Tag Archives: social skills

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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Difficult Behaviors — I Want Your Input!

I’m excitedly working on a new project aimed at helping teachers and parents positively and effectively address difficult child behaviors and build social skills for the long haul.  I really want to get your perspective on the topic so that I can be sure that what I write is pertinent to you!  Please take just a moment to answer the questions below and/or comment at the end.  Thanks so much for contributing to a project that has really meant a lot to me!  I hope to have this project completed and ready to share with you within the next two months!

What child behaviors to you find most challenging?  Please answer in the comment section so that you can be specific to your experience!

Thanks so much for your input!

Top photo by Malik Bahai.
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Putting a Stop to the Potty Talk


I have three boys.  Two are between the ages of four and six —  prime specimen for the potty-talking stage.  The other is still just babbling but has already been coached by his older and wiser brothers as to the comedic value of words like “toot” and “poop”.

Why is it that young children have such a giddy fascination with all things scatological? 

The question has probably been around since the dawn of time, and you could likely find more answers than there are rest stops on your next family road trip.  In my opinion, most difficult behaviors in young children are driven by one or both of two motivators: Power and Attention. 

Here are a few ways Potty Talk fits the mold:


  • Young children have fairly recently tackled the task of toilet training.  Laughing at something is one way to show complete superiority.  Like a hero laughing in the face of danger.
  • Vocabularies grow at lightning speed for young children.  They are constantly acquiring new words.  They are also quick to note that some words are used with greater emphasis and sound powerful.  Those words go to the front of the line for language acquisition.  (Take note the next time you hear someone use a swear word or vulgar langauge.  If you didn’t understand the meaning, would you be able to pick out the taboo word just by the way it was said or the reaction it got?  Kids often can.)
  • When children know a word is taboo, defying that limit is a display of power.


  • Humor is a developing frontier for these young ones, and they’ve noticed there is one topic that never fails to get results…
  • Even if you don’t find this restroom raillery to be funny, if you respond with dramatic shock or exaggerated displeasure, your child has still secured your attention.

So aside from waiting for adulthood (which doesn’t always cure the fascination with the foul) what can you do to curb the crudeness?

As is often true of behavior, the answer lies in the causes.


  • Feed your child’s power by casually commenting that he is too smart/polite to use those words that way.  Offer better words — whether they better communicate the desired emotion, or are silly enough to get the laugh.  Make up your own silly words together!  Play up the fact that these words are better, smarter, or more polite. 
  • Knowledge is power.  Often, matter-of-fact discussions demystify questions like “Where does poop come from?”  “Where does it go?” and “Who else toots?” and the topic begins to lose its comedic allure.
  • Teach that power comes from polite words.  Particularly if the behavior is becoming obviously habitual, teach your child that using inappropriate language leads to less power through consequences.   Be matter-of-fact about it however.  Over-reacting only feeds the second factor.


  •  As difficult as it may be to keep from snickering at your child’s silliness or delving into an intense lecture, attention usually only fans the flames.  Particularly if it is a first offense, ignoring is one of the best ways to go.  My son once uttered something I could not have even imagined coming out of his three year old lips.  As I was two words into a scathing reprimand, it occurred to me that he was simply playing with sounds, and had absolutely no idea that he had said anything of meaning –obscene or otherwise.  Instead of “That’s NOT something we say in our home!” I made a mid-sentence lane-change into “That’s not even a real word!”  My shocked tone slid into a silly tone and a discussion on other silly words diverted the rest of the attention.  I haven’t heard the word since.  (Though I have a sneaking suspicion that my first impulse would have led to more experimentation.)
  • Walk away, continue on without missing a beat, or reprimand simply with a stern look.
  • Provide better attention-getting tactics by teaching “smarter” “funnier” jokes and give your full attention (and full belly laughs) when he uses those avenues instead.

You also must acknowledge your child’s developmental level.  Young children are learning about language and social rules.  You may need to teach these rules explicitly.  (“I know your friends laugh at those kinds of words, but they aren’t polite when they’re used that way.  You might hurt someone’s feelings or get in trouble when you use them.”) These lessons are often more effective away from the howling laughter of his peers.  Try initiating them at bed time, story time, or while doing chores together…. perhaps while scrubbing the toilet.

How do you react to “Potty Talk”?

Top photo by sskies.

Center photo by Jonathan Hillis.
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Let’s Make a Deal: Teaching Children the Art of Trading


“Sharing” is a vague concept for young children.  Most understand that everyone should share with them.  Their egocentric minds interpret their happiness as everyone else’s.  Learning that making others happy can actually help them as well, takes practice.

When a child wants something another child has, the first instinct is just to take it.  That rarely goes over well.  Children need to be taught the skills of social negotiation.  One way is to teach children the script, “Can I play with that when you’re done please?”  But for some children, when they’re asked to share, all they see is what they’ve lost.  In these situations,  teaching the art of the trade is a great way to approach sharing.

