12 Ways to Prevent Behavior Problems Before They Start

  1. Don’t hit. Teach gentle hands by using gentle hands.
  2. Recognize and respect that you child has his own unique perspective, needs, and desires. Try to see a situation from your child’s perspective.
  3. Find a way to say YES. Think carefully about your reasons for saying no. Control? Not wanting to deal with a mess? Think of the possibilities of saying yes to your child. Yes, you can wear socks that don’t match; Yes, you can have a friend over; Yes, I’ll play with you when I’m finished with the dishes.
  4. Tell your child what he can do. Dogs are for petting. Balls are for throwing. Food is for eating. Mommy is for cuddling. Teethers are for biting.
  5. Take care of yourself and know your triggers and needs. When are you most likely to react? How can you shift your perspective?
  6. Strive for a balanced lifestyle—rest, nourishment, fun, exercise.
  7. Choose quality child care. Whether for an hour a week or for eight hours a day, the quality of child care matters. Choose caregivers who are READY – that is, caregivers who provide sensitive and stimulating care for your child.
  8. Teach your child to take a break and breathe deeply.
  9. Provide ways for your child to feel and release intense emotions like jumping up and down, hitting pillows, or pounding the bed.
  10. Offer controlled choices when necessary–you can play for 0, 1, or 2 more minutes! What’s your choice? Use a timer or clock to support transitions in a concrete, visual way.
  11. Use water. When things are getting a little intense, try a bath for you, your child (or you and your child!). Fill the sink, a bucket, or a water table and allow your child to play or “wash” dishes or toys.
  12. Become a more sensitive parent. Research tells us that children experience fewer behavior problems when they receive sensitive parenting. Think R-E-A-D-Y.

Tips for Promoting Smooth Transitions at Home and School

1. Offer a stable and predictable environment. When children feel like they know what happens in their day and when, transitions may be easier. For example, keeping evening activities consistent and routine (maybe with a bath, teeth brushing, and story) may help with the transition to bedtime.

2. Warning time is essential, and frequent reminders can be helpful. Imagine being incredibly focused on painting and in the middle of a masterpiece when someone comes over and puts all of your paints away! Adults can let children know that a change is coming up and offer suggestions for the transition. For example “In five minutes painting time will be over and it will be time to clean up for snack.”

3. Implement an age-appropriate time management system. Use an egg timer or other gadget to help children know when it will be time to clean-up or move to a new activity.

4. Talk, talk, talk. For children who are having difficulty moving from one activity to another, discussion about what happens next and what your expectations are for their behavior may help to promote a smoother transition. Saying to your child, “We are just about done with breakfast. We’re going to go upstairs and get dressed before school.” Or, “It looks like you are having fun with those blocks. In five minutes, it will be time to clean-up and go upstairs to take a nap.”

Also, separations may become easier for children if parents (or other caregivers) talk about what is happening using simple, matter-of-fact language. Parents can discuss the transition as often as necessary and choose words that help children understand what is happening. For example, “I am going to work now and I’ll pick you up after lunch. Miss Helen will hold you while you say goodbye to me.”

5. Role playing. Pretend play with adults (and between children) can be an effective outlet for difficult or mixed emotions—and a useful tool for encouraging children to talk about transitions such as moving to a new home, starting school, or having a new brother or sister.

6. Books and videotapes that focus on transitions can be beneficial. Many options are available at your local bookstore or public library. Staff can recommend books and tapes that feature your child’s favorite people or characters.

7. Respect comfort items. Be gentle and respectful of your child’s need for a “cuddly” or “blankie” to move more easily throughout the day. Some children rely on transitional objects (a stuffed animal, blanket, or toy) as a source of comfort. According to researcher and author Claire Kopp, approximately 60% of toddlers use a transitional object as a source of comfort.

8. Become aware of your own feelings regarding transitions. It may also be helpful for adults to be particularly sensitive to the important role that they play during times of transition and consider how they feel about both their own transitions and their children’s. For a teacher who has cared for and nurtured an infant, there may be feelings of sadness or loss when the child moves on to the “big” kid classroom. For a parent who has cared for their child at home for three years, the first day of preschool may be a very emotional experience! Or for an adult who has been the parent of only one child, the birth of a new baby may bring up fears of not having enough time, love, or energy to care for two children.

Promoting Smooth Transitions

Have you ever noticed how difficult it is for many young children to move (or transition) between activities or environments? For example, while on the playground, 4-year-old Maddie may be playful, content, and social. But when it’s time to change to something else (say to line up, go inside, or settle in for quiet time), she may become angry, frustrated, sad, or teary-eyed.

Or take the example of 3-year-old Alex. He’s building a house with blocks and pretending that he’s a superhero. When his mom asks him to clean up because it is now bedtime, Alex begins to protest, shouting “No!” and throwing blocks.

If your child attends child care or preschool, you may have also noticed that your child (or another child) has difficulty transitioning to the classroom at the beginning of the day, and/or from the classroom at the end of the day. For example, 2-year-old Gabriel cries when his mother drops him off in the morning and clings to her leg. It takes his mother a long time to feel comfortable with leaving Gabriel and even longer for Gabriel to begin playing with other children.

