My 5-year-old niece is struggling in school. She's defiant, pitches fits and has been told by her teachers that she will need to wait another year before starting kindergarten. She acts up at home as well. How can my sister improve her daughter's behavior?
Teaching our children social skills is one of the earliest and most important jobs we have as parents. Social skills can be taught at home differently from how they’re taught at school. Consistency is the key. Your sister should teach her daughter the behavior she wants her to display and practice that behavior every day. Games like “Mother May I” and “Simon Says” are fun for young children to play and help them learn social skills like “Asking Permission” and “Following Instructions.”
For example, your sister can use “Simon Says” to teach your niece the skill of “Following Instructions” by telling her there are three rules:
- Look – Stop what you are doing and look at the person who’s talking
- Say – Say “Okay” so the person knows you are listening
- Do – Do what you are asked immediately and in the best way you can
As adults, we have to show the child what we want her to do so she understands what is expected of her and sees that she can do it. This means prompting her throughout the game to do what is being practiced.
Your sister can incorporate play throughout the day to reinforce the skill she is teaching. For example, before telling the child to come to the table, she can hold up three fingers and prompt the child to review the three steps required for the skill of “Following Instructions” (Look, Say, Do). Your sister also can give praise like high-fives, claps and encouraging words to reinforce positive behavior when the child does what she is asked to do. If your sister is consistent with her teaching and expectations, she should see positive results.
What are some age-appropriate chores for a 10-year-old and a 6-year-old?
Chores are a great way to help children learn a variety of skills. Kids can learn and practice skills such as responsibility, following instructions and accepting feedback by regularly completing chores. Chores give children skills that they will use throughout their lives. When assigning chores, make sure you focus on completion rather than substance; it’s more important that your child completes a task than what the specific task is. Also, let children be part of choosing chores by asking them to help you come up with helpful tasks they can complete.
Sit down together and have a "Family Meeting" to discuss some possible chores for everyone. Make it fun and create a "Job Jar." Have your 6-year-old write his chores on a piece of purple paper and have your 10-year-old write his chores on a green piece of paper. Then put all the chore slips in the Job Jar. Each morning (or night), have your children pull their jobs for the day out of the jar.
There are probably a million tasks around your house that sometimes don’t get done because of your busy schedule! Here are a few ideas for your Job Jar to get you started:
- Wipe off all door knobs in the house.
- Wipe off all baseboards in (list specific room of house).
- Vacuum couch.
- Wipe out inside of trash cans.
- Collect trash on trash day.
- Make beds.
- Sweep porch or garage floor.
- Shake out rugs.
- Empty out one kitchen cupboard and wipe down the inside.
- Go through personal toys and pick out one that isn’t played with much. Give the toy to Goodwill so another child can enjoy it.
You’re the best judge of what will work in your home. Just remember that your focus should be on teaching your children to follow instructions and complete the chores. Try to be creative and make it fun!
I have a difficult time getting my 5-year-old son’s attention. He has a lot of energy and sometimes it seems like he can't hear me. But I've had his ears checked, so I know he can. How can I get him to listen to me?
Young boys are easily distracted by things around them and when they are focused on an activity that interests them, it’s difficult to get their attention. Removing distractions, getting on his level, being eye-to-eye and using a normal voice tone are the most basic things you can do to help your son develop listening skills.
We encourage parents to teach their children good listening skills by practicing these simple steps:
- Stop what you are doing.
- Look at the person who is talking.
- Ask questions if you don't understand.
Along with listening, teach your son to follow instructions by:
- Look at the person who is talking.
- Say, "Okay."
- Do what is asked immediately.
Teach these skills at a neutral time and give good reasons for why your son should use them the way you have described. Then practice often, keeping practices brief and fun with instructions like “Go get each of us a popsicle.”
Be consistent with your expectations and praise him when he listens and follows instructions.
I have been a divorced, single mother for three years, and I am concerned that I lack the necessary skills to effectively parent my two girls, ages 11 and 6. I was adopted and raised by my mother and brother. My mom was unavailable to me; she worked and kept her distance emotionally. My older brother was my adult figure, and I was exposed to adult situations when I was far too young. I essentially raised myself and spent a good deal of time with my peers.
