Practical Problem-Solving

“A critic looking at these tightly focused, targeted interventions might dismiss them as Band-Aid solutions. But that phrase should not be considered a term of disparagement. The Band-Aid is an inexpensive, convenient, and remarkably versatile solution to an astonishing array of problems. In their history, Band-Aids have probably allowed millions of people to keep working or playing tennis or cooking or walking when they would otherwise have had to stop. The Band-Aid solution is actually the best kind of solution because it involves solving a problem with the minimum amount of effort and time and cost.” ~~ Malcolm Gladwell, journalist and author

The Raised with Love and Limits Foundation supports the new public health movement of preventing toxic stress in children’s lives to improve their health, learning and behavior by helping parents and caregivers manage children’s common behavioral issues through evidence-based strategies that develop consistent, caring, supportive and protective relationships with children.

Have questions about how to solve behavior problems and raise resilient, responsible, independent adults? Don’t worry…everyone does!

Backed by decades of behavioral and biological research, here are specific practical, proven “love and limits” actions that teach a child appropriate behaviors; how to problem-solve, develop patience and frustration tolerance; and ways to cope with life when she’s worried and/or is angry in her everyday world.

Teaching Tools

THE BIG YES-YES? TEACH!

TEACHING IS NOT PUNISHING!

Teaching is the underlying principle of behavior change—helping a child learn a new skill to replace a behavior that is not healthy or helpful. Teaching is the cornerstone of parenting, its job description in one word. Teaching means helping a child learn skills that help him solve problems and tolerate frustration…to be a “good kid”, even when things don’t go his way. Teaching children helps build consistently caring, supportive and protective relationships, as opposed to punishment which creates toxic stress and power struggles, as well as models violence as a means of accomplishing a goal.

The first order of business in teaching is to decide specifically what it is you want to teach. When a teacher in a classroom decides to teach reading, for example, that teacher cannot stop with such a global goal. Reading must be broken down into more easily achievable steps, such as first teaching letter recognition, then letter combinations, then words and sentences.

Much as a classroom teacher must break down tasks, as a parent, you also must break down global learning goals into specific, achievable steps. For example, if you want to teach your child to get herself dressed in the morning, you can’t simply say, “Get dressed!” any more than a classroom teach can say, “Read!” and expect that goal to be reached.

Let’s break getting dressed down into components. First, teach pants up by putting the pants on both legs, having her stand, showing her how to place her hands, one in front and one in back, and then instructing her to pull up. Learning this skill is also helpful in toilet training, by the way.

Another aspect of teaching is giving feedback. Just as you like to hear when you are learning a new skill, children like to know how well they are doing. We all thrive on praise, and when learning a new skill, praise is very important feedback. Simply saying, “You pulled up the front very well. Now let’s work on getting the back of your pants over the hill.” As we’ve said before, praise the accomplishment, not the child.

Once a learning goal is reached, give congratulations and set a new goal. Children love to accomplish things, and your job is to teach those skills necessary for your child to function independently in the world.

Self-Talk

THE #1 MOST HELPFUL PROBLEM-SOLVING TOOL—THAT IS READY WHENEVER YOU NEED IT! WHAT YOU SAY TO YOURSELF CAN EITHER HELP YOU RESOLVE A SITUATION (POSITIVE SELF-TALK) OR MAKE IT WORSE (NEGATIVE SELF-TALK). REMEMBER…NOTHING “IS” BUT THINKING MAKES IT SO.

That means that how you and your little one think about something defines it for you and her. When you can calm yourself in times of stress by using positive self-talk, you will be more likely to follow through with reasonable and responsible actions. Basic to positive self-talk is the ability to separate who you are from your behavior by saying, for example, “I’m a good person even if I make mistakes as a parent.” This kind of positive self-talk helps you set yourself up for success.

Positive self-talk avoids exaggerations, such as the words always and never. Avoid saying, for example, “My daughter ALWAYS hits her brother,” or “He NEVER listens to me.” Always and never mean forever and ever, which makes this self-talk not true. On the other hand, positive self-talk in this case would be, “My daughter sometimes hits her brother, and I can deal with that.”

Using positive self-talk also helps you avoid blowing events out of proportion by making them disasters and telling yourself that you can’t stand it. For example, saying “I can’t stand it when my child whines!” is an exaggeration because not only have you withstood your child’s whining, but you can continue to tolerate it. When you tell yourself that you can’t stand it, your level of tolerance for the whining is greatly diminished, which can lead to a damaging reaction to your child. Positive self-talk in this case would be “This whining will not kill me, and I can deal with it even though I don’t like it.” When you say this, not only will you be able to tolerate the whining longer, but you will also be more likely to plan effective ways of responding to your child’s behavior.

