Tag Archives: child behavior

Helping Your Children Make Resolutions That Stick


We all know the story: make a New Year’s resolution in January, and by mid-March you’ll be asking yourself, “What happened to that diet?” Now that it’s December, children in classrooms around the country are hearing about New Year’s resolutions. Your child might be thinking about what she wants hers to be for 2017. Unfortunately for students excited to make resolutions, research bears out the common wisdom that setting a large goal is unlikely to result in any meaningful change. That’s because our desire to change only accounts for a percentage of our ability to follow through with it. So if research shows that grand, sweeping goals do not make effective resolutions, then why set our kids up for failure? Rather than give up on resolutions altogether, follow these four steps to help your children devise plans that create real results!

1. First, find out what your child thinks a good resolution would be. If he’s like most people, he’ll probably pick something that sounds wonderful and is hard to quantify, like, “Be a better friend.” Allow your child to imagine how he’ll feel if he pursues this resolution. This step is all about your child identifying the goal and feeling motivated to achieve it.

2. Next, ask her what that resolution would look like. In other words, if she told a story or drew a picture about her resolution, what would it be? A resolution to help out more around the house might be a picture of a child putting her dinner plate in the dishwasher. This step is all about identifying the behavior behind the resolution.

3. After that, brainstorm with your child to find out when that behavior should happen. Being nicer to a younger sibling might happen during homework time or on a Saturday morning before parents are awake. The key here is for your child to identify a specific situation when the behavior should occur. It is clear and concrete; not “someday” or “all the time.”

4. Finally, have your child create an “If-Then” statement for using the new behavior. “If-Then” statements combine the situation with the desired behavioral response. Psychologists call this an “implementation intention.” A teenager who wants to procrastinate less might create the statement, “If I feel like procrastinating during homework time, then I will set the timer on my phone to at least work for two minutes before taking a break.”

And that’s it! Follow these steps for effective goal setting and behavior change, and give your kids the chance to make their resolutions a reality.

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

Christina Di Bartolo, LMSW, is a clinical assistant professor in the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and the program supervisor for the Institute for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity and Behavior Disorder Centers at the Child Study Center at NYU Langone Medical Center

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.

5 Ways to Help Your Child Behave Better

Angry mother scolding a disobedient child
Children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) may fidget at the dinner table, may seem to ignore directions to clean their rooms, or can be inattentive at homework time. Even kids without ADHD may act this way sometimes. Whether your child has ADHD or not, it can sometimes be challenging to get your kids to sit still, pay attention, and behave appropriately. A few simple strategies can go a long way towards helping create an environment that promotes better behavior at home.

Catch your child being good. Anytime children display behavior you want to see more frequently, “catching them” at it by emphasizing and praising it will make them more likely to repeat it. But don’t wait for exceptional behavior—a praiseworthy behavior can be as simple as sitting quietly or playing nicely with a sibling. Be specific in your praise. For instance, “Great job finishing your math homework!” is better than “Great job!” and “Thanks for sharing that toy with your brother” is better than “Thanks.”

Establish a routine and stick to it. Creating a structured routine at home and applying it consistently is a powerful driver of better behavior. Parents sometimes think that after a day at school keeping it together and following routines, children are better off with free rein at home before turning to homework or other duties. However, it is often harder for kids—especially those with ADHD—to shift back and forth between structured and unstructured time.

A sample after-school routine might look like this: Snacks from 3:30 to 4pm, homework from 4 to 5pm, an hour of playtime, 30 minutes of TV time, dinner from 6:30 to 7:30pm, and then getting ready for bed from 7:30 to 8pm. Use visual reminders to reinforce the schedule, such as a calendar that can be checked off or marked with stickers. And be consistent! When you make an exception, such as allowing more than the allotted 30 minutes of TV time for a child who has pushed hard for it, he or she may push as hard or harder in the future because it worked on a previous occasion.

Change the environment. This can be especially helpful in setting up kids for success during homework time. Creating a specific, uncluttered homework space free of the distractions of TV, siblings, and the family dog can be surprisingly effective. Sometimes something as simple as sitting in a chair that faces a wall instead of out where the action is can help a child stay on task.

Give a “heads up” for transitions. None of us like to be in the middle of something we enjoy and told to stop immediately. Help children mentally prepare for an impending shift in schedule by giving them advance warning. This will help them understand, for example, that “OK, in five more minutes I have to stop playing on the iPad and go put my pajamas on.” Keep a timer or digital clock on hand to help kids track the time themselves, and praise them for making a successful transition.

Give clear, positive commands. Set clear expectations by being specific when giving instructions. For example, you might say, “Put your Legos away,” instead of the more ambiguous, “Let’s clean up now.” Stating instructions as commands rather than questions is more effective, too, so, “Please hand me that pencil,” instead of, “Can you hand me that pencil?” will be more effective. Try giving positive, rather than negative, instructions. For instance, “Please use an indoor voice” is better than, “Stop shouting!”. This will focus attention on the behaviors you like and want to see more often, rather than on what your child is doing “wrong.”

