You should find the suggestions in the preceding chapters to be useful in most situations, and most children will change and shape their behavior with gentle persuasion and simple behavior modification techniques. There are times, however, when more intense methods are needed. Positive behavior shaping methods are usually the best, however there are times when privileges need to be curtailed and punishments or negative reinforcement needs to be instituted. Children go through difficult phases, have difficulties in their lives that shape their behavior or just have difficult personalities. The strategies and suggestions in this chapter are for those difficult situations. The most important thing to remember (if punishment or negative reinforcement is needed) is that the goal is to teach your child, not be punitive. Punishments or withdrawal of privileges should be instituted just long enough for the child to learn from his mistakes and shape his behavior. It should not be designed to exact revenge or seek justice.
One of the things I find to be the most irritating as a parent are the endless small infractions that my children seem to commit. Name calling, sibling squabbles, breaking small rules and talking back to parents are all incidents that drive me crazy, and that I didn’t always know how to deal with. Of course I took the time to teach my children that these things were not okay and to remind them to obey the rule, but what should I do if the behavior continued? I didn’t always have the time or opportunity to provide a time out, I didn’t want to turn my reward systems into punishment systems by taking away tokens and often the children’s actions were just too minute to take away an entire privilege. These problems inspired me to invent the Strike Chart.
Before this method is used it helps if the family sits down together and discusses the difference between a right and a privilege. A list can be made of rights that each child has in the family and also privileges. It should be explained to the children that they are welcome to use their privileges, with parent permission, when their responsibilities are met. One responsibility of the family is that each child follows the family rules. Explain that the Strike Chart will give parents and children an easy way to keep track of who is following the family rules well and who deserves privileges.
The Strike Chart that our family used was printed on a piece of paper and kept on the refrigerator (see Appendix G). Anytime a child made a small infraction we gave her one strike. Larger infractions may earn two, three or even five strikes. Five strikes would cause a privilege to be lost. Strikes were marked with a pencil on the chart and privileges lost were written below. The chart can also be laminated or put into a sheet protector and markers used to mark it. I found that a pencil and eraser was the best marking implement for our family. The pencil could be erased when strikes were earned back, however they could not be easily or mistakenly erased as a marker could.
One of the things that makes this method of privilege management different than traditional “grounding” is the way privileges are given back. Most of the time when parents ground their children or take away privileges it is for a specified amount of time. Passage of time alone does nothing to teach a child anything and does not guarantee that behavior will change. With the Strike Chart privileges can only be earned back, they would not be freely returned just by the passage of time. The way the privilege was earned back had much to do with the infraction that earned the strikes and the attitude of the child. The first requirement to earn a privilege back is that the child must request it. When my children lose a privilege I tell them to let me know when they are ready to earn it back. This requires that the child adopt a repentant and docile attitude and is the first step to change. While the child is working on an attitude shift I work on possible jobs or tasks that can be completed. I gear the difficulty of the task to the severity of the infraction. If a privilege was lost for five very small infractions over a long period of time the child may be able to earn the privilege back by doing a small household task and having a discussion with Mom or Dad about the rules. If the privilege was lost for a larger infraction and the child did not seem to have learned from her mistake the job may be larger and the discussion would be more detailed. The child may also be required to perform a task to show that she has learned from her mistakes. Tasks may include writing an essay about the problem and how the problem will be fixed or doing something nice for a sibling that was harmed by inappropriate behavior.
When the child comes to me ready to earn the privilege back I present the task or tasks to be done and instructions on exactly how it must be done to be acceptable. For small infractions I may give a choice of a few jobs to complete, but for a large or offensive act I usually only give one choice and there is no discussion on what the task will be. The child chooses to complete the task or she chooses to continue without the privilege. In order for this method to work the child must always have the option to continue without the privilege. You cannot force the child to earn the privilege back.
Personal Strike Chart
Sometimes a child just does not get the program and needs a little more intense behavior intervention. For this purpose I developed the Personal Strike Chart (see Appendix I). This chart lists the child’s jobs and responsibilities as well as a place to record strikes and privileges earned or lost. This chart is used over a week’s time and lays out exactly what needs to be done and what privileges are available. It helps the parent assist the child to plan what must be done and exactly how privileges will be earned or could be lost.
The Strike Chart works very well for my family, and most of the time it has been sufficient to help me teach and shape behavior. There were times, however, that children chose not to ever earn strikes back. A child may be feeling so defiant or hopeless that he chooses to remain without privileges and continue to misbehave. It is important for parents to develop a system where it is always possible to lose more privileges or earn them back. If a child feels that his situation is hopeless and that all privileges have been lost and gaining them back is too difficult there is nothing to stop the child’s behavior from spiraling out of control.
The Level System was developed for a child who was going through a very difficult time in life and was patterned after similar systems used with children with severe emotional or behavior problems by many schools and hospitals. The Level System consists of three levels. Level 3 is the desired level. Children on this level have all privileges available to them. Children with 5 or more strikes would be placed on Level 2. On Level 2 children have 1 or more privileges that are currently unavailable. The lowest level is Level 1. A child can attain Level 1 status by continually losing privileges with no attempt to earn them back, by continued defiance or rule breaking or by one particularly grievous act. On Level 1 a child has no privileges. She has all rights afforded the family, however all privileges must be earned for each use.
When a child is on Level 1 she can earn privileges by filling out a Level 1 Points Chart (see Appendix C) and by performing extra tasks. With a Level 1 Point Chart the day is divided into recording periods and the child is responsible for earning a specified number of points during each recording period. On our chart the morning (generally before school) was one recording period, each hour during the afternoon was a recording period and the evening was the final recording period. Each task that my children must normally perform for each time period counted as one point. Tasks included getting up on time, getting ready for school on time, cleaning bedrooms, completing other jobs and completing homework. To earn a privilege for a recording period a child was required to earn 5 points, by performing the normal required family responsibilities, and then perform an additional task to earn the privilege. Some tasks that only needed to be done once a day (for instance, cleaning room) could earn more than one point during a day. If the child cleaned their room in the morning this would earn the point not only for that recording period, but for each period that day. That way, children were rewarded for doing some tasks early in the day. The child was responsible to bring the chart to Mom or Dad to get marked and keep track of it. If the chart was lost then the points were also lost.
To move from Level 1 to Level 2 a child was required to fill out the chart for 24 hours without falling below 5 points for each recording period. On Level 2 the child was then required to continue with the chart until all previously lost privileges were earned back. As long as the child was on Level 2 he had to continue to earn 5 points for each recording period, however an occasional mistake was tolerated. If a child dropped below 5 points for two recording periods in a row the child immediately returned to Level 1.
One of the best tools that I have used with my children when they are going through a difficult stage is the Parent Child Contract. It is very important for parents and children to really understand each other, their needs and their expectations. Often parents assume that their children know what is expected of them, however the terms are not specifically outlined. We often tell our children to behave themselves and be good, but what exactly does being good and behaving look like? We also believe that we know what our children want, but do we really ask them or just assume we know? The Parent Child Contract opens communication and specifically outlines what is expected.
We first began the Parent Child Contact with a child who was having difficulty, however we found it was such a good tool that we sat each child down for a personal interview and developed a contract. The contract is begun by outlining privileges that are available to the child with proper behavior. We next talked about what the child’s responsibilities were, and the link between privileges and responsibilities was explained. The child then had an opportunity to tell what he expected from his parents. Often our children came up with wants or expectations that we were unaware of. We then shared with the child what steps needed to be taken to realize their expectations, if they were possible to attain. At the end of the interview each person signed and dated the contract. The child was given their own copy of the contact, and the parents copy was stored for future reference. At a later date we could pull out the contract, see if all parties had lived up to their part, and develop a new contract based on new needs and desires.
It is imperative that families learn to communicate. In my job as a teacher I find that effective communication is one of the best tools I have to mitigate problems. Occasionally I find that a student, a parent, another teacher or an administrator is upset about the way I have handled something. I find that if I am able to speak to the individual and explain my reasoning that problems can be avoided. We may not always agree, but we can usually come to an understanding. The ability to effectively communicate is an important skill in all areas of life and in all fields of business. Your child will learn communication patterns, good and bad, from you. It therefore behooves parents to learn and practice good communication techniques.
Communication techniques consist of verbal, non-verbal and written communication. Many of our communication patterns are learned in our families when we are children, and much of the ways we view and interpret the world hinges on the communication patterns we learned as children. Take some time to look at your communication patterns. Listen to what you say, how you say it and what your body language says. Ask your spouse what hidden messages you may be sending, and work on ways to communicate more clearly.
Teach your children to communicate with each other. In my home and my classroom I spend a large amount of time modeling and practicing communication techniques with my children and my students. If a negative exchanges breaks out between children I stop them, and walk them through good communication techniques. The main rule is that they must show respect for the other person. This includes listening when the other person talks, responding to their complaints and changing behavior if necessary.
It is important that not every family exchange be negative so be sure to build time into your family life for your family to regularly talk about what is going on in members’ lives. One of the best places to do this is at the family dinner table. Families should eat a meal together at least several times a week. This is a place for parents and children alike to talk about their day and share their likes and dislikes and opinions about things. It is easy for activities to creep in and take over this family time, but it is vitally important to family health and cohesiveness to provide this opportunity for your family. Also plan a time for regular family councils where the entire family can talk about and share their views on family issues.
