Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Stress, Stress, Stress & Behaviours Galore

Too Many Behaviours to Manage

An angel when sleeping ... You just wait!

What do you do when your child misbehaves over every little thing? 

I'm talking:
  • Temper tantrums because they can't find a toy
  • Screaming at their brother because he's in their way
  • Hitting Mom because they're mad
  • Refusing to clean up their messes
So what's the deal?  Why do some kids act like this?  As parents we often think that our child is just difficult, but more often than not, it's simply because we just don't know what is causing the behaviour.

The actual behaviour doesn't matter all that much.  What matters is the events that led up to a behaviour (trigger) and what is causing your child to have difficulty fulfilling the expectation (lagging skill).

Let me tell you about my little man.  When he was young, I was so frustrated because he acted out all the time.  He was constantly having temper tantrums over what seemed like nothing.

What I didn't realize is that he was frustrated.  He couldn't communicate well, he was very routine oriented and had a hard time transitioning from one activity to the next, and he was not handling his stress very well when he couldn't accomplish something.

How did I handle it?

At first, I used behaviour management tricks that worked with my eldest child.
  • Incentives for good behaviour
  • Praise
  • 1, 2, 3 Magic (count to 3, the child complies within that time, otherwise there's a consequence)
  • Time limits 
  • Time outs
  • Consequences for inappropriate behaviour
  • Revoking privileges
Nothing worked!  He just flat out refused to function appropriately.  I was even convinced that he could be ODD (Oppositional Defiant Disorder).

After trying everything I could possibly think of, I decided it was time to compromise.  I finally started listening to my child.  I followed his cues (as he was non-verbal).  I paid attention to what events led up to him becoming upset and came to conclusions as to his triggers.

I noticed that he was very routine based and needed to finish what he was doing before moving onto a new task, so I starting giving him 5 minute warnings when it was going to be time to transition and if need be, helped him to complete his project.

I noticed that he didn't have good coping skills when something didn't go his way, so I started talking to him calmly and prompting him to show me what he needed help with and modeling how I expected him to speak.  I simply told him in a soft, soothing voice that there was no need to get upset, Mommy was here to help him.

As I became more in tune with his needs and helping to improve the skills he was lacking in, he became happier and his behaviours began to diminish.

Now that I have a good understanding of his needs, common behaviour management techniques are working.  We use 1, 2, 3 Magic a lot and I give choices on a regular basis.  If he is acting inappropriately, I just have to ask, "How do you get help?" or "How do you talk to Mommy?"

How do I decide which behaviours to deal with?  I can't deal with them all?

We made a mental chart of what we had to deal with, what we were going to compromise on, and what we simply weren't willing to work on at that time.

I have to deal with this:

Sometimes you have to force your will on your child.  Usually this involves a safety issue.

My son doesn't like to hold my hand in the parking lot, but when cars are driving near us, he has no choice.  I know I chance him having a meltdown, but that's just too bad.

I do have an option for after the fact though.  I can talk with my child later and discuss why I need to hold his hand.  I know that my son likes to be independent, so I compromise with him by allowing him to walk independently as long as he stays close to me, but as soon as there are cars, he needs to take hold of my hand.

Things that I don't have time for:

You can't deal with everything, otherwise your stress levels will go through the roof.  So, decide which items can go on the back burner.

For us, our son doesn't like to stay seated during supper time.  This is the least of our concerns, so we decided to let it go until we had other behaviours under wrap.  Now that we've successfully dealt with his other needs, we are finally starting to work on staying seated during supper time.

How to deal with the rest:

It's a good idea to start a journal or keep track using a chart, the events that lead up to a behaviour (who, what, where, and when).  Then look for a trend. 

Perhaps your child is well behaved in the morning, but often shows unfavourable behaviours after he's been up for awhile.  You might conclude that they are tired and require more naps.

If your child consistently acts out when you interrupt an activity they are in the middle of, they might have difficulties transitioning.

Once you have a list of antecedents (these are the trigger events or expectations), this Thinking Skills Reference List from Think:Kids is a useful tool for determining the skills that your child might need some extra help with:
  • Language & Communication
  • Attention & Working Memory Skills
  • Emotion & Self Regulation Skills (handy work set)
  • Cognitive Flexibility Skills
  • Social Thinking Skills
If a child feels that they can't accomplish something, it's only human nature to try to avoid that task.  Challenging behaviours are definitely an effective avoidance strategy.

Working with your child instead of against your child will help them to feel like you understand and care about their needs.

Collaborate with your child.  Talk to them about their concerns related to accomplishing a certain task, then you share your concerns.  Brainstorm together to come up with a solution that is acceptable to both of you.

When I adopted this technique, my world completely changed.  My stress revolving around dealing with my challenging child is gone.  I'm happy, he's happy, and so is the rest of our family.

