Supporting Parents. Fostering Change.

Setting the Stage for Your Child’s Good Behavior: Step #2

Step Two:  Let your child know your expectations of her in advance

If your child is made aware of behavioral guidelines and expectations in advance of situations, she feels more a part of the decision-making process and also learns to take responsibility for her actions.  As a parent, you are more able to anticipate potential problems than your child can. By using this strategy, you are helping your child anticipate and manage potential problems pro-actively rather than reactively.  Reactive problem solving is rarely successful and often leaves your child floundering for appropriate solutions.

Beth’s daughter, Bella, doesn’t have a shy bone in her body.  She is a bright, friendly ten-year old girl with a terrific sense of humor.  Adults love her, particularly her teachers who think she is quite funny and entertaining.  She’ll start a conversation with anybody who will talk to her. Bella’s problem is that she pays no attention to whether the group of kids she approaches wants to talk to her.  Her peers see her as pushy and intrusive.  Beth wants to be supportive of her daughter in making new friends, especially because there are no children Bella’s age in the neighborhood.  She frequently brings Bella with her to friends’ parties where she knows there will be other children Bella’s age.  Inevitably, these occasions start out all right because Bella is so friendly and outgoing, but they end badly.  Because Bella doesn’t know she comes on too strong with her peers, she doesn’t understand why the kids inevitably reject her; sometimes even running away from her when she comes near them. She worries if Bella continues to be rejected by her peers; she will lose her wonderful, happy spirit.

Beth has an opportunity here to help her daughter be successful next time she is in a social setting with unfamiliar children. This is an ideal time because Bella has experienced an incident that did not go as well as she liked.  Beth found quiet time the day after the party to sit down and talk to Bella about what she can do next time Bella wants to join a group of children.  She made sure to help her daughter feel supported and hopeful.

In preparing your child for future success, remember to keep it simple. Stick to two or three guidelines you can remind her of prior to a challenging engagement.  For Bella, Beth knew that she needs to develop the skill of self-observation.  Children who have impulse control issues have trouble thinking before acting.  Children like Bella need to learn to slow down and understand how others view them.  In this case, it is helpful for Beth to review appropriate behaviors with Bella before another party is attended.

Role playing allows children to practice skills before they need to use them in real-life situations.  Your child has the chance to practice behaviors and receive positive feedback from you.  While you role-play, focus on potential troublesome scenarios and offer solutions to the problems.  Here’s how to role-play:

1. Discuss the skill to be mastered.

Talk with your child about the skill to be mastered.  For instance, Beth talks to Bella about her struggles with joining in.  They get a clear understanding of the problems and the issues that get in Bella’s way.

2. Rehearse the steps.

Verbally rehearse the steps necessary to master the skill.  For example, Bella is trying to learn to join in to a group without coming on too strong with her peers.  Her Mom reviews with her the steps necessary to achieve this goal:

Wait. Watch. Listen.
Stay calm
Go with the flow of the group

4. Set the stage.

Create the scene where this skill is going to be used.  In this case, since Bella has the most trouble joining in to new groups at parties, the role-play can take place at a party.  Pretend there is a group of children playing tag that she wants to join.  When you role-play, the stage will be set for the action to take place.  Create different scenes depending on where your child commonly runs into difficulty. For example, Bella may want to join a group of girls who are just hanging out talking.

5. Model the skill for your child.

Show your child exactly what she should do.  In Bella’s case, Beth may decide to play the role of Bella at a party.  She will go through the steps outlined above, and join the group appropriately.  She models for Bella exactly how this process can succeed.

6. Have your child practice the skill

It’s important that your child knows all these steps before role-playing.  You may need to review the steps or even write them down.  Also review the roles of all of the “players”. For instance, if Beth is going to play a “mean girl” at the party, she’ll need to review with Bella ahead of time how she is going to respond.

Role-playing is a very useful exercise for practicing any behaviors.  The steps remain the same, but the skills themselves change.

Positive feedback is an excellent way to reinforce skills.  Feedback can take the form of suggestions, coaching, praise, and support.

Here are some suggestions for giving feedback:

  • Begin with a positive statement:  “Bella, I like the way you spoke in a calm, clear voice.”
  • Never make discouraging statements: “They’ll never want to play with you if you join in like that!”
  • Give criticism in a constructive way: “You might want to wait a few seconds before you sit down with them.”

Remember that it’s much easier to give negative feedback than positive, but positive feedback is much more effective and far less damaging.

Check back tomorrow for Step # 3

Cathi Cohen, LCSW, CGP

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