As children get older it becomes more and more difficult to plan and protect family time. When our older children approached the teen years we began holding weekly family calendar meetings. I developed a weekly calendar with reoccurring events printed on the calendar. Each family member was assigned a different color of ink, so names did not need to be written, just events and times. (See Appendix F for an example.) We slipped the calendar into a sheet protector and used wet-erase markers to write changing events on the plastic. Each week our family meets together on Sundays to look at our calendar for the following week. I write events that will affect all or most of the family in black on the calendar, and then each family member tells me activities that they have planned for the week that are not on the recurring list. I use the colored markers to write each person’s upcoming events in their color of ink. The following week we erase the ink with a wet paper towel and the next week’s events are recorded. After all events are recorded we plan what days and times we will have dinner together, who needs rides where and when, what family jobs will need to be done around the house and yard and our next week’s calendar meeting. The calendar is then posted in our family communication center (see more about this in paragraph below) so that all can refer to it. All family members are responsible to know the information written on the calendar and are expected to be at scheduled events. Any new events should be cleared with parents and/or communicated to other family members involved.
One of the keys to good paper and pencil family communication is the communication center. The communication center can be any location in your home that has a place for paper, pencils and a bulletin board and is near a phone. You could also place phone books, office supplies and an incoming mail filing station in your communication center. It is helpful if the message center is near the entrance to the home that the family uses the most. Use the bulletin board to post your weekly calendar and other important papers that the family needs to have access to. The paper and pencil should be available (it should never leave the communication center, so tie it down if you must) for the family to take phone messages. One of the best communication tools that my family used in our communication center was a spiral notebook. We found that when children took phone messages on little slips of paper they tended to get misplaced. With a spiral notebook I could open the book and leave it available for all family communications. On one side of the notebook I could write notes for the kids on schedule changes or chores that they needed to do. On the other side the kids could leave phone messages. The pages were dated and used in order so that if information was needed on a phone message from some time in the past we could find and retrieve it. Everyone in the family was required to read the notebook daily so that we knew that everyone would have pertinent information.
When parents imagine their ideal family the children are wonderful students, earning straight A’s easily and with no assistance from their parents. They independently complete their homework on time, study for tests and flawlessly remember all that they are taught. Unfortunately, the number of students who really fit into this dream is very small. Some children come to this world with an innate knowledge of how to achieve in school and have the drive to do so, but this is the exception, not the rule. Most public schools are run on the assumption that children all have the skills and desire to learn in a traditional classroom setting. The teacher teaches, students complete and turn in assignments, then pass tests to show their knowledge retained. The sad reality, however, is that only a small percentage of school aged children learn this way without a great deal of adult prompting and training. All children have skills and talents, but not all skills and talents are evident in a traditional classroom. Alternative schools of all different types have been experimented with, achieving varying degrees of success. However, by and large most children in this country are educated in a traditional public school. As imperfect as this system is, it does have a long history of giving the large majority of our population the basics they need in reading and math and the basic values of our society. Good or bad, public education in its present form is probably here to stay for a good long time, so it behooves parents to make the best of what is available.
I have been on all sides of the school performance issue as a parent, a teacher and an administrator in private and public schools. As a parent I have had children for whom achieving high grades came naturally, and I have had children who struggled greatly at all levels. As a teacher and administrator I have worked with children in private schools who have been given all the advantages, and I have worked with children in public schools for whom all the cards seemed stacked against them. There is no surefire way to make sure that children learn and are successful academically, however there are many strategies that can help. By and large the best way to help children be successful is to build a partnership between parent and educator. Let your school administrators and teachers get to know you. Volunteer in the classroom, and show up to open houses and parent conferences. You would be surprised at how differently teachers look at children just based on how well they know the parents. Teachers try to be impartial; however as human beings they constantly make judgments and decisions. A good relationship with parents will often tip the scales in favor of a teacher giving a child extra help or extra consideration on timelines and grading.
In addition to getting to know teachers, parents should also develop open communication between home and school. This can be difficult on both sides as teachers and parents both have busy lives, but there are some tricks to achieve this. In the following paragraphs you will find some strategies that I have used, or seen used, to establish and keep the lines of communication open. In addition, you will find strategies to help your child learn to be organized and be responsible for himself. Remember, your ultimate goal is to raise a responsible, independent adult. The ideas below will help guide your child toward this goal.
Backpacks are almost universally used by children today to carry belongings to and from school. Plan to use your child’s backpack as a way to find out what is going on and to communicate with your child’s teacher. You should also use the backpack as a tool to help your child learn to get and keep organized.
The first day of school you will probably fill your child’s backpack with all of the items that your child needs to be successful from the start. This starts your child off with an expectation of organization, and some simple steps can help continue this expectation. The next step you should take it to look through the backpack every day after school. Some children are born organized and will dutifully bring you important papers and notices, but most are not. It is simply amazing what you can find in a child’s backpack. Children who are not required to organize and take care of their belongings develop their own unique way of coping with all of the items they amass in a school year. Children who do not have a natural talent for organization usually fall into one of two categories, “stuffers” (they just keep stuffing things in the backpack until no more will fit) or “tossers” (they throw everything away). Stuffers cannot find anything because it is in a mangled mess at the bottom of the backpack, and tossers don’t have anything to find. If you will take the few minutes to go through your child’s backpack and take out the items that need to stay at home and fill it with the items needed for the next day you will ensure better home-school communication and help your child learn to be organized. As your child matures you should gradually have her take over the job of backpack management. The goal is to teach your child to clean out the backpack each day, and get it ready for the next as part of their evening routine. This will require adult instruction and modeling, however if these are done at an early age your child will learn to be organized and give you important communications from school.
Today many schools provide a planner for their students. If yours does not, buy one and require that your child use it. If you purchase a planner get one that is specifically made for the age of your child. It should include a section to organize daily assignments and have a place for periods for middle and high school students. It should also include a monthly calendar and a place to keep a to-do list. Young children can use individual pages to use as a weekly planner, but children in the middle to upper grades should have a school year planner. Children need to learn what to write in a planner and how to use it properly. They need to understand that a planner is more than a list of homework due, it is a way to keep track of all that is going on in class and will be an ongoing record of past assignments. I require my own children and students to write in their planner every day for each class that they have. If they are assigned homework they write what the assignment is and when it is due. If no homework is assigned they are to write a brief note of what they did in class. Teach your child that the planner pages should not be ripped out or destroyed after the days have passed. Sometimes valuable information can be gained from past planner pages if assignments were missed or not turned in.
The planner can also be used as a great communication tool. Teachers and parents can use this tool to communicate about student assignments and behavior. One of the nice things about using the planner is that the communications are automatically dated and they are saved in a place that is accessible to all. This assures clear communication between home and school and it makes it clear to the child that communication will continue between home and school.
The planner can also be used to help your child with long-term planning. Many planners come with a school calendar printed at the front. Go through the dates and make sure that important dates, such as school holidays and semester, trimester or quarter beginning and ending dates are written on the planner pages. When your child receives an assignment that will need to be done over a long period of time help him break it into smaller parts and determine goals for completing each part. Have him write these “due dates” into the planner, and work toward completing each part of the project in a timely manner.
Of course a planner is of no use if it is “lost” or adults do not look at it or read it. Your child should be responsible for her own planner, however associate its use to privileges at home. My children were required to show me their planner fully filled out each day as part of their daily jobs. We would talk about what they did in each class that day, what assignments they needed to work on or study and then make a plan for using their time wisely. Require that your child get a teacher signature if you send a note in the planner. If your child’s teacher knows you use this tool it will encourage him to use it also.
Today’s fast paced society has made it difficult for parents and teachers to touch base and keep in touch, however many schools try to keep pace with the newest technology to help open the lines of communication. Voice mail, e-mail and on-line attendance and grading programs make it possible for parents and teachers to keep in touch without meeting face-to-face. Find out what resources are available at your child’s school and take advantage of them.
Sometimes you will find it necessary to communicate with your child’s teacher the old fashioned way, with a handwritten note. If possible, use your child’s planner to communicate, however if a more formal note is needed feel free to write or type a message. Try to be clear, specific and through in your notes, and always assume the teacher has your child’s best interest at heart. Most do, and you are more likely to help your child if you and the teacher are a team and not adversaries. Have someone else read the note to make sure it makes sense, and make sure the words are spelled correctly. If you are unsure of your spelling or have messy handwriting use a word processor. If you send the note to school with your child ask that the teacher sign it and return it so you know it was received. With older children and teens be sure to explain clearly what the problem is and give the teacher plenty of time to look into and deal with the issue. Remember that middle and high school teachers may have a hundred plus students in their classes, so they may need time to deal with your child’s issue.
When children have difficulty keeping their grades at an acceptable level a weekly progress report can be a good tool (see Appendix E for example). Schools usually send failure notices to parents if children are not making adequate progress, however often by the time the notice arrives children are hopelessly behind on assignments. A weekly progress report can help with this problem. One day a week should be designated as the day to bring home the report. I liked to use Friday with my family so that I could tie privileges over the weekend to grades. I required the report to be taken to school by children that had any classes with a grade lower than C. It was their responsibility to take the progress report, give it to each teacher and make sure the teacher gave it back. It is helpful to let the teachers know beforehand that you will be doing this. If the teacher listed any missing assignments the child was required to bring home materials to complete any missing work. Sometimes teachers, especially in middle and high school, do not allow students to turn in missing assignments. In my family children are required to complete and turn in all assignments, even if no credit is given. This was their ticket to family privileges. An improved grade was simply a bonus. I made sure to communicate to teachers my goal to teach my children responsibility. I am yet to find a teacher who did not support me in this tactic.
Parents need to understand their responsibility in educating their child. It is easy for parents to assume that the school will fully educate their child, however parents are ultimately responsible for the education of their children. As a teacher I have 20 to 30 students in my class. I do my best to educate each one, however there is a limit to the amount of time my students spend in my room and the influence I have over them. Also, next year I will have a whole new classroom of students. I will be the parents of my own children forever, and have legal responsibility for them for 18 years. My influence as a parent far outweighs the influence that any one teacher will have on my child. Do not assume that the school will adequately teach your child all he needs to know; take an active role in being your child’s main educator. This not only includes seeing to it that your child attends school and completes his homework; it also includes educating your child in areas that the school does not adequately teach. This may include teaching your family’s moral values and religious education as well as teaching your child about sports, music or other hobbies.