As a parent, one of our jobs is to teach our children, but our other job is to learn from our children.

Monday, 16 March 2015

What! My Child has to be Toilet Trained Before Starting School? We Aren’t Ready!

Toilet Training for Older Children

Why am I having so much trouble with toilet training?  My other child was toilet trained by the age of 3, but my youngest is about to start school and isn’t there yet?  I don’t know what I’m doing wrong?

Remember, every child is different.  There is no set age in which your child will be ready.  Sometimes there are other factors that are affecting their ability to use the toilet appropriately, such as developmental delays, food sensitivities, and anxiety. 

Our Story:

I have a 5-year-old son who constantly defecated in his pants and had frequent pee accidents.  It was driving me nuts.  Most of the time, I stayed calm and was patient and supportive, as I figured he would do it when he was ready and I knew that there were other factors lending to this toilet training delay (food sensitivities, anxiety, very mild developmental delay).  But every parent has their moments and I must say that I was starting to become extremely frustrated.  I knew he understood that he was supposed to go on the toilet and that he was capable of doing it, but he simply wouldn’t.

So, what changed?

I think that part of it was my perception of the situation.  I decided to trust in the experts (Pediatrician, Occupational Therapist) and succumb to the fact that it would happen when he was ready.  You can tell yourself all you want that they will do it when they are ready, but you need to really believe it.  Kids can pick up on your frustrations even when you are doing your best to hide them.

By really believing that he would do it when he was ready, I was able to truly exhibit patience and a supportive attitude.  When he was successful, my praise was genuine (Way to go!  I knew you could do it!  I’m so proud of you!).

White Board Toilet Training Chart
~ Customize this chart for your child! ~

As added incentive, I set up a visual sticker chart on the wall to track his progress.  I also made a very cool white board version.  We would regularly consult the chart and say things like, “Wow, look how many times you went pee on the toilet!  Good job!”

I don’t often use external rewards with my children, but at this point, I was willing to try anything.  I got a transparent container and filled it with little treats from the bulk store.  Every time he went pee on the toilet, he got one treat and when he went poo, he got 5 treats.  When the container is empty, we will talk about how, HE DID IT and that he’s officially a big boy now who knows how to use the toilet all by himself.  So far, this is working really well.  Because I know he won’t just help himself to the treats, he is allowed to count out his treats on his own when he uses the toilet.

I’m sure you are wondering what I do when he has an accident.  With confirmation from his pediatrician, I simply stay calm, take him to the bathroom, show him where the poo and pee goes (we literally put the poo in the toilet and flush it), and put him in the bathtub to get cleaned up (first he must try to clean himself, then I help with the rest).  I don’t scold him or get upset, I simply ask him where he needs to go the next time he has to poo or pee and encourage his ideas when they are appropriate.

Through this process, he is learning that the natural consequence of going to the washroom in his pants is to spend time getting cleaned up afterwards.  If he didn’t make it to the washroom because he was too busy playing, well now, he is learning that he loses more play time cleaning up his messes than he would have by just going to the washroom on his own.  Eventually, he will ask himself, is it really worth it?

As he got older and I realized that he understood that he needed to use the toilet, but was still choosing not to (often because he was too busy playing), I started a toileting schedule.  I talked to him about how it's unhealthy to go to the washroom in his pants.  I let him know that when he started making better choices (I asked him what some better choices might be to let him be a part of the process), he won't have to be on a schedule any longer.  Our schedule consisted of going to the washroom every hour and simply trying.  I slowly increased the time to allow him the opportunity to choose to use the bathroom on his own.

Another contributing factor was when he decided that he was a big boy and didn’t want to wear pull-ups any longer.  We had a talk about why he was wearing a pull-up.  I told him that we would try wearing underwear, but then he would have to use the toilet all the time.  When he had 3 accidents in a row, I switched him back to pull ups.  He was not impressed.  As he started showing me that he could use the toilet using a pull-up, we switched back to underwear.

So, did all of this work? 


Alex is now 5 years and 2 months old and for the past week, he has been using the toilet regularly on his own with no accidents.  I am one proud mother.

How Do I Help My Child Overcome Toileting Barriers?

Determine if they have a food sensitivity:

We were able to determine that our son had a sensitivity to dairy products by looking at:
  • Family History (I have a sensitivity, as well as my parents and sister)
  • Frequency of Bowel Movements (runny and frequent is definitely not good and neither is waiting 2 days or more – this causes strain on the bowels)
  • Looking at common food triggers and journaling their consumption and changes in bowel movements shortly after or the following day (common irritants: dairy, gluten, soy)
  • Cramping, smelly gas, bloating (I felt it was odd that a child would experience bloating)
  • Dry, rashy skin or swelling (we didn’t experience this, but my husband experiences this, which led me to think about family history and that irritants affect different people in different ways)
  • Constant congestion, runny nose, and/or cough
  • Fatigue (even with a healthy diet, he had unexplained lows throughout the day)
  • Change in mood (he definitely can’t have sugar, he turns into a grumpy maniac)
Are they having anxiety around using the toilet?