Up until now, I thought I was doing an adequate job of parenting my girls. But I am stressed out daily and resort to yelling to be heard. I can ask my girls to do something, and they won’t comply unless I yell. In essence, I have relinquished my role as the authority to them. They are the bosses in the family.
I would like to regain their respect, and I need some concrete tips on how to communicate with them. I feel that if I can reestablish myself as the parent in my older daughter’s eyes, the younger one will follow suit.
I am fearful that my daughters will travel down the same path that I did. Their father is a good provider, but he is not involved in their lives and lacks parenting skills. I do not want them to make the same mistakes that I did by hanging out with the wrong crowd on the streets and picking men who make poor husbands.
One of the most basic skills we encourage parents to focus on is the skill of following instructions. You need to teach your children this skill. First, explain the skill to them so that you are all on the same page regarding what you will be expecting in the future. Convey that you agree that yelling is not acceptable, and that part of the solution for this pattern of behavior on your part is the development of the skill on their part.
Break the skill down into steps. Say “When you are asked to do something, you should …”
- Look at the person so he or she knows you’re paying attention.
- Say “OK” so they know you understand.
- Do the task right away.
- Check back to let the person know you have completed the task.
This is a new expectation. Your girls will need practice and consistency, so follow the above steps each time you ask them to do something. Tell them that each time they do not follow instructions, there will be a consequence such as an additional chore or the removal of a privilege. When they do follow instructions, they will receive a positive consequence.
If the instructions are not followed the first time you ask, issue a negative consequence, reteach the skill, practice it and then ask them to follow the original instruction once again. By following this pattern, you decrease your frustration and thus, your tendency to yell.
Children like visuals. It is helpful to make a chore chart of each of your daughters’ daily expectations. That way there is no room for misunderstanding or “forgetting” on their part. They know exactly what they must do to retain privileges such as cell phones, computer games, etc.
As parents we are teachers. We teach our children the skills that they need to lead happy, productive lives. We also teach them what healthy relationships are. Healthy relationships involve time spent together bonding.
Schedule a family night once a week that is NOT OPTIONAL. Take turns planning activities. This could be a game night, bike ride, picnic in the park, doing make-overs, etc. The activity should allow for conversation and be something that all family members can do.
Boys Town offers Common Sense Parenting classes that you might find helpful. You can also learn more about the book “Common Sense Parenting” at our website boystownpress.org. If you ever need to talk, many states have family help lines to assist parents with parenting concerns. You can also call the Boys Town hotline at 800-448-3000 24/7 to talk to a counselor for support.
What is an appropriate consequence for catching my 16-year-old son smoking marijuana with his friend? We are an upper-middle class blended family, and he is our youngest child. I think he has smoked marijuana occasionally over the past several months, despite our telling the family not to do it.
Setting expectations with our children helps avoid hearing excuses like “Well, I didn’t know.” Your son knew before he started smoking marijuana that you expressly said not to do so. He CHOSE to disregard your instructions. It is your job as a parent to inform your son that he has made a poor choice and to immediately follow up with a consequence.
You state that you think your son has been smoking marijuana for several months. When our children break rules repeatedly without consequences, their behavior is reinforced by our inactivity. Your son will continue to break this rule until you let him know, in no uncertain terms, that his behavior is unacceptable.
It’s OK if you only suspect poor behavior; nine times out of 10 our parental intuition is correct. The consequence can be less severe if you don’t have proof, but there needs to be a consequence to deter him from even going down that road.
The type of consequence depends on the severity of the behavior. Smoking marijuana is a severe behavior, so put some effort into the consequence. Make it relate to the “crime” as closely as possible. If he gets caught smoking pot with a friend, he loses the privilege of hanging out with that friend unattended. Or maybe he has to do some research on the effects of using marijuana and write a report for you.
Since trust has been broken, maybe he has to regain that trust by passing random drug tests in your home. These can be bought over-the-counter at your local pharmacy. These are just examples to be used on their own or in conjunction with one another. Whichever one you choose, be consistent. Follow through.
