Tag Archives: behavior

Holiday Hothead? Tips for Preventing and Managing Your Child’s Holiday Behavior Problems


It can be the most wonderful time of the year! It can also be a stressful time for parents who worry about how their child will behave at events with family and friends. The hustle and bustle of the season, changes to daily routines, parties, and gifts can contribute to parent-child conflict and meltdowns. The following tips will help you prevent problems and keep the season festive for all.

Anticipate potential problems
Different aspects of the season will be challenging for different children. Take a few minutes to think what parts may be hard for your child. For instance, will your child have trouble playing nicely with the children of relatives and family friends? Do you worry that your child may have tantrums or show disrespect if disappointed about a gift, or test the limits and try to get away with more than what is allowed at home? Problems during holiday travel are also common.

Set up for success
—Playing nicely with others: If your child tends to have trouble playing with others during less structured times, consider planning activities for an event you are hosting, such as cookie decorating, holiday coloring projects, holiday movies, and other games. Try to limit less-structured times if possible. If you are visiting instead of hosting, see if you can bring some activities for all of the children or ones your child can do independently such as stories, paper snowflakes, and coloring books.
—Avoiding meltdowns over gifts: Talk to your child in advance about the reason behind gift giving and the need to be polite to everyone who gives them a gift. Let them know it’s okay to be disappointed, but they still need to show respect. Get them involved in the giving process by picking out gifts for family and friends or donating toys for children less fortunate. Role play situations that may come up, like getting a hand knit sweater instead of that new video game they’ve been wanting.
—Travel tips: If your plans include a lot of travel, consider scheduling it during your child’s nap or at night so they can sleep. You can also bring snacks and toys, sing holiday songs, play games like 20 Questions, and consider using electronics, especially if you have a long flight or drive.
—Testing limits: Decide if it’s realistic and appropriate to use any punishment strategies. Knowing in advance if you will take away privileges or use a timeout will help you avoid making threats that only serve to frustrate you and your child when you cannot follow through.
—Scheduling: For any child who struggles to manage their behavior and emotions, longer days and events will test their resources to keep it together. Consider shortening visits and even saying no to some invites if the day is going to be too action-packed. It’s better to have shorter, more pleasant get-togethers than one that ends in an epic meltdown. If shortening a visit is not an option, see if there is a quieter place in the home for your child to take a couple breaks.
—Have a “worst case scenario” plan: This could be pulling your child aside for a break, having them stay with you if they are having trouble getting along with other children, or even leaving early if you are visiting. Make sure that you are comfortable following through with anything on the plan. Knowing the specific plan will help you feel most prepared.

Review expectations ahead of time
Based on the anticipated problems, let your child know exactly what you expect during holiday visits. Avoid vague expectations such as “Behave” and instead state clearly what behavior you want to see, like “Listen to me,” or “Share toys with other children.” Try to use positive language. Tell your child, “Say thank you for gifts even if it’s not what you were hoping for,” instead of “Don’t be rude.” Choose your battles carefully to focus on the most important goals–which can mean letting go of some limits you normally place. For example, it may not be critical to limit your child to one treat, especially if other children will likely have more and it will be hard for you to fully monitor while spending time with relatives.

During get-togethers
Instead of waiting for the end of a party, try giving frequent spontaneous feedback when you see your child following set expectations to build positive momentum. Make statements such as, “I’m so proud of you for playing nicely,” or “You did a great job being polite to thank grandma for the mittens and hat.” If you start noticing problems, stay as calm as possible (which will help your child stay calm) and use your “worst case scenario” plan. You may feel like other friends and relatives are judging your parenting. Try to remember that every parent has dealt with outbursts and problematic behavior at one point or another; some may just have trouble remembering or feel like they have to share their behavior management tip at an inopportune time.

NYULMC-2011_2CP_RGB_300dpiFrom the Real Experts at NYU Langone Medical Center:

Stephanie Wagner, Ph.D., is a clinical assistant professor in the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at NYU Langone Medical Center. She specializes in behavioral treatments for sleep as well as providing psychosocial interventions, including parent training, Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT), and school consultation to parents and teachers of children with ADHD and disruptive behavior disorders. She is also the co-director of Early Childhood Service at NYU Langone’s Child Study Center.

What to Do if Your Child Is Being Bullied

Little boy standing up for himself and saying NO to bullying by blowing a raspberry at the bully in front of a blackboard at schoolHeading back to school is exciting for many kids, but for those who have been bullied in the past, it may be a nightmare. According to the National Education Association, a typical school child has a 30 percent chance of being bullied at school, taunted on the bus, sexually harassed, “flamed” on the Internet, beaten up, or ganged up on. It’s a huge problem, but if you suspect or know your child is being bullied, there are steps you can take to help create a safer and healthier school environment.