Using the toilet is foreign to children.  They don’t necessarily understand that their feces and urine are dirty.  They’ve been going in their diaper all along, so why change a good thing?  The toilet is scary; sitting doesn’t feel nearly as comfortable as squatting (and is actually unnatural to our physiology when expelling waste); and many children thrive off of routine, so changing that can be stressful for them.

For these reasons, it’s important that you avoid scolding, spanking, and forcing your child to use the toilet when they aren’t ready.  Some parents find that their child will hide their feces or try to clean it up on their own, ultimately making a much larger mess.  This is a sign that your child may have anxiety surrounding washroom routines and may feel uncomfortable to talk to you about it, especially if they fear reprimand.  Talk to your child about why they are behaving this way.  Ask them why they don’t want to use the toilet.  Reassure them that you won’t be upset with them and that you know it can be scary to talk about this stuff, but you love them no matter what.

When children are young, try to make using the toilet a fun thing.  Show your child that Mom and Dad use the toilet and then there’s no mess to clean up after (literally take them to the bathroom with you when you go).  Start a new routine where they sit on the toilet and read stories and have cuddle time (start with their pants up, then transition to pants down).  Part of your routine could include a treat that they enjoy at the end to associate a positive connotation with using the toilet.  Ultimately, your goal is to maintain patience and a supportive attitude.

Does your child have a developmental delay?

As a teacher, I knew from a very early age (7-8 months) that something wasn’t quite right, but I certainly wouldn’t expect that the average parent would be aware of the signs.  One thing you can do, is consult the Nipissing District Developmental Screen to determine if your child is meeting developmental milestones.  If you think there might be a problem, then talk to an expert, such as a Pediatrician or an Occupational Therapist.  These services are offered for free, but they often have wait lists, so try to be proactive and do some of your own research while you are waiting.  The Health Unit often offers home services to help parents who reach out to them.  There are definitely support groups that are willing to help you and it won’t cost you anything, so ask around.  Your local Early Year’s Center or School might be able to send you in the right direction or make a referral for you to receive services.

What do I do if my child is starting school and they aren’t toilet trained?

We encountered exactly this problem. 

Since our son did have a developmental delay, we were able to have his therapists and pediatrician collaborate with the school and determine a plan of action.  Our plan was for an educational assistant to take him to the washroom on a schedule and deal with any messes in a private room.  We started with pull-ups and transitioned to underwear as he improved. 

Parents who advocate for their children can receive services to help their children succeed.  The school can’t provide those extra services without the paperwork to back it up because they need a paper trail indicating a need in order to obtain funding to pay for the extra help.  Educational Assistants (EA) are allowed to help children who have an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) with their toileting needs, but teachers are legally not allowed to help your child (they can only talk your child through the process from outside the bathroom).  This is why you need to advocate for your child.  You need to make sure that an EA is assigned to your child for a portion of the day.  Talk to the principal and Kindergarten teacher to indicate that you would like to set up a meeting to discuss your child’s needs before school starts.  The process takes time, so try to get all of your ducks in a row at least a year in advance.

Good luck, I know you can do it too!

Friday, 13 March 2015

Techniques for Limiting Screen Time & Content

The Electronic Conundrum

When I was young, we played, played, and played some more.  I remember playing cops and robbers outside with the neighbours and playing countless board games with my family.  Lego was also a big hit.  In fact, I learned later in life that my parents never bought me my own Lego in order to manipulate me into playing with my brother.  Well played, Mom and Dad.

Electronics Promoting Parallel Play
well Past the Natural Developmental Phase (2-3 years)

I even remember the day when we got our first Nintendo.  Wow, were we excited.  There's nothing like the classics, Super Mario, The Legends of Zelda, and of course, Duck Hunt (I must say, I was awesome at that game, but that in no way dictates that I'm a good shot in real life, quite the contrary).  If I remember correctly, it wasn't until later that we discovered the joys of Mario Cart.  Countless hours were wasted playing these games.  We did, however, still play all the time and as we got older, we went to karate about 3 times per week, so lots of exercise there.

Now, forward to 2015.  Technology has become mainstream in our society.  Almost everyone has a cell phone (Except me, we don't get service at my house, so what's the point in having that outrageous monthly fee?).  Many kids have a DS, Wii, Xbox, iPad, iPod Touch, tablet, TV, and/or a computer/laptop.  It's not that they have one of these items; They have many.  I see children who often jump from one electronic device to the next or have 2 running simultaneously.  They spend hours performing sedentary activities, while eating sugary foods.  I'm not saying that my own children don't do these things.  They certainly go through stages of doing exactly this.  Life gets busy, you just need a moment of peace and quiet, suppers need to be made without constant interruption.  Then my husband and I will stop and say, "Hey, we need to make a change!"   

