Kids who spiral out of control more often than not need routine and structure to bring them back
To say that these past few months have been a rollercoaster would be to completely ignore the fact that the rollercoaster was also on fire, and infested with killer bees.
My life has seen more ups and downs than a seesaw on a playground, with Rona creating more downs than ups. Especially the last few weeks have been dark. People I know ow started getting sick, people I knew of started dying. Businesses I loved closed. More started saying if not now, then definitely within the next month or two. My own business halted to a screeching stop. And through it all, I had to keep on smiling. Keep on being there for the kids (and everyone else). Keep them entertained.
I failed. Miserably. We had more screaming matches, bawling sessions and foul moods than an episode of any Real Housewives, or anywhere else, in the history of the world. My kids were restless, sullen, joyless, ungrateful. Mirroring my mood perfectly.
We were in a shitty situation, and the shit was only now about to get real.
My biggest frustration was with the kids. After 100 days of being their teacher/driver/chef/cleaner/entertainer/and more, I longed for the demoted job of just being their mother.
So I was fed up, and their behaviour started spiralling out of control.
A few red flags started to emerge:
1. I could not have a grown-up conversation without being interrupted. This continued even after starting (and actively practising) the signal method [if they want my attention while I am busy talking to someone, they place their hand on my arm. I then cover their hand with mine to signal that I acknowledge them and will get to them ASAP]
2. Moving from one activity to the next was a mission. Bedtime was a nightmare.
3. Complete disregard for rules and ignoring of any direct demand or question.
4. Relying on me to keep them busy and entertained ALL THE TIME. They were incapable, or refused, to find something to do by themselves.
5. They didn’t put anything back in their right place, making it impossible to keep the house clean. Also, we were constantly looking for stuff. And their toys were EVERYWHERE.
6. They just stopped getting along. Everything ended in a fight between the two. And inevitably I got roped in.
All of these signs pointed to one thing – the kids were anxious, uncertain and overwhelmed. They needed structure. Routine and structure make kids feel safe and secure. It gives them something that is reliable and expected so that they can fall back on that when they feel uncertain or overwhelmed. And with everything that was going on, no wonder they were feeling uncertain and unsafe.
So what did I do? And what should you do?
Instead of fighting with them or threatening them if they do not change their behaviour, change the environment. Create structure. Give them routine.
Not only will this help calm them down, but it can also help your kids understand expectations and gain independence.
If you have realised that your child needs more structure, these changes will help reduce the chaos in your home. And everyone will benefit!
There are many ways to add extra structure to your home and your child’s day to help you meet their needs.
- Structure the environment
- Structure the time
- Prepare for changes
- Structure demands
Structure the environment
Structure your home in such a way that it is easily understood by your kids.
Start by first creating predictable spaces and routines within your home for certain activities. For example:
- A set “calm down” space
- A set play place for toys
- A consistent bedtime routine (ex. Brush teeth, story, lights out at the same time every day)
- A task or chore system where the motivator is visible and task completion is clear.
- Themed days of the week, such as “Sushi Tuesday” or “Sunday Funday”
- 4 or 5 clear “Family Rules” that are displayed and that the entire family is expected to follow.
Structure demands – The Task/Chore system
This can be any type of system that you create which shows your child what their expectations and/or chores are.
Chores and responsibilities are one of the easiest ways to add more structure to your children’s lives.
Make sure their chores or responsibilities are age-appropriate. Your kids need to feel that they accomplished something when they have completed these chores. You don’t want them to be a source of frustration.
It’s important to have a way for your child to show that these tasks are “all done”. Such as, an “all done” envelope or folder to place the visual in, removing it from sight. Or a “done” space to move the tasks over to, or a checkbox they can write on. This is also a great way of showing them what they should do next. This can be combined with the visual schedule, as discussed below.
Structure the time
Structuring the time means having a consistent routine that is followed each day. Using a visual schedule is the best, and easiest, way to do this.
Your visual schedule should:
- Depict the activities that will occur, and in what sequence
- Show transitions within the day (like changing activities or environments)
- Promote independence
- It can be created for the whole day or broken up into chunks. For example, you could have a morning routine and an after-school routine
There are so many ways to create visual schedules. Choose the one that works best for your family.
How to create a visual schedule
If you’ve never done a visual schedule before it can be hard to know exactly where to start.
Follow these guidelines:
- Write down what already happens every day
Things such as dinner, waking up, bath time, going to school, etc.
- Fill in the gaps
Decide on more structured activities for your child for specific times. Instead of telling them to “go play” you can add activities like outdoor play, fine motor play (crafts, drawing, cutting, beading, etc), quiet time, etc.
- Structure the environment
Set up specific areas in your home where each of these activities will take place and get any supplies you need. For example, set up your craft table, get a bin and fill it with homework supplies to set up a homework station. Build your calm down space, and anything else you want to create.
- Decide how to initiate transitions
Decide how you will transition between activities on the schedule – will you use a timer? A verbal cue? A sound warning? A song? Each activity needs a clear start and finish. Plus, this transition cue should be consistent.
- Create the schedule visually There are many different ways to do this. You can draw it by hand or create it by finding your own images online and printing them. Or you can buy an already designed set.
- Display your schedule
Place the visual schedule in a central location in your home, such as the fridge, or in the family room. Ensure it’s in a location that makes it easy for yourself and kids to check the schedule. Or, laminate and clip ontop a clipboard for your child to take along with them.
- Teach your child to follow the schedule
It’s not enough to make it and hang it up on your fridge – you need to actually teach your child the routine. This is the most important part. This can take time and may require a lot of prompts and reminders in the beginning. You can’t deviate from the schedule once it’s set – your visual schedule is like a contract between you and your child.
Structuring the time goes hand in hand with the visual schedule – the items on your schedule need to have clear start times and end times.
Generally speaking, you don’t need to do the exact same thing every day, but if you schedule “Art” for 3 pm to 4 pm, then every day during that time you need to be doing something related to art. For example painting, colouring, cutting and glueing, etc.
Prepare for changes
It’s inevitable that sometimes the schedule will have to change – your children will have appointments, or you’ll have an unexpected errand to run that will cause a change in the routine.
This can throw your child, especially if they are prone to anxiety or dislike change. It’s important to prepare for these changes with your child as much as possible, so warn them long in advance, remind them that there will be a change on that specific day, and give them enough transitioning time to get used to the idea.
Children need structure. Adding more structure will help your child have less stress and anxiety – and therefore fewer anxiety reactions (like meltdowns). It will help your child be more tolerant of change since the warnings are in place to help them successfully move between tasks, chores or activities.
As a result, they will need less direct attention and instruction from you. This will make it easier for you to get things done around the home, keep things clean, and even have an uninterrupted conversation with another adult.
These are all things we know, but when we are overwhelmed ourselves it becomes difficult if not impossible to think logically about the needs of our kids. We used to have a visual schedule, but it went out of the window when the lockdown was initiated. Now that the kids are back at school (thank the heavens!) we need to get back to using one so that the kids can get used to this new normal, and also make it easier to transition. This is also a nifty idea to keep track of those things I tend to forget, like giving them their vitamins.
I hope these ideas help. Now to get a few ideas to help myself, and other mommies like me…