Know what bullying is—and isn’t. Dealing with everyday conflict—daily disagreements between students of equal strength, status, or ability—is a healthy, normal part of life. However, there is nothing normal or healthy about being threatened, intimidated, or victimized. Bully-victim conflict is an unhealthy situation in which a student or group of students uses superior size or power to win concessions from, intimidate, or hurt a vulnerable student or group of students. Examples include shaking someone down for lunch money, repeated taunting or teasing, pushing, fighting, and even the use of weapons.

Encourage your child’s school to adopt a system-wide bullying policy (if it doesn’t have one already) stating clearly that violence will not be tolerated. Violence in this context means all forms of bullying: any mean word, look, sign, or act that hurts another person’s body, feelings, or things. The policy should define the rules, as well as actions for staff members to take when intervening. It should also state clear consequences for students who violate the rules.

Do not ignore bullying. Some parents tell their children, “Just ignore it and the bully will go away—we were bullied, and we survived.” The truth is, solid research has found that ignoring it does not work and, in fact, being bullied can cause typical kids to develop anxiety and depression.

Say “no” to conflict resolution and mediation. Some schools try to resolve bullying situations with these face-to-face interventions, bringing the bully and victim together in the same room. However, confronting the abuser may re-victimize your child and just make him or her feel less safe.

Know that victims who try to reason with bullies are often worse off.

Teach your child skills to be assertive rather than passive when responding to bullying behavior. Role-play how to firmly and clearly tell the bully to stop, and then walk away.

If the bullying does not stop, make sure your child knows how to report the bullying to a teacher. Kids should clearly describe the behavior, tell the teacher they tried to get the behavior to stop on their own, and state that they now need the teacher’s help. For instance, your child might say something like, “Johnny was poking me repeatedly. I asked him to stop; he would not! I asked him again, and now I’m coming to you for help.” This will clearly convey to the teacher that he or she needs to intervene.

Communicate to other parents that it is important for everyone to discuss bullying with their children. A key factor in reducing bullying is having bystanders (kids who witness bullying but are not directly involved) report the incidents, as well as include victims in their activities so they are not alone.

If the bullying continues, be persistent in bringing it to the school’s attention and working with them to resolve it. All students have a right to feel safe, respected, and protected at school!

NYULMC-2011_2CP_RGB_300dpiFrom the Real Experts at NYU Langone Medical Center:

Lori K. Evans, PhD, is Deputy Director of Clinical Practice at NYU Langone Medical Center’s Child Study Center, as well as a clinical assistant professor in the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at New York University School of Medicine. Dr. Evans received her PhD from St. John’s University. She provides cognitive and behavioral therapy to children and adolescents with a wide-range of conditions, including ADHD, anxiety, eating disorders, and mood disorders.

The Real Deal on Toddler Behavior

Do you know any toddlers? You know, those little humans full of curiosity and energy who teeter around sharp corners, draw on anything but paper, make bizarre fashion choices, and exert a will that could stop a hurricane? If you do, you also know that toddlers can put the “No!” in “Yes” and the spaghetti in couch cushions. It’s difficult to know what they might be thinking and their budding language skills can definitely leave us guessing. Although parents often feel frustrated and even worried by typical toddler behavior, it may actually be a good sign that they are on target for developing some very important skills. Here are some facts to give you a fresh perspective on what to expect and how to deal with developmental changes during toddlerhood:

Wütendes Kind in der TrotzphaseFact #1: Independence is a major motivation for toddler behavior, don’t fight it!

• Give choices whenever possible during daily routines. For example, since your toddler must wear a coat during winter, give him or her choices about the act of wearing it. He or she can decide whether to put the coat on before or after putting on shoes or whether to zip up by him or herself after you start it. Or, your little one can pick out your gloves for you and help you get ready to go outside.

• Pick your battles. Figure out what your ultimate goal is in a situation with your toddler. Your little one may not make it pretty or do things efficiently, but when toddlers are given the flexibility to do things on their own they are more engaged.

• When your toddler does not have a choice, be clear and firm in your expectations. Do not get trapped by asking your toddler if he or she wants to do something because the answer can always be, “No!” For example, “You have to lie down for your nap now,” not “Are you ready for your nap?” Follow up with a choice they do have and what to expect or look forward to when naptime is over.

Fact #2: Emotional control is another toddler developmental milestone, help them achieve it!

• Go with your child’s temperament and provide more opportunities to test out his or her independence and emotional control.

• Label feelings out loud in a variety of situations, whether for yourself, a character in a book or TV show, or those observed in your toddler. Encourage the use of words to express emotional states and validate when he or she is having a tough time (or a great time) with mirrored facial expressions or level of enthusiasm.

• Don’t overload your toddler with long explanations or multi-step directions.

• Tell your toddler the appropriate thing to do instead of “No!” or what NOT to do. It is much easier to process positive instructions and then choose the appropriate behavior response.

