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Saying Hello To The School Routine

August is here, and soon (if not already), children will begin to head back to school.  Whether it is preschool a couple of mornings a week, a traditional grade-school program, college or even homeschooling, establishing a routine can make the next day run so much smoother.  The key to the entire process, though, is to start NOW, not the night before.

1.  If your child has been staying up later in the summer, chances are he or she is also sleeping in.  To adjust Little Timmy’s bedtime schedule, do it gradually over a couple of weeks.  Put him to bed 10 – 15 minutes earlier one night and for the following 3 -4 nights, then adjust another 10 – 15 minutes every several nights until the desired bedtime is reached.  A gradual change is much easier on our bodies than an immediate one (think jet lag!).

2.  One of our biggest adjustments is our morning routine when school begins.  The summer has been filled with leisurely breakfasts, cuddles under the covers and hours in our pajamas before getting dressed for the day – a stark contrast to the rest of the year!  To prepare for the get-up-and-go routine of school, I plan early morning activities for my kids that involved getting up and getting ready.  We plan early morning bike rides, watering the plants, taking a walk, or doing our grocery shopping first thing.  My kids are dressed and ready, and we’re doing something we enjoy to get our day started (okay, not the grocery shopping, but they tolerate it well!).

3.  If your child is attending a school that holds a “Meet the Teacher” night, then go MEET THE TEACHER!  This is the evening where it finally sinks in for my almost 9 year old.  He gets to see his room, his desk his teacher, and his friends, and we get to casually visit where he will spend the next 9 months during the days.  In our district, we also drop off our school supplies on Meet the Teacher night so that our son doesn’t have to haul all that stuff to school on the first day.

4.  For kids that are just getting into a formal education routine, following directions can sometimes be daunting, especially in a group setting.  Check with your local library for story times where you can go with him or her and learn how to be a listener in a positive, casual atmosphere.  Also check into local museums for programs for children; our local children’s museum has a storytime each day that lasts about 15 minutes, which is the perfect length for small children.  Parks and Recreation departments also offer similar programs.

5.  Begin those healthy habits before school starts.  Work with your child on hand-washing, not just after going to the bathroom and before eating, but at other times, too.  When children are in a group setting, germs are plentiful; teach your child to wash his or her hands frequently to limit the spreading of germs.  Also, evaluate your breakfast menu.  If you tend to be the “pop tart mom” or the “sugar cereal queen”, consider healthier choices for breakfast, such as yogurt, hard-boiled or scrambled eggs, fruit and whole-grain breads.  These choices are great for improving attention spans and limiting that “sugar rush”.

6.  Don’t wait for the homework to head home before working on school work.  Establish a reading time now for your kids, and limit the amount of time the television is on in the house.  Children of any age enjoy being read to, and what a great bonding time for you and your child.

Here’s to a great start to school this year, no matter where or when!

The Power Of Empowerment

With our second child, we learned early on that in order for him to be successful, he needed to be in charge, or in charge as much as we could let him.  Letting children make their own decisions gives them ownership of the situation and can help them learn to behave well.

First of all, make sure that children are allowed to make choices.  However, as a parent, you can control the types of choices the child will make.  For instance, it is bathtime and my child IS going to take a bath, but I give him the choice of a bath in his tub or a bath in mine.  His choice, but it is the outcome that I desire (a clean kid!).  Or, we are getting ready to go to the store.  I may give my child a choice of two kinds of shoes to wear.  He is going to wear shoes, but I allow him to choose which ones he wants.

Giving choices is a good way to work with potential misbehaviors.  When my boys are getting overly rough, I give them a choice.  For example, stop throwing the ball in the house or the ball will have to be put away for a while.  My child then has the choice of rolling the ball (an acceptable behavior here) or no ball at all. 

Oftentimes, giving choices is a great way to get children to cooperate, even when it is something they initially do not want to do.  Instead of the battle of bedtime (and actually getting into bed), I give my son a choice of two or three books to read in bed before lights out.  He is getting in bed, but he gets to decide what we will do when we are there.  And, if he chooses all the books?  That’s okay, too…he is in bed, and that is the ultimate goal.

There are times, though, that my child will try to make a choice other than those that are given.  In cases such as this, the best thing to do is to let the child know what the choices are again.  I have been known to sound a bit like a broken record, but eventually my child will make a choice that is one of the options given.

Allowing your child to solve his or her own problems through making good choices is a wonderful way to parent with limits.  It gives freedom with structure, which is vital to providing a sense of security and confidence in children.

Incentive Charts

Last week, I mentioned monitoring my child’s progress through an incentive chart to achieve a certain goal – staying in bed for my older son and potty training with my younger one.  Incentive charts can be a useful tool for teaching a child a new skill or desired repeatable behavior, from picking up toys to folding clothes to clearing the table without being asked.  The key is consistency.