Positive self-talk will lead you to be calm with a low level of stress, whereas negative self-talk leads to powerful negative emotions, such as anger, frustration, anxiety, and fear—all of which cause a stress reaction in your brain and block your ability to solve problems. Positive self-talk also avoids using the exaggerating words must and should, which lead to demands that you cannot meet, such as “I should be a better parent.” When you say, “I’d like to be a better parent,” you reduce the mandate and make it a desire, which is a much more reasonable and reachable goal.

Sometimes, we sabotage ourselves with self-talk that encourages us to follow the crowd. For example, if your child’s friend’s parents let your child use a bed as a trampoline, you may feel pressured to do the same by telling yourself that you would be a bad parent if you didn’t let him do that and that it would be awful to not be in the “good-parent-club.” So you let your bed become a trampoline so that you can follow the crowd. This peer-pressure self-talk can also be harmless, as in when you buy a certain kind of peanut butter because other parents buy it. But follow-the-crowd self-talk can be dangerous if it leads you to yell at or spank your child because the other moms and dads do.

To encourage your child to learn positive self-talk, model your own positive self-talk by talking aloud when you are resolving difficult events. For example, if your child spills his milk and your self-talk automatically goes to “This is awful! What a disaster,” shift to positive self-talk and say aloud, “No big deal. Let’s get the sponge and clean it up.” Keeping your self-talk calm and constructive as a model will help your child avoid the bad habit of exaggerating events as awful and terrible instead of treating them realistically as tolerable and fixable.

Quiet Game

A FUN AND VERY USEFUL GAME TO PLAY WITH YOUR CHILD THAT TEACHES HER THAT CHANGING HER VOICE CAN BE A GOOD THING TO DO! USE THIS AT BEDTIME TO DISCOURAGE HER FROM GETTING OUT OF BED OR ASKING FOR MORE DRINKS, FOR EXAMPLE, TO KEEP YOU AT HER SIDE, SO SHE CAN PUT OFF GOING TO SLEEP…OR AT A RESTAURANT WHEN YOU WANT TO PRACTICE GOOD MANNERS.

To begin the game, simply say, “Let’s play the quiet game. See how long you can stay quiet. The game starts now.” Then wait outside the door for 60 seconds before whispering “You are being so quiet. I know you will win the quiet game.” After two more minutes, whisper, “You are being so quiet.” This helps a child relax and become drowsy, gently and lovingly encouraging her to sleep.

You can also play a version of the quiet game with your child when you want her to be quiet in places such as libraries, religious services, hospitals, or anyplace where good manners require quiet. In this version, simply say, “We’re playing the quiet game now. Let’s see how long you can be quiet.” Whisper praises to your child about how quiet she is being during this time to encourage her to practice these good manners.

Reprimand

CLEAR, EASY 1,2, 3 TO SET LIMITS ON INAPPROPRIATE BEHAVIOR…AND TEACH A NEW ONE TO REPLACE IT WITH.

A short statement that includes the following directions:

  • A statement directing your child to stop the behavior
  • A reason to stop the behavior
  • A new behavior that replaces the old one

For example, you might say to your child, “Stop hitting. Hitting hurts people. Ask your friend nicely to give you the ball.”

Rule

WE LOVE RULES…and CHILDREN OF ALL AGES DO TOO!

(Even though they say they don’t. ) A rule can be defined in several ways, including as follows:

  • A predetermined behavioral expectation
  • A boundary that draws the line between inappropriate and appropriate behavior
  • An internal structure that guides appropriate behavior

Establishing and enforcing rules is an effective problem-solving technique. Children will behave more appropriately and feel more confident when their world has clear boundaries and when they can anticipate the consequences of their behavior. A rule becomes an internal structure that acts as guidance for your child in your absence. Also, telling your child “The rule is X,” will help him understand that following rules is important. And following rules is a skill you want him to learn now and practice throughout his life.

A rule includes a stated outcome and consequences. For example, one of your rules might be “We put our dirty clothes in the basket when we take them off. This helps us keep our house neat.” To help your child remember the rule, use praise. For example, say, “Thank you for remembering the clothes-in-the-basket rule.” If your child does not remember the rule, he is telling you that you need to spend more time telling him the rule so he can practice it.

Ignore

IGNORE THE BEHAVIOR, NOT THE CHILD.

When your child is doing something annoying, loud, or even inappropriate, the best tool to use is ignoring, or pretending that behavior doesn’t exist. Whining is an excellent example of a behavior that most parents find inappropriate, often loud, and certainly annoying.

If your child is whining, simply ignoring the fact that she is whining as a good way to reduce the frequency of whining and how long she will keep it up. Say, for example, “I love it when you use your big kid voice when you are asking for something. It makes you sound so grown up.” You didn’t pay attention to the whining, but you gave your child attention, while at the same time telling her the kind of behavior that will get your attention.

