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.
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!
Need more answers?
Read “The COMPLETE Model for Positive Behavior Management”