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

Kaitlin P. Gallo, PhD, and Briannon O’Connor, PhD, are clinical instructors in the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the New York University School of Medicine. Dr. Gallo, who specializes in the assessment and treatment of disruptive behavior and anxiety disorders, is a postdoctoral fellow at the Center for Mental Health Implementation and Dissemination Science (IDEAS), as well as in the Institute for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity and Behavior Disorders at NYU’s Child Study Center. Dr. O’Connor, also a postdoctoral fellow at the IDEAS Center, focuses on improving the quality of care for children and adolescents with various mental health disorders, including ADHD and depression.

5 Strategies for Improving Your Child’s Behavior

Parents often struggle to manage their children’s difficult behaviors. Disobedience, back-talking, temper tantrums, fighting with siblings and refusing to go to school are common problems that can lead to frustration, aggravation, and feelings of disempowerment among parents. These behaviors can also cause serious distress in your home and negatively impact your family’s ability to function. Fortunately, decades of research on behavior management have identified a number of core principles and techniques that have proven to be effective in addressing a child’s behavioral difficulties. I have synthesized these strategies into an easy to remember acronym I call Parent POWER:

Put Structure in Place. Children tend to struggle when there is a lack of structure in the home. Chaos and disorganization work against parents’ efforts to reduce disruptive behaviors. A consistent, structured home environment communicates predictability, regularity, and safety to children and may help alleviate anxiety and distress. As such, you should establish consistent behavioral expectations, healthy daily routines, and planned family activities in the home. It may also be helpful to establish house rules to clearly communicate what behaviors are expected. These rules should be broad-based, framed in the positive, and presented as goals. In my practice, I routinely encourage parents to use these rules: follow directions, control your body, and be polite.

Offer Incentives. Behavior change requires motivation, so consider offering incentives, starting with privileges. Since children often have easy access to television, internet, electronic devices, and video games, try making access to these privileges contingent on desirable behavior. You can use a point system for determining whether your child earned their privilege. For instance, when you see your child doing what he/she is supposed to do, point it out and say, “You’re doing a great job following directions! You just earned a point.” These points can then be tallied, and at various times during the day your child can “cash the points in” for various privileges. This strategy can help you to focus on the positives by literally “catching your child being good.”

Work Hard. Improving your child’s behavior is a marathon and not a sprint. This takes hard work and consistency. Practice (and then practice some more) techniques such as establishing house rules and using reward systems. If you don’t see immediate improvements, do not be discouraged. In order to make lasting changes you need to stick to your structure, reinforce the rules, and reward positive behavior day in and day out. It can feel exhausting at times, but keep reminding yourself that in the end it will all be worth it.

Emotional Regulation. It’s easy to become frustrated and impatient when your child misbehaves. A preschool aged child having a temper tantrums in the middle of a grocery store is enough to make anyone want to run and hide. However, when we allow these challenges to get us frazzled, our power and effectiveness may be compromised. As such, it is crucial for you to develop emotional regulation/self-control skills. This can be accomplished by incorporating regular self-care activities into your day. Deep breathing, exercise, yoga, going for a walk, talking to your friends, engaging in religious/spiritual practices, reading a book, and many other activities can all serve to enhance your mental health, bring balance into your life, and put you in a better position to interact with your children.

Role-Modeling. Children learn by watching their parents and imitating their behaviors, so it’s important to be a role model and embody the kind of behavior you hope to see in your child. When you fee upset or frustrated, demonstrate how you can calm down by taking deep breaths or going for a walk. Refrain from yelling, nagging, and hitting, lest you want your children to adopt these practices. Use a calm, assertive, and respectful voice when addressing behavioral infractions. Always use positive methods first, such as using positive praise and points for desired behaviors prior to using negative methods of discipline such as taking away privileges and giving a time out. This communicates that you value positive behavior and are rooting for your child’s success. A role-model is someone that you look up to. Be that person for your child.

By using these Parent POWER strategies, your child’s behavior will gradually improve and over time you will notice a huge difference.

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

Justin R. Misurell, Ph.D., is a recognized expert on the evaluation and treatment of child sexual abuse and trauma. Currently, he serves as the clinical director of New York University’s Child Study Center – New Jersey Campus and is a clinical assistant professor of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the NYU Langone School of Medicine. He has co-authored a book entitled, Game-Based Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy for Child Sexual Abuse: An Innovative Treatment Approach, which is scheduled to be published in February 2015. Dr. Misurell received an Early Career Scholarship from the National Register of Health Service Psychologists. He is a licensed psychologist in New York and New Jersey, and is credentialed by the Council for the National Register of Health Service Providers in Psychology.