WARNING: It’s important to ignore the behavior, but not the child! Pretending your child does not exist at that moment will result in even more whining as your child works even harder to get your attention.

Children learn very quickly which behaviors get the most attention from those around them. Your child may choose behaviors you consider inappropriate, loud, annoying, or even dangerous.

Practice

SECRET SAUCE TO PREPARE, IMPROVE AND LEARN!

Practice can be used to help children get better at any skill, which can include putting away toys, getting dressed, using manners, and many other behaviors you may want to teach.

Practice may also be used when a mistake is made. For example, if a child forgets to hang up a coat when coming in from play, then a few practice sessions can be used to help fix the habit more firmly. Simply say, “I’m sorry you forgot to hang up your coat. I want to help you remember, so let’s practice doing it a few times.” Then ask the child pretend to come inside the house, and each time she has to hang up the coat.

These practice sessions can not only make a new behavior a habit, but will also motivate children to remember so they can avoid practice. Practice can also be used to prepare for a new activity. For example, to prepare for a trip to the supermarket, practicing the rules before leaving the house keeps the rules more firmly in mind. Say, “We’re going shopping in a few minutes. Remember, when we are at the supermarket, the rule is that you stay close to me, hold on the the shopping cart, and help me find what’s on my list. Let’s practice.” Then pretend you are at the supermarket and are shopping. Praise your child’s following the rules to further make the behaviors stick.

Practice is also good for you. As you practice using this tool, you will get more proficient at teaching your child the benefit of practice!

THE BIG NO-NO? PUNISHMENT!

PUNISHING IS NOT TEACHING!

We think of punishment as a means of making a person suffer because of what he did, in order to, theoretically, teach him to do better things in the future.

So, does it work as intended? Other research in punishment has shown that when people are punished, they tend to react with anger, which blocks the ability to think rationally and leads to even worse behavior. They also learn very quickly to avoid the person or persons who deliver the punishment. Consider the speeding driver who sees a police car in the distance. The driver slows until he passes the police and then continues speeding, thus avoiding the punisher.

With children, the punishment message from adults is: “We are bigger and stronger than you are; and if you don’t do what we say, we will hurt you.” Imagine the fear and resulting stress in a child who perceives that message. And the message of intimidation is the same as the definition of bullying. Therefore, threatening punishment provides a role model for bullying.

Finally, punishment doesn’t teach what you as a parent want to teach. It doesn’t teach how to behave in the way you would like for your child to behave. Punishment only tells your child what not to do, which creates a dilemma. Your child would probably think, “I know what not to do. I just don’t know what to do. Maybe if I just don’t do anything…” This is a highly stressful position for a child.

When faced with behavioral issues that disturb you, think of ways to teach the kind of behavior you want your child to use.

Remember: Teach, don’t punish.

Research has shown, however, that although punishment may work from time to time with some individuals, it most frequently does the opposite. Because we are concerned with the effects of toxic stress on the brain development of children, we will focus on punishment with children.

Most adults in the United States who rely on punishment to manage children’s behavioral issues use spanking as their punisher. In fact, 78% of men and 61% of women in the U. S. say that children should be spanked. However, the evidence from 50 years of research have found that not only does spanking not work as intended but leads to increased anti-social behavior, aggression, mental health problems and cognitive difficulties. And these findings are supported by the longitudinal data from the ACE Study.

Beat-the-Clock

WE LOVE A GOOD KITCHEN TIMER, SMART PHONE TIMER, ANY SOLID TIMER WITH A STRONG RING FOR ALL TO HEAR!

This motivational technique uses your child’s competitive nature to encourage her to complete tasks on your timetable. Here’s how it works:

Set a timer for the amount of time you want to allow your child to complete a task. Then say, “Let’s see if you can finish before the timer sounds.” Since children love to win, this allows them to win a race against time. More importantly, your child will complete the task in a timely fashion without a power struggle, and the clock will act as the controller, instead of you. When does Beat-the-Clock work? When you want your child to get ready for bed, get in the car, get dressed, come to the table to eat, put away toys…all day long!

Calm Time

WHO DOESN’T WANT TO GET CALM WHEN SHE IS UPSET? It’s a matter of self-talk and taking time to calm down before you react.

A child needs this time, too, when he is not behaving appropriately, in order to allow both a child and you to gain self-control. Calm time is as much a problem-solving “first step” to practice from the earliest days of life, as it is a way to stop a behavior you want your child to stop. By “calming” first, your and your child’s brain has a moment to stop firing on all synapses…thus allowing you and your child to problem-solve, literally. The brain can’t work when it is on fire!

One of the benefits of calm time is that it separates you from your child when tempers are flaring, giving you and your child the opportunity to calm down. However, if you rely only on calm time to stop inappropriate behavior and don’t teach the behavior that you want during neutral time, your child will continue to use the inappropriate behavior and thus spend most of his day in calm time!