You are also responsible to teach your child to be responsible. School work and assignments give you an excellent opportunity to help your child learn how to complete assignments outside of the home. Most children will need you to be an active participant in order to learn this important trait. One common misconception is that you teach children to be responsible by leaving themselves to their own devices. I have worked with teachers who believe that they are teaching children to be responsible by not allowing them to turn in missing work. The threat of failure is only a motivating factor if the child cares enough about success. Many children learn to not care about grades and school because they see no link between their actions and the grades. Students often think that grades are a gift from their teachers and that their grades reflect how well a teacher likes them more than how well they performed. A child who learns to not care about grades will show little effort in school. For this child the threat from a teacher that no late work will be accepted is a reward. If the child does not complete the assignment on-time then he will not need to do it. Why do it if no credit is given? Children are taught to be responsible by requiring them to complete any and all assignments. Make it a family rule that all assignments in school will be completed, and then give your child the help and tools that she needs to complete them.
It is important to help your children to complete and turn in homework and assignments, however some parents have a difficult time differentiating between helping the child and doing the work for him. The first thing that parents need to understand is that homework should be extra practice, not learning a new skill. Research has shown that children do benefit from homework, but only if the homework is extra practice on a skill that the child has already learned. Most teachers are aware of this and try to assign assignments based on this principle, however sometimes things go awry. Teachers may give assignments that are not closely aligned to classwork, may overly rely on preplanned lessons that do not match the skills of the students or they may overestimate their students’ proficiency in the subject matter. Sometimes teachers do an outstanding job of teaching a skill and aligning the homework to the lesson, however the students are still not able to complete the assignment. Students may have difficulty applying the practice that took place in class to the homework or they just may not have paid attention during the lesson or may have missed instruction due to illness.
If your child brings home an assignment that he cannot complete make an attempt at reviewing what was learned if you can, but do not do the work for your child. Usually textbooks or worksheets will have brief instructions that explain how an assignment is to be done. Use these tools to help your child go over the instructions to see if you can help him complete the assignment. Teachers use scaffolding to help their students learn a new skill. When parents learn this skill they can be excellent tutors as the child has one on one help. Start by modeling one or two problems for your child. If many similar problems were assigned you can do this with the first couple, otherwise use the examples in the book or make up your own similar problems. As you model how to complete the problems “talk through” each step and explain why you are doing each thing. After modeling a few have your child complete a few problems while you guide each step. Slowly back off your guidance, and have your child begin to explain the steps. When your child appears to understand the process have him complete some problems independently, and then check to be sure that they are done correctly.
If you or your child are still struggling with the assignment write a note to the teacher and explain the problem. Try to frame the problem from your point of view and refrain from blaming the teacher for not teaching your child. Ask the teacher to give your child extra instruction or time to complete the assignment. Be sure to follow up on the assignment and be sure your child received the help needed.
One of the biggest temptations for parents to do an assignment for their child is on large projects and reports. Many students do have difficulty organizing and completing large assignments on their own, but teachers do expect their students to do their own work. Parents are excellent resources to help their children plan all of the parts of a large project, gather information and materials and put everything together into a presentable form. Do remember, however, that the report or project should look and sound as if a child produced it. This does not mean that you should not teach your child how to put together a polished project. However, it should be clear that this is your child’s work and not yours.
We all want our children to be successful, and school performance is no exception. Let your children know that you expect them to do well in school, however be realistic. Remember that you are raising children. Children learn through doing and trial and error. Children also need to have variety in their life. If it takes a child all of her time to be a straight ‘A’ student it may not be the best use of her time. She needs to have time to play and explore different activities. Well rounded children tend to grow into more successful and happier adults. Even the most focused and successful children rarely receive high grades on all assignments, and should not be expected to. If your child performs on an assignment or in a class at a level lower than is the norm for that child treat it as a learning experience. Ask him what the problem is and ask what he could do better next time.
Be careful about how you respond to report card grades. Children should be praised for the work they did do. In some families ‘A’s are the expectation, ‘B’s are okay and ‘C’s are totally unacceptable. Children who grow up in families such as these often believe that they could never be good enough. ‘C’ is an average, and there is nothing wrong with being average in some areas. In my family we regarded ‘C’s as acceptable, however improvement could be made. ‘B’s were very good, ’A’s were outstanding and ‘D’s and ‘F’s were unacceptable. It is also important to take into account personal differences. What may be a low grade for one child may be an excellent grade for another.
Be careful, also, about how you reward report card grades. Some families give monetary rewards, some quite large, for high marks. While rewards for good grades can be motivating, children who are constantly rewarded with large rewards lose the sense of value for the actual grade. In addition, in families with multiple children monetary often pit one child against another. Also, for young children a quarter or semester grade is often too long of a time period for the child to really feel that he has control over the outcome. Try giving smaller, more frequent rewards or just praise your child. When report cards do come, recognize your children who displayed good effort with a small reward or night out.
We all want to think that our child is just a normal kid, but many children have learning difficulties. Learning difficulties can show up at any time and have many different causes. They can be caused by learning disabilities, developmental delays, emotional difficulties, social problems, problems at home or normal developmental stages. The treatments for learning difficulties are as varied as the causes. If you have taken all of the steps outlined above and your child still struggles you may suspect that your child needs more help than you can provide. The first place to look for extra help is through your child’s school. Some private and church schools offer resources for extra tutoring and all public schools are required to provide help for students who are not adequately progressing. Speak with your child’s teacher first. Explain the problem, and be specific about when it began, how long it has persisted and the severity of it. Also share your insights as to what you believe is causing the problem. Most parents are not well versed in learning difficulties, but they are familiar with their own child. Even if your diagnosis of the problem is not correct your insights will be valuable to help find the problem.
If you do not get the help you need from your child’s teacher contact the school administration. Express your concerns and ask what resources are available. Ask about extra help during school and outside of school hours, extra help that you can give at home and resource personnel that can assist you. Try to be patient with the school as some things take time, but do not just assume the problem will resolve itself. Stay on top of the steps your child’s school is taking and your child’s progress.
If adequate progress is still not seen go back to the school and report that more help is needed. Remember that the goal is to build a partnership with the school. Your child will benefit the most if all adults work together. There are times, however, when schools do not provide students with the necessary help. Public schools are required to provide help to all students and to find ways to help every child learn. If your school does not take the steps necessary to help your child do not be afraid to demand an evaluation of your child’s progress. Public schools usually have a team of teachers and administrators who look for specific ways to help students be more successful. If your child has not made adequate progress you can ask the neighborhood public school, whether or not your child is a student at the school, to look at your child’s progress and make recommendations. Make your request respectfully and in writing. Federal law specifies a timeline for the school to respond to your request so date your request and look for a reply within a few weeks.
While you are working on getting help from your child’s school look at outside resources. Remember that you are ultimately responsible for educating your child. The school has a much more limited number of resources available than parents do. For some children medical solutions are successful. For others behavioral avenues work better. Counseling, outside tutoring or training and medication have all been successful to help some children be more successful in school. Be open-minded but reasonable when looking for a solution. Work with your medical professional to get referrals to reputable professionals. If a recommended treatment seems unusual or untested ask for studies that show effectiveness and referrals to others who have tried the treatment.
Any time a treatment is tried with your child careful data should be taken to find out its effectiveness. If your doctor does not provide tracking sheets then use the sample from Appendix B. All treatments, whether medicinal or not, have some placebo effect. Some people will show improvement from any ailment, even if they are only given a sugar pill. In addition, parents and teachers often observe an improvement in a child’s behavior, just because an improvement is expected. This makes it difficult to determine the effectiveness of a treatment. Daily charting of behaviors will help mitigate this problem.
To track behavior with the tracking sheets behavior should first be charted before the treatment is tried. Ideally, parents, the teacher and the child will all fill out their own report, usually for about a week. After the initial charting period the treatment is begun and charting of behavior continues. Some medications take several weeks to begin to work in the child’s system, and all behavior systems take a while to show improvement. For these reasons behavior should be charted with the treatment in place for several weeks. Behavior can also be charted during an optional third period with the treatment discontinued. Ideally, each step would be done with behavior reporters not knowing when the child is receiving the treatment. Sometimes this can be done with one parent administering the medication and the other charting behavior, but this is not always possible. Charts are then compared from before, during and after treatment to see if the child really did show improvement with the treatment. If one treatment does not prove effective try another. Seldom is a first medication type and dosage or treatment effective.
If you have a child with learning difficulties please know that parental involvement makes all the difference. Children with learning difficulties that are left to their own devices will usually turn to inappropriate ways to feel successful and important. These children are at high risk for antisocial behaviors, committing crimes resulting in imprisonment, drug use, early experimentation with sexuality and teen pregnancy. There are children who will just not be successful academically even with all the help in the world. These children need supportive parents who will help them find skills in other areas and assure them that they are important and loved. If your child has difficulty in school help him find something he can excel in. Require your child to join a church or scout group, a sports team or musical group or pick up a hobby. All children have talents and it is important for children, especially children who struggle in school, to find and develop their talents. Help your child to become responsible, teach her to treat others with respect and help her become self-sufficient in other areas. You may also need to focus less on school success and failure with this child. See to it that your child is learning essential skills, such as reading and basic math computation, and lighten-up about the rest. On these children you may need to change or ease up on the rules you would normally set for a child about homework or task completion. Remember the goal is to raise a responsible adult, and adjust as necessary. When your child is an adult no one will ever ask her what grade she received in 7th grade, so don’t put too much emphasis on grades. People will notice if your child is responsible and respectful. Your child will learn these things if you make family guidelines clear and reasonable and set and reinforce limits.
