Before and after the holidays, I saw countless examples of kids acting out in public. Before the holidays, our days were filled with anticipation, excitement, hustle and bustle, holiday recitals, last-minute gift shopping, and running around like crazy trying to get everything done before the cousins arrive–causing our children to become overwhelmed, overstimulated, and hard to control. This is especially true for children with sensory issues. Before the holidays, we had the Elf on the Shelf, Santa Claus, and Mensch on a Bench to help guide our children’s behavior. How many times did we say, “The Elf is watching you…” or “You better watch out, you better not cry, you better not pout, I’m telling you why” in response to our kids hitting a sibling, yelling at a parent, or not getting ready for bed? You betcha. Every day. Several times a day.
After the holidays, the kids were still riled up. Now they were playing with their new toys, excited about a new year, and anxious about school starting again. Early in January, I was standing in line at Barnes and Noble and locked eyes with another Mom whose four-year-old son was begging her to buy him something (at the same time he was hitting his sister with a toy sword). We commiserated around the idea that we had no leverage since Santa had already come. “What do we do now?” we both laughed.
I began feverishly reading some new books I had purchased: Ten Days to a Less Defiant Child by Jeffrey Bernstein, Ph.D. and Russell Barkley’s Taking Charge of ADHD. Both books provide step-by-step detailed plans for addressing and changing specific behaviors such as tantrums, refusing to comply with requests or complete chores, and difficulty staying organized. Both books are excellent resources and are invaluable when you feel you have reached your limit as far as finding new, creative ideas to address problem behaviors.
What struck me most about these books was that both really emphasized the importance of spending quality time with your child. Some of us take this for granted, thinking that helping our child do her homework or giving her a bath is spending time. The difference in this case is that you spend 20-30 minutes daily (if schedules permit) in child-directed play. This means your child decides on the activity, and the parent avoids using directives, commands, or attempts at control. Even if the child acts out, it is best to try to ignore and gently redirect back to the activity (unless they are beating you over the head with a stick, in which case you would tell them you need to leave the room and will return when they are calm and respectful). A child who acts out and gets in trouble often is a discouraged child. Spending quality time is one crucial way to show your child you care about her no matter how much she gets in trouble, or how difficult a day you had together. You are showing your child that your love is unconditional.
Positive discipline methods are another way to show your love to your child. Jane Nelson has written several books and has a website full of information and resources about these methods (click the link above). Her main ideas are: 1) Be kind and firm; 2) Help children feel a sense of belonging and significance; 3) Non-punitive tools work long-term – they are not just short-term or “band-aid” fixes; 4) Children learn valuable social and life tools; and 5) Children develop a sense that they are capable.
So, simple as it may sound – all they need is love. The Beatles were on to something.