to that particular student and ask him PRIVATELY to ask for your help if he needs it. That will motivate him to start with his work, because he would feel that you care about him and that you want him to do well.
If the independent work activity is ten minutes long, for example, make sure to check in with all the students every three minutes, or during half time, to make sure no one has any questions or that they are managing well. That is an indirect reminder for all the students to stay on task. When making that reminder, it would be helpful to stand close to the student that needs the extra nudge. Giving him a smile or a gentle nod also helps create a positive and motivating environment that will undoubtedly help him (and the others) stay focused.
Q3: “My seventh graders keep blurting out!”
My problem with my seventh graders is that they keep blurting out. I taught them already that they need to raise their hands before responding, but every time I ask a question, they blurt out their answers! What can I do to help them to remember that they need to raise their hands before they speak?
Response from Coach Dina
Blurting out is one of the most common behavioral problems teachers struggle with in the classroom. It is great that you taught them the procedure for responding to questions, but that is not enough. Sometimes when we are in a hurry to get the correct answers, we tend to ignore that students blurted out their responses. So, being consistent and letting students know that you will not listen to their answer if they blurt it out will help enforce the rule. Also, it is important to support students to be successful, rather than waiting for them to mess up. In other words, every time you ask a question, quickly remind students that they need to raise their hands to answer. Say something like: “Remember to raise your hand for permission to speak before you give the answer!” Sometimes, you could offer your support and reminder by raising your hand right before you finish asking your question, in order to remind them of the procedure for responding.
Need more answers?
Read “The COMPLETE Model for Positive Behavior Management”
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