Why is this a problem?  According to Kid's Health, the brain development in the first 2 years of life is at it's peak performance.  Children are learning to play, explore their surroundings, and develop social and physical skills.  

An increase in screen time deters children from being physically active, reading, completing homework, playing with friends, and interacting with family members.  Not only does it affect their development, it also leads to childhood obesity.

What have I learned as a teacher?  Learning through play and interacting with your environment is extremely important in developing proper social skills, making connections between new and old information to enhance comprehension and learning, and promotes an active, healthy lifestyle.  

Violence in Electronics:  Children learn the natural consequences of their actions by having the opportunity to explore their environment.  When a child falls off of a play set, they learn that they need to be extra careful when climbing to greater heights.  When they speak politely to their parents, their parents are more apt to fulfill their wishes.  For every action, there is a consequence, whether good or bad.  Children learn this through countless trials and errors.  As they collect several similar memories of their actions and consequences, they start to make connections between them and form a concrete concept of how the world works and their part in it.

When children spend the majority of their time in front of the screen, they are decreasing natural learning and increasing unrealistic learning.  When a character dies in a video game, you can start all over again.  When they get hurt, it surely doesn't send their character to the hospital for a month or two with rehabilitation.  They can't feel or experience what happens on the screen.  The less time that children spend in real life circumstances and the more time they spend playing unrealistic games, the less opportunity your child will have to fully comprehend the actual consequences of their actions.

Parallel Play: Parallel play or playing along side another child without communicating or interacting is a normal developmental step for a toddler (aged 2-3 years) and is a great step that leads to playing in groups as children develop their social skills.

The problem is that so many children in our society will play with their siblings or visit their friends and there they all are, side by side on their electronic devices.  More often than not, I hear one child comment about their own game, while the other child, oblivious to what their friend said, responds by commenting about their own game.  There is definitely a lack of proper communication.  

Can you imagine if we all walked around all day communicating with each other by only speaking about ourselves and what we are doing and never responding to what others are saying?  This is definitely the skill that our children are practicing.

Lack of Imagination: One major issue that I have noticed, arises when my children go through a stage of increased electronic use.  When I cut them off to take a break, they have absolutely no idea what to do with themselves.  Even when I make suggestions, they simply aren't good enough.

Why is this?  Electronics offer instant gratification.  They have exciting colours and tasks to accomplish, children can jump from game to game as their interest wanes, and they are frequently rewarded for completing a level or task.  This is an external motivator.  It's easy to obtain.  It supports the concept of what will I get if I do this?  Children don't have to think or try very hard to be successful.   

In regards to television use, children become zoned in and literally start behaving like zombies.  Have you ever tried to talk to a child who is zoned in on their show? 

What is an internal motivator?  We want to shift our children's goals to internal motivators.  This is the drive that moves people forward in life to better themselves.  Internal motivation is the need to succeed, get excited about your accomplishments, and work towards personal goals.  Life long learners have internal motivation.  People with a strong work ethic, who strive to be the best and move up the ladder, have internal motivation.  We want to put our efforts into facilitating our children's internal motivators.

How do I Increase my Child's Internal Motivators and Foster Creativity?  
The Wonderous Sounds of Creative Play

  • Model the desire to learn & improve in yourself (read books, have hobbies, play sports, make goals and work towards them)
  • Encourage your children to play outside (children love to get creative outside by making forts, playing in the dirt with trucks and shovels, making rivers in the dirt when the snow is melting, helping in the garden, making snacks over a fire pit, playing tag, or the most recent games I've heard of are Man Hunt, real life Minecraft, real life Prodigy (after an online Math game), dragon riding, and basically anything that mimics their favourite things revered by the media)
  • Foster your children's learning by paying attention to their interests and encouraging them to create a goal related to that interest (My son loves rocks, so I buy him books about rocks that I read to him each night, we search out special rocks in the yard and research them, he has a special spot for his rock collection, he has a magnifying glass to analyze his rocks, I'm planning to create a chart where he can document his findings)
  • Motivate your child by using praise (Way to go!  You're almost there!  I'm so proud of you!)
  • Indicate ways to improve by first pointing out something you like, then pointing out an area for improvement ("I really like all of these rocks you have collected.  Can you please find me a rose quartz for our collection?" - If your child doesn't know what that is, show them how to find out - books, Google, ask an expert, go on an excursion to the Science Center)
  • Take interest in your child's learning.  Children love when they can share their interests with their parents.  You are their biggest influence 
  • Sign your children up for extracurricular events
  • Limit screen time
How do I Limit Screen Time?  

