The Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning have put out some documents they are calling the “What Works Briefs.” I particularly like the one called “Helping Children Learn to Manage Their Own Behavior” and I want to share some of it with you.
First of all, you may ask, “Why do I want my child to ‘manage’ his own behavior? Isn’t that my responsibility?” Well, of course, as parents we are in charge of helping our children learn how to behave, but ultimately we want them to learn (internalize) these sort of ‘rules for living’ and begin to use them without any direction from us. That’s “self management” and it’s an important skill for all children to learn.
I am paraphrasing the brief by adjusting it from something for teachers to use in the classroom to something parents can use wherever they are with their child. So to begin, you check to see where your child is right now in terms of managing her own behavior. For example, if your expectation is that your child will dress himself and he consistently shows up without having completed this task, then he may need some more assistance—instruction, if you will—in figuring out what he’s supposed to do.
You identify the things you want your child to learn to do for herself. If, as above, the goal is for her to dress herself for school, then you must clearly identify what that behavior looks like. So, for example, you might tell your child, “We will pick out your clothes before bed each night, then, in the morning, you put on your panties, your pants, your shirt and socks and shoes.” It’s helpful to have a picture—photographs or drawings—that you can put on a poster or in a booklet. The pictures can show each item being put on.
As you start to teach your child a particular behavior you want him to learn, you can go over each of the steps with him, then give him a chart listing each step, with the drawing or picture beside each one. You can have your child make a mark beside each step as it is done. If what you’re teaching is a longer process than say, getting dressed, you might start with the first 3 or 4 steps, then you finish the job at the beginning. As the child learns those first steps, you begin to add more, until he is doing the entire task independently. Also, once a behavior is learned, it’s time to add another and begin the process again. Depending upon the age and ability of the child, he may handle learning more than one task or behavior at a time.
Finally, give your child lots of positive attention as she correctly completes the steps and learns to accurately manage her own behavior. Praise works well, and noting her accomplishments to others in her presence may also be reinforcing. We all like to get pats on the back for a job well done!
- Lynn Donald, Director of Family Support Program