Tag Archives: behavior

It’s First Friday!

Well here it is!  There were so many great questions and so little time!  I’ve supplemented with some links below.  Please add your links and input in the comment section as well!

(By the way, on my computer the video seems a bit smoother over at YouTube for some reason.  It won’t hurt my feelings if you watch it there– just promise to come back and join in the discussion!)

On-Task Behavior and Developmentally Appropriate Practice (0:10)

As a parent, how do I know what is DAP in my child’s various classrooms? (1:27)

Resources for Developmentally Appropriate Practice:

Basics of Developmentally Appropriate Practice by Carol Copple and Sue Bredekamp

DAP Statements from NAEYC

DAP: What Does it Meant to Use Developmentally Appropriate Practice (From right here at NJC!)

Should food be used as sensory or art medium? (4:22)

Letter of the Week Dilemma (8:33)

Why Don’t You Teach Reading?  A Look at Emergent Literacy

A Culture of Literacy: Teaching Preschoolers the ABC’s and More  (More articles linked there.)

Preschool Tattle-Tells (10:23)

How do I stay consistent with my child’s behavior when I know it’s caused by physical factors? (11:50)

Parenting with Positive Guidance: Building Discipline from the Inside Out

Children and Nature  (14:01)

Why Our Children Need Nature

Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv


Children & Nature Network

The Grass Stain Guru

Add your links and tips below as well!  And keep those First Friday Questions coming to notjustcute@hotmail.com, with Q&A in the subject line!
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Phasing Out a “Phase”

A friend of mine recently told me his sister was extremely worried about her son’s behavior.  He was bouncing off the walls, getting into mischief, and extremely stubborn.  After some time stewing over her predicament, her mother gave her a call. 

I think I know what’s causing all these problems.”

Really!  What?”

He’s three.”

It is important to remember that many challenging child behaviors, while not socially appropriate, are in fact age-appropriate.  Toddlers bite, three year-olds are often stubbornly independent, and preK’s are notoriously fascinated by “potty talk”.  So what are we to do with these challenging phases of childhood?

Step One:  Recognize the Driving Force

It’s important to examine what’s going on and recognize what developmental aspect may be fueling the behavior.  Many children “go through a phase” when they are learning a new skill (or are about to).  The phase is a driving force that causes the child to make sense of a new situation, adapt in a new way, or try on a new skill.

  • Toddlers often bite because of a lack of verbal abilities (it’s easier for them to bite than to say “I’m angry”).  They may also be teething and/or seeking oral stimulation, either of which could drive them to biting. 
  • A three year-old’s drive for independence is what fuels so much of their learning and growth.  If they weren’t wired to try to do everything themselves, when would they develop the physical skills to dress themselves or climb into their carseats?
  • PreK’s often engage in potty talk as they become independent and personally responsible for those bathroom duties, and as their social development drives them toward more attention-seeking behavior.  (More on Putting a Stop to the Potty Talk.)

Step Two: Teach and Redirect

While phases may be driven by normal development, and may even naturally extinguish themselves, what was once merely a phase can quickly become habit if it’s being reinforced or too frequently ignored.  It is important to teach children how to appropriately deal with whatever their specific challenge may be.

  • Toddlers can be supported in developing verbal skills as you label and validate their emotions, and can get necessary stimulation from crunchy foods and teethers.
  • Three year-olds can be scaffolded for tasks beyond their abilities (break down the task into smaller pieces, “You do____ and then I’ll help with____,”).  Simply planning ahead and allowing more time for them to  complete new tasks can also soothe frustrations.
  • PreKs can be redirected to appropriate attention-getters like knock-knock jokes and tongue-twisters (find some here).

Going through a phase isn’t a blank check for bad behavior, but it also isn’t a tell-tale sign of a life of deviance.  Think of a phase as a indication of developmental readiness.  It shows that a child is ready to learn a new skill, be that social, physical, or emotional.  Support the children you love and teach through the developmental process, directing and guiding as they wend their way through the work of childhood.

Top photo by Andrew C.

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Curbing Computer Time: Using Choices Within Boundaries

It started quite simply really.  Showing my son a few educational videos I found online.  Then some educational games.  Now my oldest son has become rather adept at using the computer to find his favorite games and sites, and  would gladly play all day long if he were allowed.  I’m sure there are some benefits to his new-found love: he learns some educational concepts and has some technology proficiency I suppose.  He may even have more computer know-how than his grandmother.  But I just don’t like letting him have too much computer time.  (Ironic I know, given the fact that I probably spend more time on the computer than anyone else in the house.)