Now go back and re-teach your expectation. Talk to your son about why he is smoking marijuana, and help him find an alternative behavior in which to engage. For instance, if smoking pot is a coping method for stress, have him come up with healthier ways to relax. If he is doing it to be part of the crowd, have him think of ways to find more positive role models with whom to associate. If he doesn’t know why he is doing it, have him determine other ways to handle boredom.
I am a single mom of a good 11-year-old girl who is spreading her wings lately by pulling away from family influences and turning more to her friends. Here is a specific example of what I mean: I suffered from several severe sunburns while growing up. My siblings, my parents and I have all had skin cancer. So my daughters know the importance of wearing sunscreen. They have always worn SPF 50, and they have never had sunburns.
Today my daughter went to the pool with her friends. She put on sunscreen before leaving the house except for the area where her swim top covers. She didn’t wear the top, and she came home with a burn on her shoulders, back and upper arms.
How or what do you say when your child does the exact opposite of what you have told her to do, and as a result suffers a negative consequence? I don’t want to be an “I-told-you-so” mom.
You are right about her age being a time of demonstrating new independence. This is a very tough time in parenting. You will see her make choices that are the opposite of what you have instructed her to do, and this is frustrating.
We encourage you to use this understandably sensitive issue as a teachable moment for you and your daughter. She has already earned her consequence – in this case a natural consequence – by getting sunburn. We hope this will be enough to prevent her from repeating her mistake.
To make the most of this teaching moment, we encourage you to calmly explain why sun block is so important and that by choosing not to use it, she has earned a natural consequence. Then explain to her what she could have done differently. Ask her why, with the hope that she will take responsibility for her actions and be able to verbalize her understanding of what she did wrong.
With any defiant behavior in which your child does not follow your rules or instructions, there should be a consequence. It should be meaningful to your child, and the punishment should “fit the crime.” You shouldn’t overreact, as in grounding her for five years for not doing a chore. If you feel additional consequences must be earned for not following your instructions, these guidelines should help.
I am a 32-year-old mother of four boys. I discipline by yelling and arguing, and I want to change this pattern. I just get frustrated when my children don’t listen and refuse to do their chores. How can I get my children to listen without resorting to yelling?
When you speak to your sons:
1. Get at their eye level so you can look into each other’s eyes.
2. Remove distractions by turning off the TV or electronic devices.
3. Be aware of your body language and tone of voice. Kids read meaning into them as much as the words you use.
Teach them the following listening skills. They will need to know these social skills throughout their lives. Social skills have behavioral steps, meaning that when your children use them, you will be able to see those behaviors and reinforce them or encourage them to use the ones they have left out.
LISTENING TO OTHERS
When someone is speaking, you should:
1. Look at the person who is talking.
2. Sit or stand quietly.
3. Wait until the person is finished talking. (Don’t interrupt; it will seem like you are being rude or are uninterested.)
4. Show that you understand. (Say “OK,” “Thanks” or “I see.” Ask the person to explain if you don’t understand.)
At a neutral time, remove distractions and teach your boys these skills. Describe what you want them to do (the steps above). Give them a good “kid reason” for doing it that way. A “kid reason” shows the benefit to them and not the adult. Have them practice what you have just taught them. Practice frequently, keep it brief and make it fun.
Give them reasons why listening is an important skill to learn. It shows that you are polite, pleasant and cooperative. It increases the chances that people will listen to you. Listening will also help you do the right thing since you are more likely to understand what the other person has said.
When you observe your sons using these skills or even some of them, reinforce them, praise them for using the skills and describe specifically what they did well. It may sound like this: “Way to go! You are using your listening skills. When Mommy started to talk, you stopped what you were doing and looked right at me. That’s great! Next time, remember to wait until I am finished talking before you ask a question or say OK.”
I am a 51-year-old parent with a 9-year-old girl and a 5-year-old boy. My children have no focus. My wife and I often resort to yelling in order for our children to follow our instructions. We hate doing this. Though our children are spoiled, they do not get everything they want. But there is no urgency to do what we ask of them. What can we do?