A typical calm time involves taking your child to a chair or a room, setting your smartphone timer for a certain length of time (approximately one minute for each year of age, up to five minutes maximum), and telling him he needs to stay there until the timer sounds. If he leaves calm time before the timer sounds, reset the timer and tell him that he has to stay there until the timer sounds. Repeat the process until he stays in calm time for the designated amount of time.

When using calm time, say, “I’m sorry that you need to leave your play right now to calm yourself down.” Then, in a caring manner, walk your child to calm time and say, for example, “Please stay here in this calm time to think about what you could do instead of hitting your sister when you are mad.”

When calm time is over, ask your child “What do you think you could do so you can stay and play when you get mad?” Talk with your child about his answers. If he tells you “I don’t know,” or doesn’t seem to have the words to describe his thinking, share some of your ideas, such as “Use your words instead of your fists,” or “Go get an adult to help you when you are angry.” Once you have finished talking with your child about ways to solve the problem, leave it to history and don’t keep bringing it up. What’s done is done. Working toward a better future makes more sense than dwelling on the past. Reminding your children of their errors only reminds them of what NOT to do and does not show them what you want them TO do.

Grandma's Rule

YOUR GO-TO RULE: A CONTRACTUAL ARRANGEMENT THAT FOLLOWS THE PATTERN “WHEN YOU HAVE DONE “X” (WHAT YOU WANT YOUR CHILD TO DO), THEN YOU MAY DO “Y” (WHAT YOUR CHILD WANTS TO DO).”

Grandma’s Rule is best stated in the positive rather than the negative, as in “When you have done this, then you may do that,” rather than “If you don’t do this, then you can’t do that.” It’s easy to make Grandma’s Rule your “go-to” tool, to motivate your little one to learn to be responsible for her work before she plays. That lesson will serve both of you well—when prioritizing doing homework before going outside to play…or picking up toys before taking out more toys from the cabinet. It’s a win-win way to solve the problem of your child getting to do what she wants…with love and limits.

Praise

EVERYONE LIKES TO BE NOTICED…BUT KEEP IT REAL. Verbal recognition of an appropriate behavior, which motivates your child to use that behavior on a regular basis, needs to be honest and specific. Always direct praise at your child’s behavior and not at your child. For example, say, “Nice building with the blocks,” not “Good boy for building the block tower.” When you say the latter, you are doing something you don’t want to do—connecting a child’s worth to his behavior. You don’t want to teach a child that as long as he’s behaving appropriately, he’s a good person.

All children are inherently good. Their behavior may need to change—but they are still the same wonderful people. Praising the appropriate thing your child is doing reminds him of your expectations and reinforces your model of good behavior. Praise motivates your child to continue behaving appropriately.

Routine

CHAOS=ANXIETY, ROUTINE=COMFORT!

Routine helps us remember what we are supposed to be doing and the order in which we will do It…which brings us comfort because we know the next link in the chain, what is going to happen next.

Teach your child to follow a routine in order to reach a goal (going to bed, for example). This will give your child comfort because she can predict each link in the chain of bedtime events. When a bedtime routine is set up, along with the fun of playing “Beat the Clock”, the whole process goes more smoothly and is more enjoyable for all.

Here’s how it works:

  • Set your timer for 5 minutes, and say, “When the timer rings, it will be time to get into your pajamas.”
  • Then when the timer sounds say, “The timer says it’s time for pajamas. Let’s see how fast we can do that.”
  • Praise is given for the effort made.
  • Follow the next link in the chain by saying, “Let’s get teeth brushed, so we can have stories.”
  • Praise is given for tooth brushing to encouraging your child’s accomplishing the task.
  • Here’s the final link: Say, “Now that your teeth are clean, we can get in bed for stories.”
  • Set the timer again for how long you want to read stories, and
  • when the timer sounds, say, “Timer says it’s time to kiss you good night and for you to go to sleep. Good night! I love you! ”

Model

BEWARE! YOUR CHILD IS WATCHING YOU!

You and your parenting team are the primary models of behavior for your child, so it is important for each of you to carefully monitor what he says and does. One new father took this fact of life to heart: He recently reprimanded his own father because of what he considered inappropriate language. He didn’t want his new baby exposed to that language and wanted his father to be a better role model.

During your child’s early years, the brain is quite plastic and is growing new neural connections at an incredible pace. Part of this brain growth involves mirror neurons. These are neurons designed to imitate what your child sees and experiences. When children imitate hand gestures, facial expressions, vocalizations, and other behaviors, mirror neurons are at play.

Modeling is also a way of teaching new behaviors. When a child is trying to learn something, saying, “Would you like for me to show you how that works?” allows the child to make a decision, and then to be shown how to do something, if he makes that choice. Providing a role model for social behavior or showing a model of a letter or numeral to copy is an important part of the learning process.