Regulating the playing time was becoming a power struggle, and so I decided to go with a system that would allow my children to make their own choices within boundaries I could live with. 

We had already set some boundaries.  In our home, computer games are out on Sunday.  On the rest of the days certain responsibilities have to be taken care of first.  And obviously, we had also set some ground rules on what makes a site or game appropriate for our home and for them as children as well.  The boundary we were struggling with was the amount of time.  It seemed to fluctuate from day to day, and the inconsistency was creating a constant state of negotiations.

I finally sat down and decided how much time I could feel comfortable with my son playing on the computer each day.  (I know this doesn’t sound new yet, but hang on.)  Then, I multiplied that times six to give me a total amount of time for the week.  I broke that time down into 10 minute increments, wrote “10” on a craft stick for each increment, and then labeled two empty juice cans with “Time Spent” and “Time Saved”.  I placed a small timer by the computer and told my son that we would set the timer each time he played computer.  For every ten minutes that he played, we would move one stick from the “saved” can to the “spent” can.  He could choose how much to use each day, but once they were gone, they were gone until the first of the next week (“payday”).

This may have sounded like a risky move.  Free access to a whole week’s worth of time?  I’m sure you’re wondering, and yes, he has had a few times where he burned right through every one of his sticks in one day.  WAY too much time on the computer, right?  But the thing is, he spent the rest of the week without any time.   I had set my limits.  There would be a finite number of minutes each week and once they were gone, they were gone.  How he used them was up to him.  I would still be involved to monitor content and make sure the timer had been set and the sticks moved, but the control — and therefore the responsibility — had been moved to my son.

This system has worked better than my daily timer because I was no longer arbitrarily arguing that he had spent “too much” time the day before and mentally adjusting his alloted time for the next day.  He was now bound by his own choices.  It wasn’t about me choosing for him each day, he was the one who had that power, within the boundaries I had set.

It hasn’t taken long for my son to begin to plan out his computer time.  He often counts up his remaining sticks and the number of days left in the week and plans out how to use them.  Not bad for a little guy!

I prefer this week-long allotment over the daily timer because it has allowed him more choice and (as usually happens when you offer choices within boundariesit has taught him about so much more than just obedience.  With this system there are the monetary principles being taught like spending, saving,  the opportunity cost principle, and budgeting.  It creates a future orientation and the delay of instant gratification.  It also teaches very clearly about choice and consequence.  Who knew you could get so much return on a few craft sticks and some empty juice cans?

It may not be the best system for everyone, but for us, it has been the perfect balance of boundaries and choices.

Top photo by Jakub Krechowicz.
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When It Comes to Challenging Child Behaviors, Do You Take the Time to CARE?

Thank you so much for your comments on challenging child behaviors.  I’m currently working on an eBook based on  Positive Guidance, and hope to incorporate your input.  Here is one aspect that will be addressed in the book.

When children present us with their most challenging behaviors, it is easy to fixate on what they’re doing that gets under our skin.  We claim the behavior as the source of our frustration: he throws tantrums, she won’t listen, they don’t shareBut change rarely comes by focusing only on the symptoms.  We have to care enough to get to the source.  Using the acronym CARE can help you do just that.  CARE stands for Cause, Action, Reaction, and Expectation.  If I really want to get to the root of a behavior, I would it using these four aspects.  Let me walk you through each one.


I’ll sometimes hear parents or teachers comment that a child behaved a certain way “for no reason”.  That’s just an answer I won’t accept.  The reason may not be apparent, but there is always some type of motivating force for behavior.  Some may want to attribute it to “spite” or the child just being “naughty”, and while that’s not entirely impossible, there’s usually still more to uncover.  If you aren’t willing to examine behavior for its source, you can only respond in generic ways, which won’t do much to effectively change behavior.  It’s like slapping a band-aid on a sore finger, when all the while there’s a sliver still there, festering.

I wrote previously about sources of behavior in more depth here, but to sum up, any single difficult behavior may be a response to a variety of factors.