My son came to me tearfully during a playdate with his cousin.  “He has my car and it’s special!”  (Most things around here instantly become special when it comes to sharing.)  I explained that just taking it away would not be very polite because his cousin came here to play.  But, maybe together we could find something he did feel OK about sharing and trade with his cousin for the “special” car. 

So we went to the box of cars and selected three really cool cars that he could share.  With all three in hand he went back to his cousin and asked if he could trade for the one.  I sat back as my son extolled the virtues of the three cars, selling his cousin on the trade.  They made a swap and – presto – two happy boys sharing cars.

It seems like an obvious solution.  And it is.  The important thing is that you guide the children through it, so that it becomes a tool they can use independently.  Try not to swoop in and negotiate the trade yourself.  Guide, prompt, and redirect if it fails, but avoid taking over.  Learning to negotiate is a valuable social skill that will benefit children throughout their lives.  Additionally, it requires fantastic language and problem-solving skills.

Teach this technique directly in role-play scenarios, so that children can get the feel for it before they become emotionally charged.  Then watch for opportunities to guide them through it again in real-life play situations.

Before you know it, you’ll have a regular Monty Hall on your hands.

Top photo by jynmeyer.

Center photo by vertige.

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Filed under Article, Learning through Play and Experience, social skills

Time-Out! Coaching Preschoolers to Social Success

I know it’s unbecoming to be a braggart, but there is one thing, about which I must boast.  I won the March Madness bracket competition in my husband’s family this year.  Now, I’m no bracketologist.  I tend to make my picks based on which state the team is from, or who has the cooler sounding name, and I like to pick the underdog as much as reason will allow.  I missed a lot of picks in my bracket, but the one pick that put me over was when I chose Duke.  That pick I made based on the fact that I knew who their coach was. 

Coach Mike Krzyzewski (that’s not a spelling error)  or Coach K as he’s referred to (for obvious reasons) is one remarkable man.  He’s the “winningest” active coach in the NCAA.  He’s coached Duke to 4 national championships and multiple final fours.   The team has become a fixture in the tournament.  He also coached a struggling United States basketball team to gold in 2008.  I knew Coach K was a transformative coach.

Great coaches can make all the difference.  We as parents and teachers act as coaches as we help children prepare for, and navigate, the social world.

Practice Makes Perfect  Permanent

Coaches don’t just show up at game time.  They must prepare their players.  They run their athletes through hours of drills and training so that the skills they need in those critical minutes of play will be a natural response.  Likewise, we as parents and teachers can help children practice social skills so that they can become habit.  Practice might come in the form of role-playing, practicing scripts for challenging situations, even playing games.  We can prepare children for situations before they arise by clearly explaining expectations.  (“We’re going to go to the library.  In the library you need to use a soft voice, and make sure your feet are walking.“)  

Whether it’s a sport or social skills, a big part of coaching takes place before the critical moments.  All great coaches know that preparation leads to success.

Game Time

The coach could hope to do such a wonderful job preparing his players that he can just sit back and enjoy the game.  However, coaches know that the actual game often presents challenges that are different from those they had prepared for, or that the players get caught up in the intensity and forget their basic skills.  Sometimes players need reminders from the sideline.  Sometimes, the team gets so off-course, the coach has to pause the game, and have a serious discussion.  So he calls a time-out.

Parents and teachers coach in much the same way.  Sometimes we give reminders from the sideline (“Remember to ask if you can have a turn when he’s done.“).  Sometimes we have to “call time-out” and have a more serious discussion. 


Imagine a coach like Coach K calling a time-out and saying, “You guys aren’t playing very well.”  Then he just sits all his players down on the bench while he leaves to make a phone call or clean up some spilled popcorn a few rows up.  Then, when the 30 seconds alloted for that  time-out have expired, he walks back to the team and says, “OK, you can go back out now.  I want you to play better, OK?”  Any spectator would say, “He’s not doing his job!” 

Too often, the traditional time-out looks much like the ridiculous scenario I just described.  We sit a child in “Time-Out” and somehow expect that the child’s behavior will change when she returns to play.  Without coaching, the child is returning to play with the exact same set of skills she had when she went into time-out.

When Coach K calls a time-out, he gives his players a chance to catch their breath and refocus.  He gives clear and concise directions and expectations.  Then he sends his players back out with a plan.

When we call for a coaching time-out with children, we do much the same.  We first give them a chance to step out of a charged situation, calm down, and refocus.  Then we need to teach.

We have to be specific and clear as we socially coach children.  If we don’t say what we need to see, children will have a difficult time making that conceptual leap on their own.  In general, I encourage people to verbalize the thought process they would hope the child would follow.   It sounds like a long process, and you will often feel like you are stating the obvious.  But obvious to an adult is not always obvious to a child.  Just like running basic drills, this coaching helps that internal process to become natural.

The skeleton of the social coaching process might look like this:

Describe what happened, and label feelings involved.  “Karen, I noticed you’re throwing that playdough.  I know you’re excited, but we can’t throw the playdough.”