Some families only give out money to their children as compensation for jobs completed. Some may call this an allowance, but a true allowance is an allotment of money given out on a regular basis. When you decide to give your children an allowance you should determine the purpose and make sure your policies governing distribution support your purpose. In our family the purpose of an allowance was to teach our children to understand and manage money. Their allowance was not a large amount of money and its distribution was not tied to any jobs or tasks. Our children were required to pay a contribution to the church (a 10% tithe), however beyond that they could use the money any way they saw fit. The amount they received was set by their age (they received 25 cents per week for each year of age) and so they were given an automatic raise each year.
Sometimes my children had regular jobs that they did each week and were paid for. These funds were tracked in the same manner as the child’s allowance, however this money could be docked if jobs were not done correctly. Allowance, on the other hand, was paid out just because the child was a part of the family. This assured that each child always had a small, steady income. This way everyone was assured an equal chance to learn about money management, delayed gratification and prioritizing. This also allowed us an easy way to distribute some of the family resources. When we took our children to the store and they wanted to purchase an item we would ask them, “Is this something that you want to spend your allowance on?” This put the burden on the child rather than the parent to determine if an item should be purchased. If the item was too costly, then the child would need to save their allowance or do extra jobs before it could be purchased.
Because our family allowance was so small my husband and I always had extra jobs available to earn extra money. Jobs included work in the yard and house that were not part of the regular chores. We would usually provide a range of jobs with varying difficulty and monetary rewards available for the child to pick from. We were very generous with what we paid for extra jobs, and usually paid by the job rather than the hour. This assured that the job was done adequately rather than time just wasted. If a job was not done adequately the child could choose between doing a better job or earning a lesser amount of money than originally agreed upon.
Families should designate a day as “pay day” and allowance should be distributed on that day. Policies should also be developed about taking an “advance” or borrowing money from siblings. Sometimes this gives a good opportunity to teach about buying on credit, but do make sure to develop policies about how much can be borrowed, for what and for how long. Allowance distribution and spending can be tracked many different ways. Probably one of the most effective, yet difficult, ways to manage allowances is to pay out the actual cash to each child each week. This is very effective method because children have responsibility to keep track of their own money and bring it with them when the family goes on an outing. They are able to feel and see the actual money. With this method children also feel the natural consequences of forgetting or losing their money if they cannot make a desired purchase. This is a very difficult method, however, because it requires that parents have the correct denominations of bills and coins on hand and it is time consuming to dispense cash each week. This method also requires that each child have a place to safely keep and carry their allowance, which can be very challenging with young children. One way to make this task easier is to only dispense allowance once a month. The drawback of this method is that children have less of an opportunity to save for an item and more of an opportunity to lose or misspend their allowance. Also, a month is a very long time for a young child to wait for another allowance day.
If you do give out cash for allowance be sure to have some sort of record of when you dispensed it and to whom. It is easy to give out a few quarters each Friday when your children are small, but as your children grow and life becomes more complex it is easy to forget who was paid when. And if dispensing of actual cash for allowance is not successful for your family you can always go to a paper and pencil method. Of course you will always need to give out some cash to your children for spending money so do find a method that works for you to collect and store small denominations of cash. Some families find it best to go to the bank on a regular basis and withdraw the required cash. In our family we found it easiest to collect small bills and change from our pockets and wallets each night. That way we also had some small bills to use for allowance money as well as lunch money or other needed expenses.
There are several methods that can be used to track allowance accumulation and distribution. I found that my yearly desk calendar was an effective method. In the back of the calendar there was a section for expenses. I converted the column names to my children’s initials and kept a record of money available or earned and money spent. This method worked so well for me that I continued to use it when my kids had more complex expenses in their teen and young adult years. The drawback to this method was that it was not very portable. If my calendar was at home I had no way of knowing how much each child had available to use. If I was organized enough and had time I would often write down available funds for each child before an outing. I would then write on the receipts who had spent what money so that it could be recorded at home. Often I would simply slip the receipts into my calendar so that I could record it later.
Some families have found it useful to use a more portable system to keep track of allowance and other available funds (see more on this in chapter 5 on clothing points, and chart in Appendix A). With a portable allowance tracking system all of the child’s available funds can be kept in a compact, portable fashion. It can also be used to write down exactly what is spent by each child so a running total can be kept. A portable system can also be developed that the child is required to keep. This can be made from a small pad or notebook and available resources and expenditures can be recorded in the notebook. This can be made more portable by placing the pad or notebook in a small purse or bag that the child can carry on outings. The child would be responsible for keeping the recording device and bringing it on outings if she wanted to spend money. Of course the problem with any portable system is the risk of losing the tracking system. For our family I found that portable systems were a good tool for short-term use. However, for the long term my calendar, which never left the house, was the best option.
Beyond allowance, families should develop policies on what items or activities parents will “pay for” and what expenses are the children’s responsibilities. Of course, ultimately the parents will pay for all of the expenses as young children have no ability to earn money outside of the home. However, requiring children to “pay for” some of their own expenses helps parents determine the child’s interest in an item or activity and helps parcel out family resources. As our children grew we realized that there were many activities and items that were beyond the scope of them to pay for with their allowance or small jobs around the house. We wanted them to contribute in some way to the cost of classes, lessons, team fees, uniforms and costumes, but the fees were beyond their ability to pay. My husband and I, therefore, came up with a method that allowed our children to prove their interest, and earn participation, in an activity. We figured out an hourly wage that my husband (the primary wage-earner) earned. We then translated the fees for teams, lessons or uniforms into an hourly amount based on this wage. If our children were willing to put in that amount of time around the house or yard we knew that they were really interested in the activity and we were willing to pay the fee. If they were not interested enough to work, then we knew that this activity was not of importance to our child and we would choose not to invest our money.
Simple reward systems and token economies work very well for young children, but obviously as children grow and mature more is expected of them more complex systems may be warranted. One of the most effective and long-lasting token economies that my family used was Dimick Dollars. Dimick Dollars grew directly out of the ticket system (see explanation of the ticket system in chapter 4). As the children earned a multitude of tickets and as prizes became more valuable counting tickets became unwieldy. When my children began to save up hundreds of tickets I decided that I needed bills with various denominations to make things a little simpler for all of us. With this thought in mind I minted my own “Dimick Dollars.” My bills looked similar to monopoly money with a different color for each denomination. When my children were young I put their names on the back of the bills to avoid lost or traded bills, but as they got older I allowed them to buy, sell and trade bills with each other. This system lasted well into my children’s teen years, however the way it was implemented was not always the same. As my children’s and our family’s needs changed the system changed. What follows are idea on how this system can be implemented in a family. You can reproduce the included Dimick Dollars (see appendix M), or you can customize your own cash! Some families have produced their own money with such names as Feist Francs, Powell Pesos or Carter Cash. If you mint your own cash do be sure not to use a copy machine to copy real dollar bills. The treasury department does not take reproduction of actual dollar bills lightly.
Dimick Dollar Distribution– Dimick Dollars should be awarded for good behavior and completing chores. The plan is to make this a reward only system, so I did not generally take Dimick Dollars already earned away. In our family each child was eligible to earn a certain number of Dimick Dollars each day. Dimick Dollars could be earned for completing chores (more for more difficult chores, and more for completing chores on time), treating brothers and sisters kindly and obeying parents. I started out distributing Dimick Dollars daily as I had tickets, but as my children grew I found this to be time consuming. Now that they were older they could understand the delayed gratification of earning their tokens once a week, but it was necessary to find a way to keep track of Dimick Dollars earned throughout the week. Sometimes I tried to rely on my memory, but this was never very successful. More successful methods included keeping a tally sheet (which was very portable), writing notes on a wall or desk calendar or using a chart. (See chapter 6 for more on charts.) Make sure you work a time to pass out the Dimick Dollars into your weekly schedule. For our family we found that Sundays were the best as we were already spending this day as a family. It is important that you make it real clear to the kids exactly why they are earning their Dimick Dollars. As you pass out the Dimick Dollars use your tally sheet, calendar or chart to explain how much is earned for each item and why.
Dimick Dollar Redemption– As children age they need to have rewards that continue to stimulate and interest them. In the early days of Dimick Dollars rewards were no different than the ticket rewards for our family, but soon the kids became tired of the little carnival toys and small pieces of candy. When our children started school they would often bring home book order forms from their teachers and want to order books. We found this to be a great item to spend their Dimick Dollars on and so we came up with a cash value for Dimick Dollars. Dimick Dollars were originally worth one penny each, and later two pennies each, toward the purchase of books from school orders, book fairs or book stores. Later I would allow my children to trade in their Dimick Dollars for cash, but only for items that I approved. They were never allowed to use cash from Dimick Dollars for candy or other edible items, however they could purchase clothing, school supplies, gifts or admission to attractions with their friends. Other non-tangible items can also be a good incentive such as a night out to dinner, extra time playing a video game or watching TV or a later bedtime on a weekend night.
Dimick Dollar Storage– I experimented with many different ways for the kids to keep track of their Dimick Dollars. From the beginning I wanted them to be responsible for their own cash stores. I felt that this helped them learn to take care of and manage money, as well as count money and make change. When I would pass out new Dimick Dollars I would ask the kids if anyone wanted to trade small bills in for larger ones. The younger kids often wanted to hang on to the small bills as it looked like more, but when I ran out of small bills they were forced to trade up or receive no payments. When the children traded in small bills for larger ones I had them count their own money to help them learn how to count money. We used a lot of different storage devices; including plastic containers, envelopes, wallets or just letting the kids figure out their own system; but the best method we found to keep Dimick Dollars was with the use of a magnetic clip. Dimick Dollars were held together with the clip and stuck on the refrigerator. This kept them in a central location where children could count and keep track of their own, yet Mom would always know where they were.