• With all of the mental energy that goes into learning independence and emotional control, remembering how to behave all the time is tricky. As with people of any age, pay attention to the behavior you want to see more of and praise it—your toddler loves your attention more than anything else and will continue to do things that succeed in getting it!

NYULMC-2011_2CP_RGB_300dpiFrom the Real Experts at NYU Langone Medical Center:

Lauren Knickerbocker, Ph.D., is a clinical assistant professor in the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at NYU Langone Medical Center. Dr. Knickerbocker specializes in treating selective mutism and anxiety in young children, ADHD and difficulties with organization and time management, disruptive behaviors, and parent management training. She is also the co-director of Early Childhood Service at NYU Langone’s Child Study Center.

Why Tantrums Are Okay

What’s that you say? Tantrums are okay? The simple answer is that yes, tantrums are sometimes okay! Here’s why.

Every experience is a learning experience. We are constantly taking in information from our environments, emitting behaviors, and learning from the consequences of those behaviors. So how does this relate to tantrums? Well, tantrums are also learning experiences.

If a child is engaging in a tantrum, it has likely originated from an event in his/her environment. For example, Ava’s mom said “no” to the candy in the check out line, Jack’s teacher told him to share his markers, or Billy’s dad told him it was time for bed. Do these situations sound familiar?

Anyway, something occurred and your child is now engaging in a tantrum. Here’s the good news: a tantrum is a teaching opportunity for you and a learning opportunity for your child! Tantrums most often occur because in some way or another, your child is not getting what he wants. If he was getting exactly what he wanted, why would he engage in a tantrum, right? That’s why the occasional tantrum is okay. It is also totally okay for you, as a parent, to maintain the boundaries you have set, stay strong, and not give in to a tantrum. It is simply an exercise in limit setting and learning.

Right about now you may be thinking something along the lines of: okay, that sounds really great, but it doesn’t look or feel so great when my little one is having a meltdown in the middle of the grocery store. Fair enough. Just because the occasional tantrum is okay and to be expected, that does not mean it’s easy. Here are a few pointers for navigating those difficult moments:Pretty baby girl crying while her mom tries to calm her

Take a deep breath. When your child is mid-tantrum and about as far away from calm as possible, that’s when it’s the most important for us to be calm.  After all, someone has to be!  Whatever emotions you feel in these moments are perfectly valid—acknowledge them—then take a deep breath and try to release them.

Analyze why the tantrum is occurring and avoid reinforcing it. All behavior occurs for a reason.  Whether or not you fully understand your child’s tantrum, rest assured that there is a function behind it. Think about what happened right before your child’s tantrum: were you talking on the phone instead of paying attention to her?  Did he have to share a favorite toy with another child?  Looking at what happened right before will probably give you some information about why the tantrum is happening. Thinking about (and potentially reconsidering) how you typically respond in these situations may also help. Once you determine why the tantrum is occurring, the next step is to not give into it or reinforce the behavior—or else you may see it again in the future. So do your best to stay strong!

Neutral tone and affect. We’re all human and it’s natural to lose our cool from time to time under stressful circumstances. When a tantrum occurs, remind yourself to use a neutral tone and affect. Let your face and your voice send the message that you are not fazed by the tantrum. Put on your game face!

Tune out the bystanders. Let’s be honest, a tantrum that occurs in your home feels very different than a tantrum that occurs in public. When you are out, there may be additional safety concerns, worries about disturbing others, and perhaps the worst of them all, judgmental bystanders! In these moments, do your best to turn off your listening ears and do what you know is right for your child.

Remember the big picture. Caving in the middle of a tantrum may stop it in the moment, but ultimately it will teach your child that throwing a tantrum is an effective way to get what he wants.  The goal is not to stop that particular tantrum in that particular moment—the goal is to reduce tantrums from happening in the long run. It’s easier said than done, but try to remember the big picture—you’ll thank yourself later!

Understand that this is a learning moment for your child. Believe it or not, your child is actually learning during tantrums—if mommy really means what she says, about rules and limits, which behaviors are effective (and which ones are not), and how to respond to undesired situations. So when your child is having a tantrum, focus on teaching the lessons you want him/her to learn!

Make objective decisions rather than emotional ones. To the best of your ability, set your emotions aside and try not to take it personally. Your child’s tantrum is happening for a reason and that reason is most likely not about trying to hurt your feelings.

Stop beating yourself up! You are not a bad parent. Your child is not a bad kid. You are not the only parent whose child has tantrums (despite those ridiculous people who make you feel like you are!). This is a part of the process. Chin up, thumbs up, you got this!

Note: The occasional tantrum is not uncommon, however, if your child engages in frequent tantrums that interfere with daily life or are dangerous to himself or others, we suggest that you consult an appropriate medical professional as well a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) immediately. Safety should always be the first priority. Feel free to reach out to our behavior team and/or attend one of our Tackling Tantrums workshops for more information on understanding and changing behavior!