  • Environmental factors like music, room arrangement, number of people in the room or general chaos may influence behavior.  (A child may not be listening because he is distracted.)
  • Physical needs like the need for sleep, movement, or food.  (The same child may not be paying attention because you have expected him to sit still for too long.) 
  • Behavior may be an indicator of a lack of social skills that need to be taught and developed.  We have to ask ourselves if the child has been taught proper behavior, as well as whether or not that desired behavior is appropriate to the child’s age.  (The child may not have been taught how to pay attention.) 
  • Challenging behaviors may also be the result of emotional influences like feeling rushed, insecure, unwelcome, or frightened.  (A child may have trouble paying attention because he may not feel engaged or connected with the speaker.)
  • Children may misbehave as they seek power or attention.  (The child may not be giving attention because he is still seeking attention.)

Taking the time to discern the cause of behavior allows us to address the behavior in a more effective way.  While the cause is the first thing listed– the antecedent to the action– it is sometimes the last thing we can decipher.  If you’re filling out a CARE form, you may need to start with a question mark in that category and move on to the others.  Sometimes, it is the process of filling out the other aspects that causes you to uncover the root cause.


This is where we usually fixate, but it is really the simplest part of the equation.  What is the behavior?  The answer is purely objective.  Avoid inserting interpretations and simply describe the facts.


Next comes the reaction.  This is another objective aspect.  What happened next?  How did the child react?  How did the other people involved react?  How did you react?  Particularly when a behavior is repetitive, the payoff often comes from the reaction.  Whether it is a playmate’s scream or a parent’s bribe, the reaction may be the reinforcement.  This can give you some insight into what is feeding the behavior.


Challenging behaviors are only challenging within the context of relationships.  Our expectations are different.  As Fernanda pointed out in our last discussion, “when talking about difficult behavior, the big question is, “difficult” for whom?”  We can take a look at this relational factor by examining the child’s expectations (what we interpret their behavior to be communicating), as well as our own expectations (how the behavior is different from what we expect them to do).  As we consider what the child’s expectations are, we can find ways to teach them to get what they desire in a more appropriate way.  We can also look at what we expect of them so that we can first check to see if our expectations are developmentally appropriate, and also clearly define what skill or behavior needs to be taught and encouraged.

Let’s look at how this applies to specific scenarios.

First Scenario :  Emily is frequently stubborn and openly defiant.  You observe her and fill out your CARE sheet this way:

C: Need for power

A: Emily was told to put on her shoes and she responded with “No! I don’t want to!” She sat with arms folded, staring at her mom.

R: Mom forced Emily’s shoes on to her feet which Emily responded to by throwing a fit.

E: Mom expects Emily to comply.  Emily expects to call her own shots.

Once you’ve collected the information, and considered that Emily’s needs and expectation are for power, you can make a more informed decision about how to address future situations.  If Mom needs compliance but Emily needs power, give Emily fair warning before the transition, and then allow her to make some of the choices.  Rather than”put on your shoes“, the child seeking power may respond better to, “We need to leave in five minutes.  Do you want to wear these shoes or those shoes?”

Here’s another scenario: Tommy consistently struggles with sharing and frequently takes toys from others.  An observation may look like this:

C: Hmmm.  Let’s put a question mark here for now.  Why isn’t he sharing?  Let’s look at the rest of the picture and see if that helps.

A: Tommy’s classmate is playing with a toy dog.  Tommy walks up and pulls the dog from her without saying anything and begins playing with it in another part of the room.

R: Tommy’s friend screamed.  The teacher returned the dog and helped Tommy choose a new toy.

E: The teacher expects Tommy to take turns and share.  Tommy expected to keep the toy.

So we look at the situation again, and question ourselves about the cause.  The most effective response will only come if we address the right cause.  In situations like this, my first guess is usually that the child hasn’t been taught how to share or negotiate.  So I might start off by coaching Tommy through a script for sharing or teach him how to negotiate a trade

However, if after a series of observations, we find that Tommy always takes toys away from the same child, or always from smaller or younger children, particularly if he’s been taught proper social skills and has shown that he can use them in other situations, Tommy may be seeking a feeling of power.  I would recommend giving Tommy opportunities to feel positive power by giving him jobs and responsibilities, asking him to help you and others (particularly the usual “targets”) and commending him for his helpfulness, and emphasizing that “big kids know how important it is to share” or “now that you’re all four, you’re getting really good at taking turns with your friends”.

You may not always need a CARE form to analyze behavior, it may just be that you consider the four aspects mentally.  But if the same behavior is recurring, it may be helpful to jot down some details over a few instances and then look for patterns.

When we care enough to take the time to really consider what challenging behavior is all about, we can learn to recognize how to best help children overcome it.

Top photo by Heriberto Herrera.