Our family used Dimick Dollars as a token economy for many years, however we didn’t always use the actual paper money. Sometimes when we were tired of this system we would switch to a chart version. Point charts are a very useful and versatile tool that can be used for a variety of purposes. Children can receive points, or whatever type of token you choose to use, and can use the points as currency or be required to earn a set amount to use for family privileges. Advantages of a chart system include ease of administration (no paper money or tickets to hand out), organization of children’s daily responsibilities (they must read the chart to see what they need to do) and children take responsibility for their own tasks (they must keep track of what they accomplish and their points, not you). This method does require that the child is old enough to understand a chart, however reading is not required as a picture chart can be developed.
A chart can be developed on the computer and printed out daily or weekly. Charts can also be produced on a laminated poster or on a whiteboard. A computer version has the advantage of being easily reproduced and edited, however it has the disadvantage of being easily lost. When I used this method I clipped each child’s chart to a large artist’s clipboard. This gave us a specific place to keep the chart and made it accessible by all. A laminated poster can make a good chart if tasks do not change much for your child. You can draw the chart and tasks on the poster, then laminate it and have the child mark off tasks with a dry erase marker. You can make a similar chart that is easier to change with a whiteboard. Use a wet erase marker to draw the chart and write the tasks, then allow your child to mark off what he completes with a dry erase marker. You can erase your child’s marks with an eraser, but your marks will need to be removed with a wet cloth which makes them more permanent.
Using a chart system does not preclude you from using actual tokens for your token economy, however it does allow you to award tokens or points only on paper if you would like. If you decide to use a chart system as a token economy you can allow your children to purchase items just as they would with any other token economy, however you mark purchases on the paper and keep a running total on the chart. Another option with a chart system is to allow children to use family privileges based on points earned. You can either require that a certain number of points are required to access a privilege (such as you must earn 10 points each day in order to watch TV) or you can allow your children to use the points as needed for privileges (such as ½ hour of TV consumes 2 points).
Another token economy that my family used, usually in conjunction with other token economies, was Clothing Points. This system was developed after I went school shopping with my children for several years in a row and found that some children were perfectly happy with one inexpensive pair of shoes, while another wanted every color of the most popular brand. Clothing Points were born to help my children learn to use our family resources more wisely, to help me distribute our resources equitably and to gauge what items my children wanted to purchase the most. If a child had a limited amount to spend on their clothing then they could choose to purchase one pair of designer jeans, or several pair of the store brand. I also found that my children appreciated and took care of their clothing better as they understood their value. Below are some of the principles we used to implement this system.
Before you begin the system you must decide how much clothing points will be worth and the general rules of use. Our clothing points were worth ten cents each. Children could buy any clothing article that Mom or Dad approved of with their clothing points, and they did not have to be responsible for sales tax. That made it much easier for them to estimate how much they could buy. Children were to buy all necessary parts of their wardrobe, including socks, shoes and underwear with their clothing points.
Children were usually given a large chunk of clothing points once a year when a large clothing shopping would normally be done for the family (right before school started for the year, for instance). They would be given clothing points that equaled the amount of money I had budgeted for each child to spend.
Clothing points were also earned throughout the year by helping with laundry. Children helped with laundry based on their age and ability and my time constraints. Laundry duties could include helping to sort, starting loads of wash, changing clothes to the dryer, folding or putting away. It could also include doing all of their own laundry. Some of my children learned early on that they could earn a lot more clothing points if did their own laundry and opted to take that responsibility on themselves.
There were times that I would allow my children to owe me for clothing points. If new clothing items were necessary, because they had holes in their socks or they had outgrown their clothes in a short period of time, then I would make an exception. Generally the kids were required to save up for clothes they needed or wanted.
Once guidelines are developed for Clothing Points you will need to decided how to track them, when they will be distributed and how you will keep track of points that are spent. I used various methods to keep track of clothing points. The first method I used was a clothing point chart (see sample in Appendix A). This worked well when I gave out clothing points with other token economies. Later I found it was successful to keep track of my children’s clothing points in my desk calendar or planner. I had begun to keep track of allowances here, so it was a logical choice. This way I could keep track of when I distributed clothing points and figure out allowances at the same time. I kept track of spent points by keeping my receipts after clothing purchases and writing on them “who” spent “what.” I could then place the receipts in my calendar and deduct used Clothing Points when I next calculated the points. The problem with both of these methods was that I did not have quick access to each child’s accumulated points, or allowance available, when I was away from home. The solution to this is a portable tracking chart (see Appendix K). This chart can be used for tracking clothing points, or any other type of token economy that your children are allowed to use for purchases outside the home. With this method you will need to write starting amounts on the chart for each child before you leave home. However, the chart folds up nicely to fit in your purse or pocket so that purchases can be quickly and easily tracked. Clothing points were a token system that worked well, was fairly easy to implement and lasted well into my children’s teen years.
Other Token Economies
At times my family found it necessary to implement some type of specialty token economy for special needs, occasions or days. We tried a very simple token economy to help our children stay in bed at night. We found it very difficult to implement a positive reward system for young children to stay in bed and go to sleep. The goal was to get the child to sleep, but once she was asleep we were unable to give an immediate reward. By the morning, the effect of a quick and immediate reward had worn off. For this token system we created happy faces from frozen juice cans lids. Cans with metal lids that are removed with a plastic seal make great tokens for young children as they are smooth and large enough for small hands, do not pose a choking hazard and are free if you normally buy frozen juice. Many lids are plain silver, so you can decorate them with permanent markers. If the lid has a logo or design you can decorate your lids with stickers or by gluing a circle of construction paper over the logo. The construction paper can be protected with a circle of clear contact paper. We made several happy faces for this bedtime system, and each child was given three before bed. The children were told that each time they got out of bed they would have to give up one happy face. In the morning if they had any happy faces left they would get a prize.
Another system that we developed using juice lids was the peace sign system. Our family designated Sundays as a family day. We went to church together, had a big meal together and planned other family activities. We also limited our use of TV and other media and outside interruptions on that day. Sundays were generally very nice days and the children often would play with games or toys that they didn’t ordinarily use, but sometimes all of that togetherness brought on fighting and contention. We decided that since Sunday was a different sort of day, it called for a different sort of reward system. Since peace was what we desired for the day, we used a peace sign as the token for that day. Peace signs were made from juice lids and we drew a peace sign symbol on the front of each lid. Each child began the day with three peace signs, and could earn more or lose the ones they had based on behavior and activities completed. The peace signs were placed along a shelf in age order of the children so that I could easily add or take away peace signs and the children could easily see their progress. Juice lids nest together nicely, so it was easy for the children to see their pile grow or shrink. They received additional peace signs for appropriate behavior at home and at church. They also received them for participating in quiet and desirable activities on that day such are reading, journal writing or for participating in musical activities such as listening to quiet music, playing an instrument or singing songs. Children lost peace signs for calling names, hurting a sibling or for not following other family rules. This was one day that we made a special effort to give immediate feedback by giving out or taking away peace signs right after an appropriate or inappropriate action. When you use this type of a system make it clear that the child’s behavior is the cause of the number of peace signs earned, not your mood or choice. “You are really helping to make our day peaceful by sharing with your sister, so you earned another peace sign!” you can say as you place a new peace sign in your child’s pile.
Peace signs could be redeemed for various things at various times (we often let the children trade them in for tokens or points from our daily system or let them “buy” privileges back- see chapter 9 for more on this), but the thing that made this system a little different than the others was that we introduced a bit of competition in this system. At the end of the day I would choose a peacemaker of the week. It wasn’t always the child with the most peace signs, but that was considered. I usually chose the child who had worked especially hard to bring peace to the family, and no one could be the peacemaker of the week two weeks in a row. The peacemaker of the week was recognized on Monday evening. I would set a special place at the dinner table for the peacemaker of the week with a pretty placemat, a crystal glass and usually a small gift (such as a new pencil or a bookmark). The thing that made the peacemaker of the week the most coveted title was the fact that the peacemaker did not have to help with the dishes. This was a system that worked for many years for our family with only a few changes. It was probably so long lasting because it was only used one day a week so it kept its novelty.
Another specialty system which we found helpful on family vacations was travel dimes. This was especially helpful to encourage the children to get along on extended trips. The way this system worked was that each child began the day with $1.00 in dimes (we didn’t actually use physical dimes, we wrote the accounting on a piece of paper and then awarded the actually cash at the end of the day). Each time that a child would do something inappropriate for a car trip or bother a sibling she would lose a dime. I kept track of this in a small notebook while my husband drove. Dimes could be earned back or added to the $1.00 for improved or especially good behavior. At the end of the day each child received any cash they still had left, and there was also a bonus available. Anyone who had not lost any dimes throughout the day could receive a $2.00 bonus! This gave a really good incentive for perfect behavior. This system helped the children behave better, and it had the added bonus of giving the kids spending money so they didn’t have to beg for a treat or a souvenir at each stop. With this system children with money could purchase these items and those without could not. If you use this system be sure to budget into your trip expenses the maximum each child can earn per day and bring along a stack of one dollar bills and a roll or two of dimes.
Want copies of the forms mentioned or Dimick Dollars you can copy? Click on the forms section on my blog.
Young children love praise and rewards. It never ceases to amaze me how easily you can change a young child’s attitude and behavior with sincere praise or a small reward. It also never ceases to amaze me how many parents forget this simple fact and get into arguments and power struggles with preschool aged children, myself included. As I raised my children their behavior seemed to go through phases. When my children were behaving things were great and I just assumed this behavior would continue, even though I often did nothing to help maintain it. Then one child would go through a difficult phase and start to question and defy my authority. This was not the usual behavior for this child, so at first I may just ignore the behavior or use a gentle reminder that this behavior was not okay. But my son or daughter was not just having a momentary lapse in judgment. My child was going through a normal developmental stage of testing me and/ or trying to separate from me. I hadn’t realized this yet, so I continued to ask my child for compliance, and as the asking failed to work the requests often turned into begging or threatening. As the other children in the family saw me lose control of one child they would often “jump on the bandwagon” and begin to misbehave also. Meanwhile, I had become so used to my children behaving well that I was totally out of the habit of praising my children for good behavior. At this point I was also out of the habit of implementing any reward system well or at all, so when the kids misbehaved I would forget to get busy and just get mad. When I realized that something was really wrong and changed my approach, it would take me a lot of time and effort to get everyone back on the right track. After a period of time things would be running smoothly again, and I would gradually put less and less effort into praising my children’s good behavior and become more lax with my current reward system. This was usually followed by a period of time of good behavior, but then the cycle would repeat.
