Prevention Tips for Parents
By Kelly Ceglarz, LMFT, BCBA
Clear expectations and priming (planning ahead or coping ahead):
Most children benefit from having structure and clear guidelines in their daily routines. This allows your child to know what to expect in situations and how to behavior accordingly. Transitions can be difficult for young kids. Priming involves giving your child information about a transition, activity, or event before it occurs.
This can take the form of “House Rules.” These rules should apply to everyone in the family and can teach your child what behavior is expected at home.
Reward systems can be especially helpful for children when learning new behaviors, tools, or ways of responding. These systems can be used for tasks or activities that are especially challenging for your child or when internal motivation to complete the task is low.
House rules can be worked into the reward system and the child should be rewarded for following house rules.
Providing frequent choices throughout your child’s day will allow your child to feel more control over the outcomes of decisions and, thus, be more willing to comply.
For example, getting ready for bed may not be a choice, but the order in which your child completes the bedtime routine (brushing teeth, putting pajamas on, etc.) can be a choice.
Provide specific praise as often as possible focusing on your child’s positive behaviors that you are looking to increase. This is especially important when learning new skills or trying to change a behavior – notice and acknowledge your child’s efforts to calm down, even if they are small at first.
Aim to “catch” your child being good and provide praise statements as often as possible and immediately following the positive behavior (e.g., “I like how you took some deep breaths when I told you no,” “Wow, you walked away from your brother the first time I asked!”)
Create a Calm Zone:
According to Siegel and Bryson (2016), a “calm zone” helps a child to learn internal self-regulation, which is fundamental to executive function skills. This should be a place selected by the child, with some toys, books, or stuffed animals that can be visited when the child needs to calm down. This should not be used as a punishing “time out” but an opportunity to take a few moments away (3-5 minutes) to self-regulate and calm down.
While your child is still learning to use their “calm zone,” your child should be praised and rewarded until they are demonstrating the ability to use this space on their own. The goal is to have your child transfer there at the very beginning signs of escalation. As your child continues to escalate, it will get more difficult to transition them.
Modeling for your child when you’re feeling big emotions can be very useful. Children will see how you strategize and problem-solve and what type of language you use. This should be done during times when your child is calm and can process what you are trying to teach.
Having scheduled time each ay for a special activity/time with mom or dad can support a young child with regulation. This time should be spent one-on-one with one parent. Young children also need touch to help regulate so using this preventatively can help avoid meltdowns.