This sounds challenging, but honestly, it's not as hard as you think.  My children were not impressed, the first time I decided that we needed to make some serious changes in our house, but I took some steps that were very useful in preparing them for the change.
  •  First, I talked to my kids about the health risks of using electronics too much.  I told them that their health and happiness is the most important thing to me and that is why we are making these changes
  • Compromise with your children - Let them know that you think it would be best to take away the screen completely, but you don't think it's fair to them, so you are willing to compromise by allowing them to earn screen time.  If they argue with you about this, let them know that the alternative is no electronics at all
  • Set limits and stick to them - If you don't follow through on the limits that you set, then why did you bother to set them in the first place?  Following through allows your children to know that when you say something, you mean it
  • In our house, we have must do chores required for being part of a functioning family and extra chores that allow them to earn money or screen time - it's their choice (Here is a Handy Electronic Use Chart that you can use and edit)
  • Your children will likely argue with you about wanting to use their electronics more often.  Simply tell them that they know the rules and why they are there.  Their choices are to play with something else or give them a list of chores they are welcome to complete
What are the Recommended Screen Times?  
Pediatricians are recommending no more than 2 hours of electronics time per day and for children under the age of 2, they suggest that you eliminate the use of electronics completely.

We know that every family functions differently, so use the recommendations to prove your point that electronic use needs to be limited, but do what works for you and your family.

I know that I usually need some quiet time when I'm preparing supper after a busy day to maintain my sanity.  I don't make my children earn the use of their electronics at this time.  If they are occupied doing something other than electronics, then that's Great!  However, if they aren't and they are tired and whining and constantly fighting, then we have a problem.  This is when I don't have the time or energy to help them sort things out, as I'm exhausted myself and lacking patience.  This is a time when the TV can be a very helpful babysitter.  I'm not overly concerned with allowing this because I have dictated that this is a TV watching time and it ends as soon as supper is ready.

My children get car sick, so this doesn't work for us, but I know many parents who allow an extended amount of electronics time on long car rides.  This makes sense because there's only so much time you can dedicate to singing songs and playing punch buggy seeking games (we never find these anymore).  Since we can't use electronics in our car, we bring dinosaurs and other action figures for the kids to play with. 

Some parents have "No Electronic Days."  I think this is a great way to foster imaginative play.  When children know that there is no chance of using their electronics, they have no alternative but to find other interests.  Some well loved activities include making crafts (Rainbow Loom, learning to knit, Minecraft Papercraft, etc.), marble runs, and Lego is a big hit.  Just today, my kids were making a Lego city.  It's great how they can turn small goals of making individual buildings and vehicles into a larger goal of creating an entire city.  Definitely a great step in cultivating internal motivation.

How to Get the Most Out of Screen Time?

We live in a technological society, so to ignore that seems futile.  But we can make better choices where electronics are involved.  

Electronic Toys: On our iPad, we have folders set up for each child that contain learning apps that are appropriate to their age.  We also have a folder with popular games that they've seen their friends playing and they just have to have them.  We set limits as to when they can play outside of their designated "educational" folders.  This way, I know that most of the time when they are using electronics, they are learning something at the same time.

Television:  We are able to set up Channel Lists with our TV provider, so I have a list set up for my children with channels that I feel are appropriate.  I choose some that have fun, fictional shows (Tree House, Disney, PBS Kids) and some that are non-fiction and educational (Animal Planet, Discovery).  My children know that they can only choose from that list of channels.

How do I Deal with Temper Tantrums and Misbehaviour over Electronics?

Oh, the joys of taking a child's electronics from them.  It doesn't always go over well.  I've encountered temper tantrums (which also arise when they are having trouble passing a level or an add pops up on their screen, disrupting their play), screaming, arguing, can you think of any others?

Here is What I Do:

Whenever it's time to transition from playing electronics to another activity, I give them a 5 minute warning.

If my child has earned time for electronics, they set a timer (usually on the iPad and when the timer goes off, they are done).  My eldest loves to check the clock app every once in awhile to see how much time is left.

If my children choose not to follow the rules during "Electronics Time", their electronics are taken away.  They learn quite quickly that these are not the consequences that they want to receive for their actions and choose more wisely in the future. 

Sometimes this results in a temper tantrum or screaming.  To this, I say, "You chose to lose your electronics by not following the rules, if you choose to act this way, there will be another consequence.  You have 2 choices, find something else to do or continue acting out and spend some time in your room until you are ready to calm down and act nicely."  If they keep acting out, I tell them that they have until the count of 3 and then they will go to their room until they are calm.