There are several things that can be learned from my family’s cycle. First, try not to get out of the habit of praising your children. Look for times to catch your child being good, and complement him about it. We all love complements, and children are no different. This is especially true for small children. You can see a very big change in a small amount of time if you start giving your child authentic complements on a target behavior. Be careful with praise, however. Remember that praise does need to be authentic. Children can spot a phony a mile away, and if you start complementing your child for things that are not truly worthwhile or do not deserve praise she will not take your complements seriously. Praise should not be given so frequently that it becomes common place. Complements that are given too frequently can be just as bad as no complements at all as they lose their effectiveness.
The next lesson that can be learned from my family’s behavior cycle is to always look for the reason behind a child misbehaving. All human behavior is motivated by a “want” or a “need”. A child may misbehave because he wants a toy, something to eat or your attention or he may have an unmet need. Parents often have a difficult time determining their child’s unmet need as needs change when children grow and develop. The sooner you meet a child’s unmet need the sooner you will see improved behavior. The longer it takes to fill a need the more likely it is that your child will develop behavior patterns that will turn into bad habits, so it behooves parents to find and fill children’s needs as soon as possible. This is something that it took me many years to figure out as often this concept seemed counter-intuitive. My basic understanding of behavior modification as a young mother caused me to believe that if a child cried for more attention and I provided it, that my response would act as a reward and cause the child to whine more. My naïve understanding of behavior modification did not take into account the child’s deep need for more attention. When I did not respond to my child’s need she needed to try more and more sophisticated ways to try and fill that need. These ways would then turn into problem behaviors that were often difficult to extinguish.
To determine the reason for a child’s problem behavior you need to really get to know your child and then you need to look for the cause of the behavior by trial and error. Learn to watch your child at an early age for signs and signals of what she needs. Contrary to popular belief it is very difficult to spoil a baby. Recent research has shown that children come to this life with much of their personality predetermined. If you have a child that demands a lot of attention at a young age, that child needs a lot of attention, so provide it. If you really get to know your child early on you will understand his moods and needs and you will understand right away when things have changed for him and that he is going through a new stage. This will give you some clues as to what her new need may be. However, since children are constantly changing you cannot really be sure until you have tested your theory through trial and error. If your child is crabby, give her more hugs; if she is demanding, give her more control over her life; if she hits other children; give her some alone time; if she does not share, make sure she has a few toys that are hers alone. If you fulfill your child’s unmet need his behavior will improve. As behavior improves be sure to give plenty of praise so you can sustain the improved behavior. If behavior does not improve then you have not found your child’s unmet need, so keep looking. Children are very complex creatures so it may not be easy to pinpoint their needs.
Praise can be a good motivator for children, however adults and children alike often need something a little more concrete and systematic to shape behavior. My family’s behavior cycle clearly shows that when simple shaping of behavior and praise are not effective it is time to enlist a stronger motivator. There are two ways to provide concrete rewards. One is to simply provide a reward when you see appropriate behavior. This works well for very young children, however it is not always practical. With this method rewards need to be very small and something a child can collect, such as a sticker; or consume, such as food or candy. Young children love to put stickers on their clothes or hands, and they also enjoy putting together sticker books. There are special books you can buy with slick pages so stickers can be re-stuck, however just a small, inexpensive notebook can also be used to collect stickers. Food and candy can also be good motivators, however use these as rewards sparing. Children that are often rewarded with food and candy may learn inappropriate messages about food.
A second way to provide concrete rewards is through a simple token economy. In a token economy the child is given a small item when he performs a target behavior. The item, however, is not the reward. The items are collected to earn a reward. The items collected can be a sticker or stamp on a chart, small tokens or carnival tickets. This method has several advantages over the simple reward system. First, it is a bit more portable. When a child is working for a large reward it is easier to promise a ticket when you get home than the actual reward itself. Second, this method requires less actual rewards to be given, and it makes it possible for children to work for larger items. Of course you will need to come up with the reward, however this method allows you to reward appropriate behavior with non-tangible items such as a night out with Mom or Dad or an extra half-hour of TV viewing.
If you use a token economy make sure your child is old enough to understand how the system works. Before the age of 3 or 4 many children cannot understand that they will need to wait for a reward, so a direct reward may be preferable for children under 3. Make sure that the guidelines are clear to both you and your child as to exactly what behaviors will earn a token, who will decide to award the token, when it will be given, what the reward will be and how many tokens are needed for the reward. Be sure not to make it too difficult or too easy to earn the reward. If it is too easy you will have to be constantly providing rewards, and if it is too difficult your child may give up before the reward is earned. Generally it is best to start with a small reward and a small number of tokens needed to earn the reward, say five or ten. Once the child understand the system you can gradually increase the size of reward and the number of tokens needed to earn a reward. Remember, change is constant, so don’t be afraid to change your system if what you are doing does not work or loses its effectiveness.
One important consideration with young children and token economies is where the tokens will be kept. It is a good idea to have a specific place to put the tokens, especially if you have more than one child in the family that is using the system. This alleviates the problem of children losing their tokens or of the wrong child claiming them. Much of where to keep your tokens will be determined by what you use for tokens. Below is a list of ideas of possible containers that you can use to keep your child’s collection along with tokens that can be used. Children love cute and unique ideas, however remember that the focus should be to improve behavior. Do not develop a system so elaborate that the child looses focus on what he should be doing. Also, don’t overextend yourself. This should simplify your life not make it more difficult. Make sure the system you use fits your personality and time schedule.
Charts– This can be as simple as a piece of paper stuck on the refrigerator or as complex as a graph or pocket chart mounted on the wall. Pocket charts can be purchased at teacher supply stores or made by folding and attaching paper or fabric to cardboard. Poster board with graphs drawn on them can also be purchased or they can be made. The advantage of a graph is that it makes it easy for children to see how their progress is coming toward their goal. Tokens for simple charts can include stickers, stamps or a happy face or star just drawn on the paper. For graphs small stickers or stamps can be purchased specifically to fit on the chart. If you use a pocket chart you can be a bit more imaginative with your tokens. You can use pictures cut from magazines or figures cut out of construction paper. You can also purchase pre-made cut-outs. Calendar cut-outs are available at teacher supply stores and die-cuts can be made or purchased at stores that carry scrapbook supplies. It is always a good idea to take steps to preserve any paper tokens that you use. Lamination is the most durable way to preserve your paper creations, however you can also use clear contact paper affixed to both sides for this purpose.
Open Containers– An open container, such as a plastic cup or decorated can, can be used to store stick tokens. This type of container can be kept on a counter or table top where the child can easily see and handle their earned tokens. Young children especially enjoy tokens that they can handle and count over and over. You can make stick tokens with popsicles sticks, tongue depressors, straws or long strips of construction paper (laminate or cover paper with clear contact paper to prolong life). You or your child can decorate these tokens with markers or stickers or you can glue cutouts or odds and ends (small stones, pieces of broken jewelry, macaroni, etc.) to the sticks.
Closed Containers– Closed containers should seal tight and provide plenty of room to collect enough tokens to earn a reward. Empty food containers with tight fitting lids work well for this as do empty baby wipe containers and zipper bags. If you have multiple children using this token system be sure to clearly label containers with each child’s name. Tokens that can be used with this container include carnival tickets, plastic counters or small toys or game pieces, juice lids (from frozen juice cans), milk lids (from gallon milk bottles) or pennies. The advantage of this system is that the container is small and portable, however this also makes it easier for your child to lose. Be careful with your choice of small tokens if you have children who put things in their mouths. Pennies and other small tokens can be choking hazards, and should only be used with children over 3 years.
To give you an idea of how a token reward system can work I will share with you one system that worked with my children when they were young using carnival tickets. I gave each child an empty margarine container with his or her name on it. My children loved to count and recount their tickets, so I allowed them to keep the containers in their rooms, however I found that this led to some conflicts over tickets. To alleviate this problem I began writing the first initial of each child’s name on the back of the ticket. This way the tickets could not be found, traded or taken; they had to be earned. I found that it worked best for me to only award tickets one time during the day, so each evening I would award tickets. During the day I would let the children know when and how many tickets they were earning, however they would only receive them just before bed. This is not the strongest way to reinforce behavior as behavior is best reinforced immediately, however a behavior system is only as strong as your ability to implement it. In order to be sure that I remembered to give tickets every night I worked it into our bedtime routine. As I gave out the tickets I would tell each child exactly why he or she had earned each ticket. If the children believed that I neglected to give an earned ticket I would always listen to their opinion, however I always retained control over ticket disbursement and did not allow negotiations. About once a week after tickets were distributed I would allow the children to pick prizes, if they had enough tickets.
Needs changed over time so tickets were given for different actions at different times, but actions such as how children treated their siblings, how chores were completed or how well they obeyed parental requests were considered when distributing tickets. Just as the reason for tickets being awarded changed, rewards to be earned also changed. When I first used tickets I had a box of small carnival-type prizes that my children could purchase with their tickets. At first all prizes were the same number of tickets, but eventually some prizes seemed to be more popular so I varied the value of some. The kids loved to plot and plan which prizes to save tickets for, however after a while I got tired of picking up all the little toys. Later, I added edible prizes and prizes such as a date night with Mom and Dad or a trip to the ice cream store. The ticket system was very effective and I was able to use it for some time with my children with just a few variations. It allowed me to reward a variety of positive behaviors and gear rewards to each child’s interests. As my children grew they eventually outgrew this system. As their rewards became more sophisticated and the number of tickets earned grew from the 10’s to the 100’s it became cumbersome and unwieldy to administer. At that point I moved to more sophisticated and complex token economies that more closely matched my children’s needs. For more on token economies see chapter five.
