There’s screeching and yelling, rising ever louder (and there even might be some claws extending). School closings and increased family time together can make your living room turn into a wild animal safari, yet without the joy expected from a vacation. If this sounds familiar, try these tips for children 10 and under to help you manage fighting during school closures.
Create a rotating schedule
Structure and routines are key for children, as noted in my previous blog on school closures, which has tips on creating a schedule. Your first goal is setting up a natural daily routine during an unnatural time.
Children usually do not spend all day, every day with their siblings, so have your children follow the schedule you create in different orders. If possible, use different areas of the home to allow them to have some space from each other. For example, if you set up a craft corner, a schoolwork corner, and an independent reading corner, three children could spend 30 minutes or one hour doing separate tasks. Have your children rotate in a clockwise direction to prevent them from arguing who gets to be in which corner. Families can come together for meals and an evening activity, such as playing a board game or watching a movie.
Reward respectful behavior
Keep this in mind: any behavior that gets attention will continue. Yes, even yelling “Knock it off!” can encourage a behavior to continue. So, focus attention on behaviors you want to see happen more often instead of less often. Here’s how to do this:
- Provide labeled praise. Labeled praise is specific and enthusiastic. If you say, “Good job,” your children will not know what they did well. Instead try saying, “Nice work playing a game together cooperatively and respectfully!”
- Pair touch with labeled praise. Adding touch when you provide praise offers extra attention and reinforces the behavior you want to see. After you praise, you could give high-fives or pats on the backs to your children. If you have children who are sensitive to touch, you could give a nonverbal gesture that does not involve contact, such as a thumbs-up.
- Praise the positive opposite. Remember, any behavior that gets attention will continue. Keep your praise focused on the behaviors that you do want to see. For example, “Good job not hitting each other during the game,” gives attention to the hitting. Instead, you could try, “Way to go on keeping your hands to yourself while playing the game!” (and give high-fives to each child).
Add a tangible reward system
Pairing labeled praise with a tangible reward system may encourage respectful behavior even further. Set your children up for success by creating specific windows of time to earn stars or stickers (or incentive points for older children).
For example, a child could earn a star for keeping her hands to herself during each meal of the day. This gives children multiple opportunities to earn a star, so that it’s not all-or-nothing each day. Even if a star is not earned at breakfast, children can continue to try later in the day.
- At the end of the meal (or another window of time), if your child earned the star, use labeled praise enthusiastically and touch as you add a star to the reward chart immediately. This could sound like, “Excellent job keeping your hands to yourself during dinner (high-five)! You get a star!”
- If your child did not keep his hands to himself, then you could say, “You did not keep your hands to yourself during dinner, so you do not earn a star.” Say this as calmly as possible to give the undesirable behavior very little attention. Next, offer faith that your child can try again by saying, “I know you can do it tomorrow during breakfast.”
A few tips about tangible rewards:
- Have a separate chart for each child.
- Ask your child to brainstorm reward ideas for which the stars can be exchanged. Rewards do not have to cost money; ideas might include choosing what is for dinner or picking the movie for family movie night.
- Although children can come up with the reward ideas, parents assign how many stars each reward idea is worth.
A few tips about exchanging stars:
- Have your child exchange stars for rewards twice a week to keep motivation up.
- Each star can be used up to two times: once for a smaller item (rewards worth fewer stars) and then again for larger-ticket items (rewards worth more stars). This encourages children to continue to use their stars and stay motivated.
- Have your children come up with new reward ideas if previous ideas no longer seem rewarding over time.
Tired of hearing “He started it!” and being the constant middleperson that manages tattle-telling and reprimanding? You have a lot of company. It’s faster in the short term to jump in and solve the conflict for children, but that strategy will keep children coming back to you to solve future problems. Instead, teach your children problem-solving skills. Below are some steps on how to do that:
- Have your children identify a goal. For example, if both children want to play with the same ball, the goal would be to play with the ball.
- Encourage your children to list all possible solutions to help them reach their goals before you evaluate any individual solution. Even if you see big red flags and negative consequences, add that solution to the list so that your children can have an opportunity to evaluate the idea themselves.
- Now, have your children describe what might happen for each solution idea.
- Example 1: I could take the ball from my sister, but she might try to take it back from me.
- Example 2: My sister and I each could play with the ball for 10 minutes separately.
- Example 3: I could play with the ball with my sister.
- Next, have your child rank the solutions based on how closely each solution gets the child to the goal, with a ranking of “1” being the closest to the goal. Playing with the ball for 10 minutes each might be ranked first (1) for the child. Having the sister take the ball back from the child might be ranked last (3).
- Finally, have your child try out the solution that is ranked first and then evaluate what happened.
- Repeating this process during future conflicts allows children to learn how to solve problems independently over time. You also might find that you hear, “He started it!” less often.
While your children try to solve the conflict together, give yourself some time to exhale. Put your feet up, read a book or magazine for a few minutes, and sip a hot beverage. Remember, we are all in this together, and we’re going to get through this together.