Charts are fairly simple to make.  With my boys, I created a simple grid for each of them.  The “title” of the grid was simply the desired behavior, such as staying in bed all night.  Then, I created a grid of ten rows, five columns.  Our charts hung on the side of the refrigerator, right at my son’s eye level.  This way, each child was able to view his chart and participate by putting a sticker in a box each time a the behavior was met.

Each time my son met his goal, he was given a sticker to place on his chart.  By the time he filled a row (in this case, five days), he was rewarded with a simple incentive.  Sometimes, it was a special trip to the Dollar Store.  Other times, it was a special playdate or an outing to the bowling alley or movie theater.  There was always a reward at the end of the “row”, though. 

In the beginning, it took my son well over a week to get his five stickers.  That was okay, though, because once he reached his fifth sticker, he was very excited to get his reward!  And, when he realized how simple it was to achieve that again, the desired behavior showed up more and more frequently, quickly becoming a natural habit.

When we finally filled the chart, we came up with a special reward.  In my son’s case, it was a sleepover at his grandparents’ house.  At the time, he had never been to their house to spend the night without my husband or I, so this was a GREAT reward for him.  And, by the time he reached that goal, sleeping in his own bed through the night was no longer an issue.

Using an incentive chart can work very well for children.  Keep in mind, though, that the focus should only be on one behavior at a time.  Trying to run two or more incentive charts for a child at a time can be overwhelming and confusing.  Once a behavior is mastered, then introduce a new one.  And, once a child finishes an incentive chart, move on to simply verbally praising him or her for their new skill.

Incentive charts are a great way to achieve a goal for a child!

At The End Of The Rope

I cherish the time I spend with my children, especially my older son.  During the school year, he spends the majority of his waking hours at school with another adult and other children.  So, our time together is all the more special.  During the summer, though, when we’re together ALL THE TIME, we have to adjust.  Oftentimes I find myself on the short end of the temper-stick.  Here are some things I do to keep my cool during the heat of the summer:

  • Count down from 10 – this is probably my most effective method of keeping calm.  I usually count down in my head, although the few times I have done it out loud, my kids are amazingly well-behaved by the time I get close to one.  It simply gives me a few seconds to refocus and remember to keep my cool.
  • Give myself a time out – when I can feel the tension or anger building up, I tell my children, “Mommy’s feeling (angry, upset, hurt, mad, etc), so I’m going to cool down with a time-out.”  With my younger child, I’ll simply move to a quiet area of the room.  With my older child, though, I may leave to go to a different room or ask that he find a different place to wait for me while I cool off.  The key is, though, to talk about whatever it was that made me angry or upset to begin with.  Simply removing myself and cooling off isn’t enough.  Children need to understand the process of discussion and understanding.
  • Opposites – this is quite possibly the most effective tool I’ve used with my younger child.  When I am feeling angry or upset and the urge to yell is overwhelming, I whisper.  My son is completely caught off-guard and will stop whatever it is he is doing to figure out why Mommy is suddenly quiet!  And, it calms myself down to talk in a quiet voice instead of yelling.

There are other ways to vent anger that are productive.  Listen to some music, take a walk or get some exercise another way, keep a journal of your feelings, call a friend or even cleaning the house are great ways to channel aggessive energy into something productive.  The key is, though, to discuss your feelings and the way you handled them with your child after you have calmed down.  Children learn by example, so set a good one for them.

Tips To Avoid The Tantrums

Goodness knows that my older son is a schedule-kid.  He thrives on routine and repetitiveness.  He also has a tough time handling transitions or change, typically when he isn’t prepared for them.  Here are some tips we use to make transitions easier.

  1. Time is on your side – I always prepare my son for a change by letting him know it is coming in a matter of time.  For instance, I may tell him that we are leaving the house in four minutes to go to school, and he knows that he needs to be getting ready.  I sometimes have to give him a countdown (three minutes, two minutes, etc), especially if he is really involved in something else.  However, he has enough sense of time to understand the concept.
  2. Routines really work – by keeping our routine each morning and evening relatively the same, we eliminate many of the factors that could lead to a breakdown.  My son knows the “order” of the morning: breakfast, get dressed, brush teeth, comb hair, etc.  Even during the summer, we try to stick with the routine to simply make our day start out on a good note.
  3. Put some fun in the task at hand – with my younger son, we hold lots of “races” – races to brush our teeth, races to pick up the trains, races to get dressed.  He loves to do anything that resembles a game, so making it something simple yet fun is so much better than simply putting the toys away.
  4. No room for backtalk – arguing about a transition or a task is simply not allowed in our house, and that goes for adults as well as children.  When the arguing begins, I simply state, “You have two choices: do what I asked you to do or sit in that chair for three minutes to get ready to do what I asked you to do.  Which would you like to do?”  My child still has a choice, but in the end, he will complete the task!
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