Don’t scream, threaten or plead. None of these behaviors is effective in shaping behavior. This is a lesson that I have had to learn over and over again, but the clearest lesson came during my pregnancy with baby number four.
With each pregnancy I spent between two and three months in bed with extreme “morning sickness,” but this one was the worse. Even when I felt good enough to get up and around I was still nauseated much of the time. As the nausea slowly subsided I became so large and uncomfortable that I didn’t want to do much. The kids seemed to do okay with Mr. Mom, Dad, pitching in around the house and some friends and relatives took the girls part of the time, but as summer approached and the kids were home all day I realized that there was a problem; I had lost control. My children had become used to a lump in a bed that barely had the strength to speak to them, let alone discipline them. As I slowly became their mother again they did what any healthy child does, they challenged my authority! I didn’t have the strength to get up and enforce my requests, or demands, so I did what most moms would do in the same situation; I screamed. When yelling didn’t work I threatened, and when threatening didn’t work, I yelled louder. The more I yelled, the less they listened. How could they do this to me? I’d been sick, and I was still weak, I was fat and uncomfortable, I didn’t want to move. If they really loved me wouldn’t they feel compassion and help me?
One day I woke up with a scratchy throat and a hoarse voice. As I went about my usual yelling, and screaming my voice quickly disappeared. I had enough trouble getting my kids to listen before. How could I ever get them to obey me with no voice at all? My voice was gone for a week, and that week changed everything. Instead of the mayhem I expected my house was now calm and relaxed. My children were in control, and seemed much happier. What was the secret? The answer was so simple and it had worked in the past, I don’t know why I missed it. The answer was silence. When I stopped yelling so did my children. When I whispered, they listened. “Who was this quiet woman, and what is so important that it must be said in a secret?” they seemed to be thinking. I learned some important lessons during that week. None of them were new or revolutionary, but they do work. I think many of us, in our hurried and hectic lives, lose sight, for a time, of our goal in raising our children. If our goal is to produce well adjusted, productive adults, yelling and threatening never accomplishes the goal. The suggestions below are a step closer to that goal, and some important tools to help you keep your cool. Your children will never really be in control until you are in control. These steps will help you be in control. A parent that is in control will always remember to not get mad, and just get busy!
Psst! Come here!- Children are more responsive to a quiet, interesting request than yelling. It is easier to tune out a loud sound, and the louder you are, the louder they need to be to drown you out!
Get UP!- You can’t be an effective “armchair parent” any more than you can be an armchair quarterback. As hard as it was for me to get up when I was pregnant, in the long run it was easier.
Don’t Threaten–“I’m gonna break your arm if you don’t stop that!” I knew a woman who often threatened “bodily harm” to children in her care. She knew she wouldn’t hurt them, and so did the kids, so why say it? Even seemingly innocent threats can often backfire. If you threaten to not take a child on a family outing if they don’t behave, and then they don’t, what do you do? Keep the whole family home? Try and find a babysitter at the last minute? And if you take the child anyway what does that tell him? You don’t want to leave him home, you just want him to behave. Try a quick, short term consequence, “If you poke your sister again, I will take the pencil away.” Or, better yet, just take it away, and give it back when better behavior is demonstrated.
Count to 3- This can be controversial, but I find counting works. “Come in the house by the count of three,” gives a definite deadline as to when it must be accomplished. “Let’s see if you can put all the blocks away before I count to 10,” gives a sense of urgency. If you find they’re stalling, count faster, and be sure to follow through if your child does not respond appropriately.
Time Out- It doesn’t do much good to count if there’s no reward or punishment at the end. Rewards work best. “We can all have dessert if the toys are picked up by 10,” or an extra ½ hour of TV, or a star on a special chart. And, it’s amazing what kids will do for a stamp on the hand or a sticker! But, there are times when punishment is in order, and a “time out” is the best for young children. Time out can be a very effective tool, but it must be used properly. The key to an effective time out is that it ends the child’s disruptive behavior, excludes the child from the main activity of the family, and that it be quite brief. You should tell the child precisely why he she is taking the time out, but refrain from long explanations. An upset child is in no shape to hear a lecture, and too much time spent with the child can be a reward of more time with you. Remember, your goal is to exclude the child from your attention. Many families designate one spot in the house, such as a special chair or the bottom stair of the stair case, as the time out spot, however this is not necessary. So long as the spot chosen is away from the main activities of the household and does not have other stimulating activities (toys, TV viewing, etc.) it can be effective. A guideline that is sometimes used to determine the time limit for a time out is one minute for every year of age. A three-year old, for instance, needs a 3 min. time out. Time out should be more of a time for a child to calm down and regroup than a typical punishment.
Discipline does not work in a vacuum. Before you can shape and guide your child’s behavior you must first build a home where the child feels safe and you must establish a good parent-child relationship. There is a basic principle in discipline that states that you cannot effectively discipline a child who does not know you.
As a teacher I spend time each day for the first few weeks of school getting to know and building a relationship with my students. I teach them my goals for them and my expectations for their behavior. I also give them a glimpse of my personal life and personality. By the end of the school year the majority of my students, even ones with severe behavior problems in other classes, genuinely want to behave in my class and please me. They may not always behave appropriately, but when I need to reprimand them or correct their behavior they understand the consequence and learn from the encounter.
The same cannot be said for the average student I meet on campus who does not know me. Even if I use the same techniques with a student that I see crossing campus and not obeying the rules, my actions are usually much less effective and short lived. The same problem occurs when I have a substitute in my class. The class who is normally polite and productive for me is often rude and non-productive for my sub. Discipline cannot truly be effective unless there is a long established relationship between the child and the disciplinarian; hence it is essential that you build a good relationship with your child in order to effectively discipline him or her.
Start when your child is young to build a relationship by reading to her, playing games with him and going on family outings together. Have conversations about what is going on in your life, and encourage your child to tell you about his or her day. One of the best places to build positive relationships is at the family dinner table. Don’t let outside activities or the TV set infringe on this valuable time. Plan your week so the entire family sits down together at least a few times each week and lingers over dinner. For every negative exchange that you have with your child you should have many more positive exchanges. These exchanges should be fun and genuine, not stiff, contrived or scheduled. Be yourself, and don’t be afraid to let your kids really get to know you.
One of the most important principles in building a home is to be sure that your child feels loved. “But of course I love my child!” you may say. But does your child know that he is loved? Even the parent who neglects or abuses their child may loves him, so what you feel is not relevant. What is relevant is how your child feels. A child who does not feel loved will not feel safe and secure at home. But if your feelings and thoughts are not relevant, then how can you know how your child feels? You can never really be sure of how your child feels, but the following important steps will show your child that you love him or her and build the kind of relationship that will show love and build security.
Give Hugs and Kisses- Most parents hug and kiss their little children. But as children grow and become less cute and huggable parents become less affectionate. As a normal part of growing and separating from parents children in turn are also less affectionate. They may also rebuff parents who try to show their love. Paradoxically, at about this same point in time children may need more affection, yet they are getting less. As children begin to grapple with peer pressure, increased stress in school, building more mature relationships outside of the family, and physical changes inherent with growing up, their self-image and security are challenged. If your child balks at your attempts to show affection, don’t give up. Be creative and more subtle, but do show affection. Give your child a peck on the check or top of the head as he passes by, as she sits watching TV or is playing on the computer. Don’t be afraid to add an, “I love you,” and do be careful around friends. The goal should be to convey love to your child, not to grandstand in front of the friends or to embarrass.
Plan Fun Together- As children get older and start to develop outside interests and participate in more activities with their friends, parents often have less time to spend with their children just having fun. Sometimes with older children and teenagers it seems that all of your time with them is spent in giving instruction and reprimands. It is therefore important to plan time to have fun together, and it becomes even more important as children grow. Eat dinners as a family at least a few nights a week and make a rule that conversations are to be kept to light topics. Plan one evening a week for a family activity. Plan dates with your kids one-on-one and let him or her pick the place to go. Use this time to let your child talk, and ask open-ended questions to get the conversation going. Listen more than you talk. Take family vacations, even if the trip is just a campout in the backyard with no phones or video games allowed.
Communicate– When your children are tiny it is hard to imagine that you will ever not feel close to them. But somehow, between babyhood and the teen years, communication is often hampered and that little girl who told you every thought and feeling that she had refuses to speak. Planning family fun can go a long way to help keep the lines of communication open. Often a child who will not speak to you at home or under a stressful situation will open up and be himself at his favorite restaurant. Be sure that you continue to communicate openly with your child, even if he or she shuts down. Talk about your goals and aspirations and everyday happenings. Just as you plan a time to have fun, plan a time to talk. Talk over dinner, or plan a time just for communication. Some families have regular parent child interviews. The main goal of the interview should be for your child to share and look at goals. Try writing down important things during the interview such as a list of your child’s friends, teachers names, interests, dreams and future goals. You can write important facts about your child in a journal or notebook kept specifically for this purpose. You can use some of the interview time to share ideas or concerns with your child, but this should not be the focus. Be sure that your child is able to fully communicate their thoughts and feelings, and give your child time to air grievances or complaints about you. Listen openly, not defensibly, and talk about possible solutions to problems.
Show increased love after discipline- No matter the age of the child it is sometimes hard for them to separate the discipline from the person administering the consequence. It is important that children realize that parents discipline because they love their children, not because of a lack of love. After you discipline a child always show an increase of love. Not only do they need the extra attention to shape their proper behavior, they also need to know that you are not the enemy.