Center photo by Niels Rameckers.
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No More Tears…an Unfair Request

Kids lose it.  They cry.  And that can be a stressful thing.  Especially when you were already on your last nerve sometime yesterday.  But there’s something I hear parents say that makes me cringe a little.  It comes in many forms: “No tears,”  “Big boys don’t cry,”  or the many other variations of “Stop crying now.”  It’s understandable to a degree.  The crying is stressful.  But there are a few things we have realize. 

First, we have to understand that the message we’re sending is, “I don’t really want to know how you really feel.”  We want our kids to talk to us, to share with us.  But that’s not what we communicate to them when we respond to their limited ability to express emotions by essentially saying, “Stop showing me how you feel.”  

It’s not likely we’ll end up with teenagers who feel comfortable sharing their disappointments and hard decisions if we’ve spent a decade sending the message, “I don’t want to hear it.”   Instead, we’ll get answers like, “Fine,”  “Sure,” and “Whatever” after years of teaching apathy instead of empathy.

Secondly, the “small thing” that we believe doesn’t warrant crying, means a lot to the child.  We need to look, now and then, through the eyes of the child.  It’s easy for us to rationalize away little heart breaks as no big deal, but we have to understand what they really mean to the child.  That display of empathy goes a long way in building relationships and really getting to the root of the behavior.  It doesn’t mean we have to cry about it too, but we do need to be responsive and communicate to the child that he is understood.  For example, “Oh, Sam, that must have been pretty disappointing when your Lego tower broke!  You worked on that for a long time.”  Then, when the child knows he has been heard and validated, he’s more likely to calm down and move on from that point.  He doesn’t feel quite so driven to cry when he knows you already got the message.  When he realizes you’re on his side, he’s more likely to go along with you.  “What should we do?  Do you want to try to fix it or build something new?”  Sometimes, it’s simply being understood that will soothe the tears.

Lastly, we need to recognize that children have limited verbal abilities.  So in spite of the fact that they feel overwhelming and powerful emotions like frustration, disappointment, jealousy, and pain, they often have trouble expressing those feelings with words.  So there they are with all of the original emotions festering and then a large portion of frustration is added when they can’t aptly communicate what they’re feeling or what they need.  Crying is a natural reaction to that breaking point. 

When we empathize and talk about those feelings, we not only help the child to know he’s been understood, but we also give him the words to express those feelings later.  If we simply tell him to stop crying, he has gained no tools (other than suppression) to help him in a future situation. 

Showing empathy can go a long way in drying those tears, but sometimes crying turns to a full-scale tantrum.  In those situations, use the same techniques as above— validating and labeling emotions — but also reiterate that “I can’t fix a fit.”  Tell the child that you want to help, but don’t know how unless they use words to help you find out what they need.  Of course, talking is difficult if a child is completely out of control, in which case you may want to try some of the Tools for Tantrums first.

In any case, we need to remember to focus less on the immediate goal of ending the crying, and more on the long term goal of healthy emotional regulation.  (Here’s a great post that makes teaching emotional regulation and expression as Simple as PIE.)  We want to communicate to our children that we do want to hear what they need and how they feel.  When they feel secure in that, and as they learn to communicate more efficiently, the crying will naturally lessen. 

Top photo by yarranz.
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Spare the Rod: What Spanking Teaches Children

I heard a comedian the other day, who really made a good point.  He said essentially this:  “My friends are always questioning my choice not to spank my kids.  They’ll often say, “Never?  You’ll never spank you kids?  There’s no situation where you think you might need to spank your kids?”  When I say I’ll never hit my wife, nobody says, “Never?  You’ll never hit your wife?  There’s no situation where you think you might need to hit your wife?”  This logic got a good laugh from the crowd, and I think it was spot-on.

I was teaching a group of care-givers recently and was surprised as I realized that while they were each aware that spanking was not acceptable in their professional setting, there was definite support for spanking at home.  And so our training took a sidebar.  We talked about what spanking teaches children, and I thought I’d share the same with you.

“Hitting is Acceptable Communication.”

I heard one proponent of spanking say, “Sometimes you just need that spankin’ to get their attention.”  Do you want your child to get people’s attention by hitting, or by using words, eye-contact, and soft touches?  Whichever you choose, be sure your behavior is likewise.

“Do as I Say, Not as I Do.”