Ask/Describe what would be a better choice. “When we throw the playdough, it gets smashed into the carpet and ruins the floor and the playdough.  Where do you think we should play with the playdough?  Yeah, the table is the best place to play with the playdough.”

If necessary, help the child make retribution.  “Ok Karen, let’s get this playdough picked up and back onto the table where it belongs.”

Remind again about that better choice.  “Remember to keep the playdough on the table this time.”

Return the child to play.  Believe she can succeed.  Be there to support.

Basketball coaches are given more than one time-out per game.  Similarly, when a child stumbles again socially you might need to call another time-out again and repeat the process.  Very young children usually need multiple learning opportunities to create independent skills.  However, just as a coach will eventually make adjustments to help his team run more smoothly, if problems continue you may need to redirect(“Karen, we’ve talked twice about keeping the playdough on the table and you are still choosing to throw it.  It looks like you’re going to need to find another area to play for a while.  Let’s go build something with the blocks.”)

Coach K says, “Discipline is doing what you are supposed to do in the best possible manner at the time you are supposed to do it.”  With time, coaching, and practice, we can hope to be transformative coaches as well, and instill that same discipline in the children that we love and teach.

For more on Positive Guidance, click here.

Whistle photo by juliaf.

Soccer photo by je1196.
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Valentines, Friends, and Communication

Ahh, February!  The kiddos have just gotten over the withdrawal symptoms caused by the sudden drop in blood sugar levels after Christmas, so of course it’s the perfect time for another confectionary holiday! 

Now, I’m a middle of the roader when it comes to holidays and preschool.  I don’t quite agree with the notion that they should be completely abolished from school.  They are what kids are interested in, and I believe curriculum should emerge from the child’s interests.  Though, I also don’t agree with the idea that a holiday is an appropriate curriculum theme in and of itself for an extended period of time.  So I like to take the holiday and find connections to other social or science based themes.  As I think of Valentine’s Day, I think of friendship and writing and sending notes and letters.  I think of the social skills involved in creating and  maintaining human relationships.  These are skills children need to develop.  (While we’re at it, there are plenty of adults who could use a course on those skills as well!)

So, at this time of year, I like to utilize the theme “Friends and Communication”.  It allows for a focus on friendship – how we talk to our friends, what we like to do with our friends, and how we resolve conflicts with friends.  It also ties in with the concept of communication, particularly written communication (here’s where the Valentines really tie in) – the mail system, writing letters, recognizing written names, and sharing our thoughts in written words.

Here are just a few of the concepts and objectives within the theme:

Concepts / Objectives Subject Areas/Skills
  • Rhyming & Beginning Sounds
Phonemic Awareness /Pre-Reading Skills
  • Polite Language & Being a Good Friend
Social Skills
  • Graphing
Math – Sorting & Counting
  • Using the Mail
Social Concepts, Communication, & Writing
  • Creating and Completing Patterns

I’ve been a bit of a slacker lately, but I’ll try to get as many of the Valentine’s activities posted before the actual holiday for anyone who might be looking for a last minute idea!  Here are the activities I plan to post:


Homemade Paint Stampers

Fold Art Hearts

Heart Stencils

Chalk & Water


Sparkly Scented Playdough (If you can handle this much excitement, combine this recipe with this one!)

Hearts and Cornmeal

Magnet Search

Shape Scoop (Add Hearts!)

Post Office Dramatic Play:

Make Your Own Post Office

What Envelopes Will Do to Your Writing Center! (Just do it and find out for yourself!)

Group Games, Songs, Etc.:

Heart Count and Pattern

Mail Match

Play “Who Has the Heart” (Adapt this game by using a felt heart instead of a pumpkin)

Five Little Valentines (This song and others located here.)

Do You Know This Friend of Mine?

Magic Words” Song and Sign Language


Heart Biscuits

Valentine Smoothies (Try this recipe, but add strawberries for a Valentine’s pink.  Garnish with strawberries sliced top-down to create a heart!)

Chocolate Dipped Pretzel Rods

Big Soft Pretzels (This is the BEST recipe!)


Valentine Mice by Bethany Roberts (Combine with any rhyming game)

Jennifer Jones Won’t Leave Me Alone by Frieda Wishinsky (One of my all-time favorite books!  Follow up by making these Love Mobiles – simplified if necessary – for someone special!)

The Best Thing About Valentines by Eleanor Hudson (Make your own fancy Valentines!)

Rhyme Time Valentine by Nancy Poydar (Follow up with some Candy Heart Math!)

Mailbox Magic by Nancy Poydar (use with this activity)

Mailing May by Michael O. Tunnell

Raymond and Nelda by Barbara Bottner

Please Write Back! by Jennifer E. Morris

We’ll see how quickly I can get caught up!  Stay tuned!

Top hearts photo by wemedge.


Filed under Unit Themes