Arguing basically ends with the same speech, except that this behaviour is usually conducted by older children with whom you can have a more detailed conversation.  I let them know that arguing is pointless, but if they want to earn more electronic time, they can do some chores or they can find something else to do.  If they continue to argue, I tell them that they have until the count of 3 and then I will choose for them and I will be choosing for them to spend some quiet time in their room.

If you have an exceptionally challenging child who continues to act out in their room by kicking doors, yelling, etc., you can do one of the following:
  • For young children, who might not comprehend an in depth conversation, I've had to go up to their room, give them one warning, "You can sit on your bed quietly or I will have to hug you until you calm down.  It's your choice, you have until the count of 3."  If your child chooses to sit quietly, thank them for making a good choice and ask if they are ready to choose another activity.  If they continue acting out, bring them to their bed and hug them tightly enough, that you won't get hurt.  Tell them that once they are calm, they can choose something else to do."
  • With older children who continue to act out in their rooms, I go to their rooms and let them know that the longer they act out, the longer they will stay in their rooms.  If they are hitting doors, they are to stop immediately, otherwise, they will have to pay for a new one out of their own pocket or do chores to make up for it.  They also will not get their electronics back until the door is paid for
  • When you are done dealing with your child's misbehaviour, always talk to them about their actions ("I can't trust you when you don't follow the rules," "Was sneaking around and playing your electronics without permission a good choice?") and ask them what would be a better choice for next time
  • It's easier to learn how to follow through when your children are younger.  The earlier they learn that you mean what you say, the less behaviour issues you will have in the future.  My youngest has a developmental delay, so it took him awhile to comprehend the consequences of his behaviour, but I remained diligent, talked to him about his actions and better choices for the future, found a way to communicate with him without him using words ("Show me.", "Nod your head, yes or no."), as this was a large cause of his behaviour, and stayed calm and encouraging.  It sounds challenging, and it was, but now, he is so much easier to manage.  He's happy and follows the rules for the most part.  When he doesn't, he quickly changes his tune.
Limiting electronic use in the home will likely be a challenge at first, but you now know that others have done it before you and it is definitely possible.  Stay strong, informed, and positive.  You can do it!  

Saturday, 7 March 2015

How to Teach Your Child to Clean Up After Themselves

The Mother of all Messes

The mother of all messes happened at my parent's house over the Christmas Holiday.  

Huge Mess, board game mess, kid mess, ultimate mess, pile of board games

To give you a little background information, my youngest son, Alex is the ultimate mess maker.  From the youngest age, he would pull everything out of a cupboard, then while I cleaned that up, he would do the same somewhere else in the house.  It was a never ending cycle.  He especially loves to take all of the toys out of every organized bin that I have in the playroom and make a huge pile.  I thought that that was the worst mess ever, but you just wait.

THE MOTHER OF ALL MESSES was one for the books.  Now, as I'm sure you all know, our little mess makers do their best damage when we aren't paying attention.  It's a total free for all.  So, I'm sure you can imagine just how much attention we were paying when visiting my parents, brother and his wife, sister and her boyfriend, all of whom I haven't seen in awhile.  We had a great holiday supper with wine and beer, toured the beautiful addition and renovations that my parents had just completed, and it was memorable.

Now, when I was a kid, we used to love playing in the crawlspace.  We were the perfect height and it felt like a wondrous fort.  I love letting my kids play under there so that they can share in my childhood memories.

What I completely forgot about, is that my parents store over 20 board games on a shelving unit in the crawlspace.  There are games like Monopoly, a few finance board games with similar looking money, Bingo with a ton of extra chips (I'm not sure why), Clue, Scattergories, Pit (the old school one with oats and barley; the new one has coffee and sugar amongst other commodities), and many other games requiring a billion question cards that you pick out of a box.

I'm sure you can guess what happened?  But I'm sure you won't guess to what extent.

It was a disaster.  The funny part was that my sister went down there earlier and saw the mess, but decided not to tell anyone so she wouldn't get stuck cleaning it up.  It wouldn't have been so bad if cards were taken out as a group and still relatively close to each other, but not my child.  He wouldn't do that.  He took his time on this enormous task.  He made sure that absolutely every card and piece of money was taken out of every box and mixed at random with all the parts of each and every other game.  He made sure to separate the lids, bottoms, and dividers of boxes.  This obviously took careful planning.

Needless to say, we were not impressed.  I was, however, impressed with our ability to stay calm.  I think that I was so impressed with the large scale of this mess and the stealth that it took to accomplish such a task without getting caught, that I forgot to be angry.

