Often times I’m told by caregivers trying to create a consistent schedule for their kids, “It doesn’t work”. Caregivers are exhausted and often get worn down when trying to implement something new or stay with something that isn’t a good fit. Everyone and every situation is unique, to say the least. Don’t despair though…here are a few tips of support to set yourself and your children up for success.
Start with this simple sequence: Warm up, challenge, and cool down. This can be repeated a number of times throughout the day- I like utilizing this for morning, afternoon, and evening. Breaking up the day and focusing on one step at time can make all the difference. No worries, you got this right!?!
WARM UP: These are routine things done on a daily basis. They may feel like a challenge at times, but you and children both know they need to be done. These are things like hygiene tasks, getting dressed, and eating. They also include small chores and quiet or independent types of activities. These can be a saving grace for transition times or to accommodate for other family members. Warm up’s occur all throughout the day and can include children helping set or clear the table at meal times, bath time, cuddling in the evening to read a book at bedtime. For example a warm up could be allowing child limited screen time so caregiver can get ready for the day.
CHALLENGE: These are the times of the day that may be more frustrating or difficult for children. Typically, if you are asking yourself, “Am I ready for this?” it’s probably a challenge task. This can be time spent having child work on social skills such as sharing or playing a game with others. Accepting limits like the infamous word “No.” Educational or learning focus tasks like writing or reading. Completing more complex tasks or household responsibilities. These are things that children may have to follow a sequence or several steps to complete. Examples are anything in which children are exercising their frustration tolerance- or maybe when we see behaviors a lack there of.
I suggest sandwiching the more challenging times in the middle of the morning, afternoon, and evening segments of the day. These are times of day when children are less likely to have other factors contributing to tantrums or meltdowns like being tired or hungry. Plus they are still motivated by cool down activities that provide more freedom and relaxation. It’s always nice to have one extra tool in your pocket that you can pull out and use.
With challenging activities parents can get creative to make it more fun or rewarding for kids. Work on writing or reading skills in less traditional ways like using sidewalk chalk, magnets, or a whiteboard. Create a scrapbook or write and illustrate you own story. You could ask kids to write sentences in different orders or even backwards. Type up sentences for a story and make it a puzzle for your child challenging them to put in the correct order. Sometimes adding things your child likes to do like using scissors or a glue stick can be just the trick to getting them on board. Other ideas include timing them to see how fast or slow they can do things. Use humor and have fun- you can have them read in different voices like a whisper voice, giant voice, or singing.
If your kiddo still isn’t receptive and you continue to have behaviors- don’t get discouraged. Instead try to get more information about what is getting in the way- collaborate, brainstorm, problem solve. These are a big part of what you are trying to develop in your child anyway. Sometimes the issue is a quick fix. It’s amazing how much of the time something as simple as getting to pick the book or writing tool becomes a power struggle. When children feel they don’t have a choice in anything, they will often make the only choice they feel they have... As a parent choose your battles. You have to be sure it is worth the effort, you will be able to remain consistent, and can keep your cool.
Also, don’t forget you can use cool down as a motivational tool. This may be a reminder of getting to play at the park or outside, screen time, or even a special fun event like going to the pool, playing with bubbles, or having a play date. Remember, it is important to mean what you say as a parent- so tread carefully. This is not meant to be a threat of something to be taken away, rather a reminder of things to work or look forward to.
COOL DOWN: I think of cool down as the most looked forward to parts of the day. I like the sequencing of these two parts-challenge and cool down. It promotes the message that with responsibility you can have increased freedom and fun. These are the activities that are easy for your child to get involved in and typically would be considered either- active or relaxing. By the same token, they may also be the activities its difficult to get your kiddos to stop. This is why it’s set up before a natural transition of the day like a meal time,
Additionally you can use prompting tools and invitations for children to be “helpers”. This supports children in fostering mastery- again allowing increased opportunity to feel in charge or have increased control in a positive way. A simple invitation supporting this skill would be to have child in charge of serving a side dish for mealtime, getting to plan the meal, or even helping to prepare parts of the meal. You can also use similar strategies from challenge time to capitalize on desire for mastery by creating a fun challenge, using a distraction, or through engagement and humor. I hope you can find ways to use these strategies and it helps to keep everyone cool this summer.
About the Writer - Jessica Pladsen, LMFT
Jessica has years of experience working in a variety of settings supporting individuals, families, and children. She has experience working with anxiety, anger management, depression, relational and attachment issues, child and adolescent behavioral issues, and trauma. Jessica is currently working on becoming a Registered Play Therapist.
Jessica utilizes her educational experience and training in marital and family therapy, play therapy (Autplay), sandtray, and EMDR to support the desired change toward wellness and mental health. She takes an individual approach to fit unique strengths, goals, and circumstances.