Parenting is both rewarding and challenging. You are right on track when you mention that your children are spoiled. “Spoiled” does not necessarily mean getting everything that you want. When children whine, argue to get their way, do not take no for an answer or get several warnings or chances before they do a requested chore, they appear disrespectful or ungrateful, thus spoiled.
If they know Dad will repeat his request multiple times before the yelling starts or if they have not received immediate consequences in the past, they have learned to ignore adult directives.
You and your wife can turn your situation around with time and a consistent, concerted effort. First, you and your wife must agree on a parenting plan. Discipline is most effective when it comes from a united front, which means that you and your wife will be working together.
Discipline is not just delivering a punishment – it is teaching: 1. Teach them what behaviors you expect; 2. Model that behavior for them, even practicing with them; 3. Tell them the consequence of not abiding by that behavior; and 4. Offer either a reward or punishment appropriate for the behavior that they display.
Have a family meeting at which you state the new house rules. Given your children’s young ages, five minutes is long enough. Say something like this: “From now on when Mom and Dad call your name, this is what we want you to do: 1. Stop whatever you are doing. 2. Look directly at us and listen. 3. Repeat back what you need to do. 4. Go do it.”
Role-play a situation with them that is likely to occur in your house. If your son is playing a video game, for example, he will need to 1. Put the controller down. 2. Look at you and listen. 3. Say “You want me to turn the game off in two minutes.” 4. Stop the game in two minutes.
If your children know ahead of time that they will lose a privilege if they fail to follow your plan, you most likely will have success. But this won’t happen overnight. You must be consistent and patient. It took your children a long time to learn their poor listening skills. It will take a long time – a few months even – to unlearn them.
I have twin girls and an almost 4-year-old boy. I am having discipline problems that are getting worse. I am getting frustrated and need some advice.
Learning to apply effective consequences is one of the most difficult parenting techniques. When your children are young, it is even harder because you might not see the effect the consequence is having right away. All you can see are the temper tantrums and limit-testing.
It is important to discuss what discipline is. Many parents equate discipline with punishments. This is not true. Discipline means structure and instruction. We have to teach our children appropriate behaviors (sometimes repeatedly). Otherwise they learn from other “teachers,” such as TV, their peers and the media.
Once you identify an inappropriate behavior, stop the behavior immediately. Once the behavior is stopped, issue an immediate consequence (a time-out, removal of toy, etc.). Then discuss and practice a more appropriate behavior.
For example, if a child is throwing a toy, calmly stop the behavior by describing what he was doing. This might sound like, “Right now you are throwing your toys. Because you chose to throw your toy, you cannot play with this toy the rest of the day.” Then explain to him how he should play with his toys.
His behaviors show that he needs reminding. So set your expectations of how you want him to play by telling him what he SHOULD do and not what he SHOULDN’T do. Focus on the positive. Then ask him to show you how to correctly play with a different toy. This is his practice. If he plays nicely with it, praise him for following your instructions.
Boys Town does offer a parenting class for parents of toddlers and preschoolers. If you are interested, let us know and we can see if there is a class being held in your area. If not, you can always go online to the Boys Town Press and purchase the book titled “Common Sense Parenting: Toddlers and Preschoolers.”
My 15-year-old son acts inappropriately. He says he will do what we want him to do, but then he does what he wants all the time. He lies, telling us he has done what we’ve asked when we can clearly see that he hasn’t. Many of his actions are endangering the well-being of his infant sibling. How can I help him change his behavior?
This situation with your 15-year-old is very concerning. We recommend that you immediately increase your monitoring of your son around the baby. Do not allow him to be around the baby without a responsible adult present. And when given a task, have him work where he can be continuously monitored.
Your son has shown that he cannot be trusted. Teach him that following instructions does include saying that he will follow them, but the next step is to begin the task immediately and to complete it to the best of his ability. The final step is to check back with the person who assigned the task.
If you are unsure how long it will take him to complete a task, ask him that question prior to giving the instruction. When the task is completed, compare what he told you to the actual time spent.
If you continue to have concerns, it may be helpful to schedule an appointment for him with a counselor. Sometimes as parents we try everything we can think of, but professional intervention is needed to make the necessary changes.