Normally, I would say that the child would have the natural consequence of cleaning up their mess, but there was no way that he would be able to sort out this mess at 4 years old.  So, this is what we did.  My husband and I brought him downstairs, showed him the mess, and asked if he did it.  He did.  We talked about how this is NOT ok and that if he wants to play with a game, he can take one out at a time, clean it up, then get a new one.  Since we couldn't expect him to clean this up, we had him sit in a chair and watch us clean it up.  We wanted him to understand what was involved in cleaning up this mess.  I think it must have taken us close to 2 hours.  Our backs were definitely sore after that.  I was amazed that he didn't complain about sitting in the chair.  He must have known that this act was on a whole new level of breaking the rules and our calm facade might break at any moment.


When our children are young, we often have the tendency to assume that they are not capable of cleaning up their messes.  We make excuses like, they're too young, they don't understand, when really it's more likely that we're simply too tired to teach them how to do it.

I'm going to let you in on a little secret.  If they can make the mess, they can clean the mess.

Yes, it will take extra work to sit with your child and teach them where things go and what your expectations are, but a bit of extra work now, will save you a huge headache of messes later.  

It's a good idea to take the age of your child into account when teaching them to clean up their messes.  You might literally have to take their hand and pick up the toy with them, then move their hand to where the toy goes.  Once, they figure that out, you can put some things away, while they do the same.  As long as your child is involved in the process and you are not doing it on your own, that is what matters.  It ensures that they are accountable for their actions.  If all your child does is make messes and you always clean them up, you are teaching them that they are not responsible for cleaning up after themselves.  Once they realize that they have to clean up their messes, they will eventually clue in to the fact that the less mess they make, the less work they will have to do afterwards.


If you are ready to actively work on the mess issue, try setting a play timer.  If you know that your child's attention span for playing with one item before they move onto the next item is 10 minutes, then set a timer for 10 minutes, ask them if they would like to continue playing with that item, and if they are done, show them how to clean it up before they move onto the next toy.

You can also set a timer for playtime to ensure that your child has enough time to clean up before you move onto another activity (supper, extracurricular activities, etc.).  If you have to leave the house in 30 minutes for karate, then set the play timer for 10 minutes, then set a 10 minute timer for cleanup, and a 10 minute timer for getting their coats and boots on.  Visual timers are great for kids because it allows them to anticipate how much time they have left.

As your child gets used to cleaning up after themselves, your life will become easier and easier.   You won't have to actively show them how to clean up anymore, they will already know how.


Your child doesn't need a ton of toys to play with, but they probably have a pile of toys acquired from Christmas, birthdays, visiting relatives, and more.  I honestly buy my kids 1 item on their birthday because they get so many things from everyone else that I simply don't need to buy them anything.

So, here is how the bin method works.  Choose a few items that your child is interested in playing with this week.  They can stay in the toy box.  Everything else gets stored away in bins.  Every weekend, you can switch up the toys with something from one of the other bins.  Your child will be super excited to see what new toys they get every week and you won't have a huge pile of toys always waiting to be cleaned up.

I have a friend who has a cupboard of labeled bins and that works great for her kids.  They take the bin they want to play with and when they are done, they put it back.  Keep in mind though, that every child is different.  That would never work for my youngest.  I would literally have to keep that closet locked.


The best way to stay organized, is to have less stuff.  

Before every holiday, we try to go through our toys and get rid of things that the kids have outgrown.  My kids choose what items they would like to send off to a new home.  They understand that their toys would make another child super happy and that if they want new things, they have to make room for them.

I ask them questions such as:
  • When was the last time you played with this?
  • Do you have another toy that's similar to this?
  • Do you really need this?
  • Who do you think would really like this toy?

Friday, 6 March 2015

Giving Choices in Behaviour Management - When Children won't Eat their Supper

Eat your Supper!

Giving Choices to Challenging ChildrenAlex, Alex, Alex.  He is my adorable, sweet, and challenging 5 year old child.  

From the moment he came home today, I knew we were in for an early night.  He and his brother (7 years old) came off the school bus to immediately fighting for my attention.  There was whining and yelling and eventually my oldest faked a punch to his younger brother.  A short break was definitely in order.  

So, the whole "Time Out" thing is becoming faux pas, but honestly, if it's used appropriately, it definitely has it's place in behaviour management.  At this moment, to save everyone's sanity, they were going to their rooms for a moment if only to separate them and give me a moment of peace.  Shortly after, I spoke with each child about appropriate behaviour and asked them what would have been a better choice.  They apologized to each other and we had a group hug.

As long as you ensure that you talk about the behaviour and collaborate with your child to make a plan for success in the future, then time outs can be very effective.

I feel that apologizing is a very important step in resolving a problem.  It makes the offending child accountable for their actions and ensures that the other person involved can feel at peace again.  Wait until your child is calm before asking them to make it right.  This gives them the opportunity to make that decision on their own and also encourages a genuine apology.  If your child doesn't want to say they are sorry, don't force them.  Give them other options to make it right, like giving a hug or talking to the other person about how they will act in the future.