We’ve all seen it.  The Grand Pooh-bah of all inconsistencies.  “Stop hitting your brother!” ….followed by a smack.  How can a child make sense of being hit for hitting?  How can an adult say hitting is not allowed, when they themselves will hit?  Spanking, particularly for physical aggression, is hypocrisy and will send confusing messages at the very least.  Very likely, it will also degrade your position as a trusted adult and mentor.

“Might Makes Right.”

For some children, spanking sends the message that it’s not OK to hit…..unless you’re bigger/in charge/ a grown up.  Consequently, many children will feel justified “spanking” other children when they are the older one, the bigger one, or simply want to be in charge.

A Question…

When you spank, are you truly trying to guide the child’s behavior, or are you reacting to your own urges and overpowering anger and frustration?  Responsibly guiding a child can never be done out of anger.  That doesn’t mean we don’t feel angry, but anger can’t be the source of our action.  Guidance has to come from love and respect and a desire to shape positive behavior.  Not a desire to punish with pain.  Some may argue that spanking is not the same as hitting, but a child won’t likely know the difference.

Abuse and Bad Practice

There are two over-arching premises in opposition to spanking.  One is that it can be abusive, and the other is that it is simply bad practice in terms of its effectiveness in teaching children correct behavior.

I was spanked on occasion as a child, and I certainly don’t think I was abused.  But I do know that some people believe they are “disciplining” their children when they resort to abusive tactics in the name of “spanking”.  That line can often be so small it’s nearly invisible.  It’s best not to start something that could easily get out of control.  Something you will inevitably regret.

But even if you are quite certain you would never spank out of anger, never cross that line into abuse, spanking is simply not good practice.  If you’re trying to teach good behavior, can that ever be accomplished by using broken tools? 

Spanking a child does nothing to teach a child good behavior.  It doesn’t build problem-solving skills, or communication skills, or magically instill them with the ability to share.  It teaches them only that they are “bad”, that they need to be “punished” and that your protection and love is conditional.

Better Tools

As the comedian above pointed out, many people are skeptic when they hear a parent will not spank.  They envision a passive, laissez faire parent with an unruly child as a result.  But it isn’t a lack of spanking that causes poor behavior.  It is the lack of tools.  Spanking is a broken tool.  But it’s a tool many people cling to because it’s the only one they have.  Once parents become aware of a full assortment of tools they can use to effectively guide child behavior in a positive way, they can be more confident as they lay their broken tools aside.

Positive guidance posts start here!

Positive Guidance Toolbox can be found here!

Top photo by DAVIDKNOX.
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Magic Words for Guiding Behavior: “Let’s Pretend”

In Vivian Gussin Paley’s book, A Child’s Work: The Importance of Fantasy Play, she mentions the opportunity to use fantasy play as a tool for classroom management or child guidance.    I found this interesting, and it caused me to think about that premise, the ways I have used it in the past, and the ways I could use it to smooth out difficult situations.

As she states, “Conversations with children may arise out a ‘last straw’ annoyance, in other words, or from a sense of dramatic flow.  They can come from concerns over decorum or from respect for our imaginations.  Both approaches will manage a classroom, but one seems punitive and the other brings good social discourse, communal responsibility, and may have literary merit.” (pg. 74)

This quote reminded me of when I was a first grade teacher in a school where classes needed to walk very orderly and quietly down the hallway.  Stern looks, nagging, and threatening worked from time to time, but what really made for a silent trip down the hall was asking the children to pretend we were sneaking past a sleeping giant.

Getting imagination on his side worked for my dad as well when he took my boys along on a fishing trip.  Keeping two preschoolers entertained while strapped to their car seats for a few hours of winding wilderness roads is a challenging task, even for a “seasoned professional” like Grandpa.  But he literally transformed what could have been an excruciatingly boring drive into an intergalactic adventure.  He had the boys guiding the flight from their seats and scanning the universe from their windows.  Consider the difference between this memorable adventure and the typical “Are we there yet?”  + “Don’t make me come back there!” drive.

In Paley’s book she gives an example of a young boy with a behavior problem and her own use of storytelling and dramatic play to guide the child’s behavior.  She created a narration about the problem and created a new character, “Good Player”,  and invited the child with the problem to act out Good Player’s positive behavior.  This play-acting helped reinforce the desirable behavior for the child and gave a model for the teacher to reference in the future (“…You’re pretending the wrong boy, remember?”)

While I will say that it is still important to teach behavior explicitly, we can sweeten the pot with imagination and narration. State what behavior is needed and why, but then add those magic words, “Let’s pretend……”

Photo by Alevgenex.

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