I am often asked, “What is the best age for my child to start swim lessons?” Typically, my answer is, “Not two,” as two year olds can be very uncooperative at times, but in reality the answer is very complex. There are many factors to consider when determining when to enroll your child in formal lessons, but the most important thing is that your child does learn to swim. According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) 10 people die of unintentional drowning per day. The largest risk group is children ages 1 to 4. Drowning is responsible for more deaths in this age group than any other cause except birth defects. There are many factors that influence drowning risks, but one of the top factors is lack of swimming ability. In fact, recent research has shown that formal swimming lessons can reduce the risk of drowning not only for older children and adults, but also for this high risk group of children between the ages of 1 and 4.
While it seems to make sense to provide lessons for your child as soon as possible formal swim programs vary on the age at which they provide lessons for young children. Most programs do not recommend formal lessons for children under 6 months of age, and even at this age skills learned will be limited due to limited developmental ability. Of course if you are going to invest time and money into a formal swim class you will want to see your child make progress toward becoming an independent swimmer. There are four main factors that determine how quickly children learn to swim independently; developmental level, natural ability, instruction (formal and informal) and opportunity to practice. With these facts in mind, let’s look at some common considerations to think of as you consider the best timetable for your child.
What to consider:
Exposure to Water Environments-
In some areas water activities are common and plentiful and in others they are not. In terms of safely, if you live in an area where your child has easy access to water, the younger you start lessons the better. While there are swim schools that promise to “water proof” your child it is important to remember that no child is truly water safe. I like the term, “water predictable” better. When your child is water predictable you know how he or she will typically react in aquatic environments. While no child, especially a very young child, should be left unattended around water, a child who has learned basic rules and skills and knows how to behave in water environments will typically behave in a more predictable manner. Not only will the child know and understand what he or she can safely do to save him or herself, but parents, having seen their child in aquatic situations, will know how the child is likely to behave. This can buy you the seconds or minutes needed to save your child if necessary.
Not only is the availability of water important in safety considerations, it is also important to consider in light of practice time. One of the most important factors in how quickly children learn to swim is the availability of practice time. Formal lessons are of little use if the child’s only time in the water is during the lesson. Swim lessons should happen in conjunction with plenty of supervised water play time when skills can be practiced.
Time and Availability of Appropriate Lessons
Swim lessons may be taught by large swim schools, community programs, backyard swim programs as well as schools, day camp programs and preschools. There are parent and child programs, one on one classes, as well as large group classes. I will cover the pros and cons of these types of programs below, but the first thing you must determine is what is available in your area. It is important to consider the goals in the program you are considering to make sure they match your personal goals for your child. While traditional swim sessions run for about 8 to 10 days with lessons lasting 20 min. to a half hour, more intensive programs can run for many weeks meeting several days a week. Part of your decision on when and where to enroll your child is if the program meets your schedule. Children will make the best progress with consistent attendance in the program of your choice. Choosing a program that fits your schedule well will help alleviate absences.
Typical Features of Various lesson types:
Private Swim School:
Main goal is to make a profit, however many are also quite passionate about their particular brand of swim instruction
Lessons may be available year round
Lesson are likely to be offered many times throughout the day
Teachers may have more experience, as this may be their main job, and typically need some sort of certification to teach
May be quite expensive
Methods may be quite different than other programs with a specific focus, such as “water safe” skills or swim team skill development
All ages are typically serviced, and some provide lessons for very young children
Main goal is typically safety and as a service to the community
Lessons are typically only available during the summer months
Lesson times can be very rigid and limited
Teachers may be young and inexperienced, however there may be a few veterans; They will be required to have some sort of certification
Usually reasonably priced
Methods are usually standardized and developed by large organizations (such as the American Red Cross) teaching well researched skills and with practiced methodologies
While some may offer parent and child or preschool classes the focus is typically on courses for school aged children
These programs vary from organized groups that facilitate small groupings in neighborhood pools, private instructors who come to your home or individuals who offer lessons in their own or others’ pools; Goals vary based on the group type.
Lessons typically only during summer months
Lesson times can be quite limited, however may be more flexible and adapted to individual needs.
Teacher experience varies greatly, be sure to ask what experience and training the teacher has had
Fees vary widely, from free and low cost community sponsored programs, to expensive private lessons
Private or Semi-Private Lessons:
Goals in these programs vary; Most useful for adults or older children looking to perfect strokes (Typically, young children and children just learning to swim do much better in a group, where they can see other students in their general age group performing the skills they are working on.)
Typically, lesson times are tailored to needs of students
Teacher experience varies; Be sure to ask about certifications and experience
Preschool or Day Camp Programs:
Main goal of these programs is typically to provide lessons for children who may not otherwise have access to swim lessons because they attend all day preschool or day camp programs
Lessons typically take place during the regular school or day camp hours
Lesson can be offered in large classes, small groups or in private or semi-private groups
Teacher experience varies
May be part of the preschool or camp fees, or may be an extra fee
No standardized methods, however many states require teachers to hold a water safety certificate issued by a authorizing agency, such as the American Red Cross, with standardized procedures
Another factor to consider when looking at swim programs is practice time. Does the facility offer time for children to practice? Is there an open swim time? Can they stay in the water after their lesson, or do they have to get out immediately after? Remember, a key to how quickly children learn to swim independently is practice time. If children have an opportunity to practice their skills in the same location as they receive instruction this is a real plus.
Child’s Skills and Temperament
While every child can and should learn to swim, some children are naturally more adept at an early age. Some of the hundreds of children I have taught to swim include my 5 children and 10 of my 11 grandchildren (the youngest being too young for formal lessons). While all have been quite proficient swimmers by about the age of 4 or 5, some reached that level of proficiency at a much earlier age. While there have been some variations in the availability of practice time, the main difference has been natural ability and temperament.
Some children take to a body of water as if they are part fish. Holding their breath, moving arms and legs, jumping into the water and navigating entries and exits are quickly mastered and all that is needed is the development of the ability to lift their head to breathe and instruction in formal strokes. These children are easy and fun to teach to swim. When these children take lessons as infants or preschoolers they often master in one day what it takes their less adept peers to learn in an entire session. While it is important to teach these children safety rules and basic skills, sometimes those can be easily taught outside of formal lessons. The most important thing with this kind of child is for parents to have clear rules about when the child can and cannot jump in and swim and enforce them. While some of the skills these children possess can help save them, they may also be very brave and jump in to bodies of water unexpectedly. Even very young children can and should be taught to ask and get permission before jumping in and “swimming” to others. If you or your child need formal lessons to master these safety skills then do take advantage of this.
Click here for an example of a natural swimmer. This is Blake, my grandson, who at just 2 could easily and naturally swim across the pool.
For other children, however, every individual skill is difficult and laborious. They are not fond of water in the face, and instead of holding their breath their natural inclination may be to suck up water. They can move their arms or legs in the water, but don’t ask for both at the same time. Jumping in is a scary proposition, and all water entries and exits take a while to learn and adjust to. These children will take much longer to master basic swim skills, and will probably require several sessions of lessons to feel comfortable in the water. Generally, these fearful children are a lot less likely to jump into a body of water unexpectedly, however a fearful child is more likely to suck up water if accidentally submerged and drown within seconds vs. the minutes that may be afforded with effective breath-holding. Often, the parent with the brave child is more apt to pursue early swim lessons, however in some ways the fearful child can benefit more.
Another important factor to consider in this area is how well your child adapts to and learns from others. For very young children parent and child lessons are often available, however once the parent is not involved in the lessons children react differently to a swim teacher. Generally, the more friendly the child is with the teacher the quicker he or she will learn. This is why I generally advise that children not start lessons at the age of 2. While there are exceptions, most 2 year olds are not friendly with new adults and are often not even cooperative with their own parents. For this reason, most children do better starting at a younger age or starting when they are a bit older.
Parent Goals and Desire for Child
So, what are your goals for your child? Are you looking for the next big Olympic medalist? Is safety your big thing, or do you just want your kids to have a good time? You will want to make sure that your goals match the type of lessons that you choose. As you look for available resources keep this in mind; look for lessons that match what you believe is important. Don’t be afraid to share your goals with the school or teacher. It will help them to tailor what they teach to your child. And, if the direction the lessons you chose ends up not fitting your needs, feel free to choose another program. The most important thing is that you do teach your child to swim!
One of the challenges with raising kids is that as they turn into teenagers their social life changes and they start to separate their identity from that of being your child to being their own person. It is our job, as parents, to allow and encourage this separation and growth. However, we must also factor in our responsibility to their safety. And safety includes physical as well as emotional protection. Part of the process of ensuring their safety is that we must be comfortable with the company they will keep, the activities they participate in, and when they come home. Each family will have to determine what activities are appropriate.
The issue that always comes up is curfew or when our child needs to be home. Many parents have a rigid approach and have a very inflexible rule. The problem with a strict and rigid rule is that life is composed of different activities and some of them do not fit into a rigid curfew rule.
In our family we NEVER had a set curfew. So what did we do to keep our kids safe? We talked to our kids about the particular activity they were participating in, who they were going to be with, and then we asked them for what they thought was a reasonable time for them to be home. We didn’t always agree with their time but we negotiated a reasonable time. There were even times when they would suggest midnight and we would counter with 11. If they countered with midnight we would often counter with 10:30. 😉 We also discussed the next day’s duties to determine if there was a reason to be home a bit earlier. When our daughters were going out on dates we would have the conversation with their escort so that all parties knew and understood our agreement.
Our children also knew that because this was an agreement with us that they had a responsibility to keep their end of our agreement. They also knew that to avoid negative consequences they had to notify us of any changes in activity, destination, people or the time expected home. In this manner we were able to evaluate their safety, with them, on an ongoing basis.
The final step of this process was that they were to check in with us when they came home. Even if we were asleep.
As our children got older (18+ and living with us) we still asked them to tell us where they were going and when they would be home. As adults they are no longer bound to us as children, but as courteous adults. We often get text messages updating us to their activities.