Modelling appropriate behaviour is important for teaching your child how to act.  That goes for apologies.  There are times when I lose my cool and after, I always apologize to my kids for losing my temper.  Sometimes I recognize that I'm under a lot of stress and I make sure I let them know that I'm not angry with them, I'm just not feeling like myself and I'm overreacting.  
Show your children that it's ok to make mistakes as long as you learn from them and make it right. 


Sometimes, after my children have told me how they can make better choices in the future, I have them practice their ideas with each other.  When children have the opportunity to act out appropriate behaviour, it makes it more natural for them.  You are increasing the odds that they will make a good choice in the future.


As the day moved on to supper time, Alex was making more and more poor choices.  Supper was on the table and ready to be eaten, but my little man did not want to eat (I should mention that he likes this supper).  He was everywhere but in his seat eating, even after I brought him back several times.  I asked him a couple more times to please sit down and eat, but you can only ask so many times before you need to take action.  I wasn't going to fight with him, so I gave him 2 choices.  He either sits down and eats his meal or we start getting ready for bed.  I was very specific and told him that if he got up again, that would show me that he is choosing to get ready for bed.  Make sure that your child realizes that they are making the choice.

Of course, he got up again.  Now this is where most parents make the mistake of giving in, so pay close attention.

I informed him that since he got up again, it was now time to get ready for bed.  As I moved towards him, he told me that he was ready to eat.  To be effective as a parent, your children need to know that when you say something, you mean business.  You must follow through!  I told him that he made his choice by getting up again, so I took him by the hand and we started our bedtime routine.  He was quite upset as he cried and kicked at me, but unfortunately, he chose this course of action.  He will learn from this experience that the next time he has this choice, it would be wise to choose sitting and eating.

You can see from the picture above that by the end of our routine (go pee, wash hands, brush teeth, get pj's on, choose a story to read), he was quite happy.  I'll talk about routines in more detail in another post, but to sum it up, routines help children to gear themselves up for the transition.  Alex loves our story and cuddle time, so going through the steps was actually a calming sequence of events that eventually brought us to a calm, happy place.  

Now, to be completely honest, he did try to be silly again after putting on his pj's and tried to run away when I asked him to get a book, but I simply stated, "Oh?  Would you like to go to bed with no story tonight?"  

That got him motivated to find a book and complete our routine.  I also let him read for a bit by himself (actually, it's more like looking at books) after our cuddle time.

By giving Alex choices, I'm allowing him to feel in control of his actions.  I use this technique with all sorts of children.  Those exhibiting ODD, ADHD, Autism, and other developmental disorders.  It is effective because it gives the child ownership over their actions.  No one likes when they are being told what to do.  Think about it from your own point of view.  Would you rather your boss tell you that you have to do an undesirable job or would you rather him or her give you a couple of choices to choose from?

The following day, I gave Alex this option again, as it was a late supper anyways.  He chose to eat his supper.

If I had to choose the most important lesson from this experience, it would be to always follow through on what you say.  So choose wisely, so that it's something you can fulfill.  If you aren't prepared to put your child to bed without supper, then don't make that one of the choices.  I know that my child eats lots of healthy food all day long, so I wasn't concerned.  If supper is the healthiest meal of your child's day, then you might want to make different choices to follow through on, such as losing out on dessert or use of electronics.


On days where I am giving Alex a meal that he isn't as fond of, I use a visual timer.  We have an iPad, so I use the clock app to set a timer.  I didn't give him too much of this supper so it wasn't overwhelming.  I gave him 10 minutes to complete his meal.  If he finishes in time, he can choose a snack that he likes (an apple, orange slices, honey stick, etc.).  He can see a red circle go around the clock, showing when the time is up.  Every few minutes, I give him a reminder to check his time.  If he does not complete his meal in time, then he doesn't get to choose a desired food.  It is your choice to end meal time at the end of the timer or allow him to finish without a desired food following supper time.  Consider setting another timer that indicates the end of supper time, so your child is not sitting there all night.

Talk to your kids about how you work hard to make them healthy foods, so it's important for them to eat them.  Let them know that you understand that they won't like all of your meals, so that is why you are willing to compromise by giving them smaller servings of meals that aren't their favourite and then letting them choose a desired food after (I give choices). 


Kids are definitely more apt to eat supper when they take part in planning the meals.  It gives them ownership over what they eat.  
Try giving your child one meal the plan each week.  Talk about what makes a healthy meal.  Set guidelines such as, each meal must contain vegetables and a meat.  Go through food magazines, cookbooks, and search online for recipes with your child.  If you know that your child really likes chicken, then show them how to search the internet for chicken recipes.  They'll be surprised with all of the choices available to them.  If you have food sensitivities or allergies, try searching gluten-free or paleo meals.  The internet is a great source for seeking recipes that are exempt of foods that you can't eat.