After the holidays: Back to the real world

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By Danette Vernon

You survived the holidays. Time off from school is over (until Easter). Families can go back to the general squalling bedlam of homework, bath time, and bedtime.

Experts believe that children need and actually enjoy structure, but how do you implement structure when all you or your children really know is controlled chaos?

Sometimes you can humor or distract your child, and avoid a problem, or even a tantrum. For chronic problems, however, such as getting ready to leave the house, or fighting with a sibling, you need more. You need a plan. That’s what the experts do.

1. Specialists look closely at what happens just before a problem starts, and through a process of elimination they identify the “culprit.” Was your child tired, hungry, feeling left out, or simply confused or embarrassed? If at all possible, discuss the situation with the child after the child has regained composure. They are a valuable source of information. This juncture is also a good time to give your child insight into the “whys” and “wherefores” of other people’s behavior. Children who have behavioral troubles frequently can’t grasp other people’s feelings, or misinterpret the feelings of others.

2. Next, as a part of the process, authorities in human behavior find out what is important to the child, so that they know how to reward the child with what has meaning — and what to take away. You should only take things away from a child after a plan is in place and the child understands the consequences.

3. In addition, you the parent, will need to teach your child how to calm themselves down. That can be as easy as asking your child. They may have some ideas, or you can help them develop a list of options.

4. Finally, many experts develop charts for the child to look at as a reminder when it comes to “what to do next.” Or the chart may provide information, such as what “clean” really means when completing a chore.

At home you might set a timer to help your child wait, or promise that you will spend time with them at a particular point in the day, and keep that promise. Jed Baker, Ph.D., in his book “No More Meltdowns” suggests a red light, green light card system for when you can or can’t talk with mom; an area filled with things to do while waiting; or keeping pencil and paper handy for your child to write down their question so that anxiety about forgetting what they want to say while they “wait” doesn’t trigger a meltdown.

The most important thing is that parents want change for themselves and their family, so take action!