Transitions from outdoor to indoor play, from activity to bedtime, and from home to child care or preschool are just a few examples of the many “transitions” that your child may experience each day.

Depending on factors like your child’s age and temperament, transitions may be easier or more difficult. And transitions are affected by more than just child characteristics. For example, the kind of home or child care environment your child experiences, as well as the kinds of relationships your child shares with other people can all contribute to how he or she responds to transitions—both big and small.

When we talk about children making the transition to kindergarten for example, researchers such as Sara Rimm-Kaufman and Robert Pianta emphasize the role that children, schools, peers, families, and even neighborhoods all play in the transition process. By looking at what the child brings to the world and what the environment offers, we may better understand how to help children with the transition process.

When thinking about how to facilitate or guide smooth transitions for children, it may be helpful to first consider the ways you and other “grown-ups” respond to transitions. For example, many of us need a cup of tea or coffee to help us with our morning transition from bed to the workday. Others may need “down time” at the end of the day before having dinner or interacting with children, spouses, or partners. After particularly intense meetings or phone conversations, we may need to give ourselves a bit more time before continuing on with our daily activities. At the end of the day, when bedtime is approaching, we may need a few minutes of TV, a hot bath, or the comfort of a good novel to help us as we leave the day behind and turn in for the evening.

So as you can see adults, too, face many transitions each day. However, unlike children (who may look to adults for guidance and assistance when transitioning) adults often know how to get the time, space, or help they need to make their daily transitions easier.

Transitions can be those things that happen on a daily or regular basis (such as the examples described above), as well as those experiences that occur once or rarely such as the transition into kindergarten or into elementary school or the transition to being a big sister or brother.

Some examples of “big” and “little” transitions:

At childcare:
• Arrival and departure
• Changing between activities like indoor and outdoor play or lunch and nap
• Moving from home-based care to center-based care
• Switching from one child care center to another
• Transitioning from an infant to toddler class; from a toddler to preschool class

At home:
• Getting ready for bed each night
• Adding or losing a family member or household resident
• The birth or adoption of a sibling
• Moving to a new home, city, or state
• Changes for parent(s) (such as work schedule or wellbeing)
• Overnights or visits with other grandparents or a non-custodial parent

Get Ready to Play!

I vividly remember the day my son, then five, learned to play the game “Mr. Fox.” Someone played the role of Mr. Fox— standing at the front of the room while a group of excited children called out “What time is it, Mr. Fox?” If Mr. Fox answered “2:00,” then the children took two steps closer to him. 4:00 – they took 4 steps closer and so on. At some point, the children asked “What time is it, Mr. Fox?” And Mr. Fox yelled “Dinnertime!!!!!!” Mr. Fox then raced to capture children as they made their way back to a safe base.

Now, this game really captured my child’s interest and enthusiasm. He loved it. We played it inside. We played it outside. We played it in the pool. Mr. Fox became a household game that continues to this day – some two years later.

How is it that such a silly game could spark so much enjoyment? What use is “play” like that anyway? Shouldn’t children be doing something “productive?” Something “educational?”

Yet make no mistake. Play is productive. It produces joy. Energy. And enthusiasm. Play is meaningful. Play is learning. And play is hard work.

In March of 2009, a summary report from the Alliance for Childhood was released. The article, entitled “Crisis in the Kindergarten: Why Children Need to Play in School,” argues that the disappearance of play from kindergarten and early childhood is damaging to both our children and our nation.

Authors Edward Miller and Joan Almon highlight the results of studies showing that preparation for tests and standardized testing are now daily occurrences in many kindergartens. And in many classrooms, there is no playtime at all. The authors note that kindergarteners “are now under great pressure to meet inappropriate expectations… [and] are being denied the benefits of play – a major stress reliever.” They go on to describe how many experts consider the increase in academic pressure combined with a lack of play (and stress relief), to be contributing factors in the increase in behavior problems, aggression, and anger seen in young children today.

Miller and Almon outline 5 recommendations for creating better kindergartens. Briefly summarized, these include:

1. Making play a priority for children.

2. Eliminating kindergarten standards that are developmentally inappropriate.

3. Stopping the use of standardized testing in kindergarten and replacing it with more age-appropriate alternatives.

4. Gaining a better understanding of how current practices impact long term development for children from different backgrounds. And

5. Enhancing teacher preparation – emphasizing the value of play and how to support the development of the whole child.

Importantly, the authors state that play-based kindergartens have clear advantages. Not only do the children develop solid intellectual skills but they are likely to become healthier and better adjusted. Intellectual skills + social and emotional health and adjustment? Now that’s a winning combination.

In The READY Method, Dr. Margaret Owen and I show parents involved in every day play interactions with their children. While playing with children may seem like an easy “job,” did you know that there are ways to play with children that actually support the child’s social, emotional, cognitive, and language development? Play builds connections – not just at school, but at home too.

For more information on the Alliance for Childhood, please visit:www.allianceforchildhood.org

To read the summary of Crisis in The Kindergarten, please click here