Five Parenting Lessons from T-Ball

I just finished up my first year as a coach of my son’s four to six year old T-ball team. I’ve never coached anything, but hoped everything was going to turn out alright. Sure, I have handled my fair share of four year olds thanks to my job, but generally speaking, they have not had bats in their hands or were throwing semi-hard baseballs at each other. It was a blast and no one got hurt! Success.

Reflecting on the season, I could not help but think of how many parenting and behavior lessons can be learned from the perspective of my experience as a T-ball coach. Here are the first 5 (the others soon to come):

           

1. Always keep your hand on (or close to) the bat.

I appreciated this lesson that came up in the coach’s meeting when an experienced coach said, “don’t let go of the bat until you are all clear and ready for that kid to swing.” What a great lesson. I was always especially careful of where the bat was at all times. And he was right…once you let go, that kid is gonna swing away.

As for parenting, I think this speaks right to the heart of always being prepared and super focused when the situation is potentially dangerous (physically, emotionally or behaviorally). Keeping an eye out, surveying the field and then letting go of the child when it is safe for them to swing away ensures success or extremely reduces the chances of failure. In those situations…hold onto the bat until you are sure everything is ready.

2. Never forget to show them where first base is.

I could not believe it. The last game of the season and I still had a few players run in the wrong direction or not run at all when they hit the ball. I assumed too much. I assumed since we had practiced running the bases and had been playing for so long they would have it. Nope. Not all of them (including my son who I had to stop from chasing down the ball he had just hit and redirect him to first base).

There are times when, as parents, you will assume incorrectly that your child knows what behaviors are expected. “He should know by now” situations will come up and potentially be tough to manage. Until you are completely sure your child knows what do to and what behaviors you are looking for, remind them. Show them.

3. The team will tell you when you are not in control.

Yes, there were times when things were more hectic than I had planned. The players got a little pushy in line, started talking more about “being first” or “thats my ball.” This always, without exception, occurred when I did not have as good of a grasp on the current situation as I had planned.  Too many kids in the line waiting to catch, too much time between batters, too few helmets, lost gloves, etc. Their behavior was a reflection on how well I had prepared them and the activity.

In the same way, your kids will tell you (with their behavior) when you are less in control: when you had too little sleep, too much aggravation, not enough time to finish that first cup of coffee in the morning. Remember, your kid’s behavior is often a reflection of your preparation and organization. Dont take it out on them. Wake up earlier, sleep more, take a “chill out” if frustrated, etc.

4. Find a white line.

When we were out on the field, I was always looking for some physical something to help the kids know where they needed to be. The white line became my source of boundaries. The circle around the home plate area was where they needed to be while we were hitting, the line from third to home was where their feet needed to be during fielding drills, the line from home to first base was where they needed to walk to shake hands with the opposing team after the game. 

Boundaries with children are important to maintain as are very clear expectations. Sometimes we have to make it exceptionally clear and give physical references for the behaviors we want. I mentioned the Parking Pal on the Facebook page previously, which is a perfect example for this. Find those physical boundaries and things in the environment to make sure your expectations are clear and visible.

             

5. Huddle up.

This is probably one of the practices most influenced by my work. I know sometimes kids have difficulties transitioning from one thing to another. Especially when they are in a group of 13 all getting ready to bat, things can go haywire if you do not watch out. So, every time we had any transition at all, we “huddled up.” Everyone together, hands in the middle, I would give the instructions of what we were going to do next, then finish it off with a “1,2,3 – GO ORIOLES!” That part was necessary because it made them want to come to the huddle. Otherwise, I would have struggled to get them in a group and maintain them at such close quarters. Also, it allowed me to have control and everyone’s attention at a time of transition. I was able to assign batting order, get them behind the line and do so in an orderly manner because I had then all right there with me.

This is so important in the daily lives of parents. There are changes in the schedule, some going more announced than others, and some when you are going into something that might not be as fun as the last thing you just did. Huddle up, inform your kids of what is coming up. Be prepared yourself so you can prepare them. Bring them together so you can start from a good, organized position rather than going into your next activity without fully gaining control of them. This is huge.

Oh, and as always, make it fun and cheer for them. A good high five goes a long way!

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Chores? Ugh.

                 

So far, much has been talked about on BehaviorBandAid about getting your kids to do something they might not want to do: The Premack principle (a must read), “sitting practice”, and the most recent post simply titled “how to get your kids to do what they should” are a few examples you might want to review.  Topics of reinforcement have been covered, even the one where I confronted the issue of some who say “he is just doing that because he gets an ice cream” and the difference between bribery and reinforcement.

But I think it is appropriate to be direct and specific about a four letter word around most families: CHORES (wait, that was 6 letters…you know what I mean).  How to get kids to start doing them, how to be more successful with a “chore” system, and the important question of “to pay or not to pay?”  Here are my thoughts.

  1. Plan ahead – Don’t wake up one morning and decide you are sick and tired of the house being a mess and “its about time those kids learn some responsibility.”  This is a process to teach your kids how to do chores and learn some responsibility, NOT to keep your house clean.  Think it out.  Where do you want to start?  When?  Choose a day when you will start and let your kids know.  Be prepared (AND in a good mood).
  2. Start small – “Clean your room” is NOT small.  It is also not specific enough.  When you start out (or restart after reading this), make the chore short and sweet, give guidance and have a very clearly defined measure of “done.”  I can’t tell you how important this is. For example, “Shoes in a line…just like this…under your bed…just like this.  You try.”  For now, that is all.  They have to know and it has to be appropriate to their age, NOT your desires for a clean room.  
  3. Be there to begin – Think of this as a delegation and you need to make sure you are there at the beginning of the process to make sure everything starts off correctly.  I recently heard on a Podcast with Steven M R Covey something that I thought was directly linked to this: “You cant expect what you don’t inspect.”  Put that on your refrigerator.
  4. Resist reacting poorly to resistance-  You are likely to get some resistance, especially if you go too fast or expect too much.  Use this as a bit of a barometer for how much you are asking, how well-defined and specific your criterion are, and fade back/move forward based on this.  DO NOT slide on the requirements directly after whining or add incentives AFTER the whining.  For example, you ask him to make sure his clothes are put away (as you have specifically defined that) and he whines, then you say, “How ‘bout we get some ice cream if you do it right” or “OK, just put away your shirts and I will do the rest…stop whining.”  Bad timing.  And please, dont get angry and FORCE it.  You will make chores more punishing than they already are.  Dr Glenn Latham said in his book, The Power of Positive Parenting, something to the effect of “a clean room is not worth a dirty relationship with your child.”  I highly recommend this book, by the way. 
  5. Gradually increase the demand – but make sure you are still very specific (even write it out if you have readers) about what the expectation for completion is.  Slowly but surely, “clean your room” will be an OK “chore” to require because you have, over time, defined it very clearly and have successfully increased the demands over time.  You might even have a checklist by this point that you can refer to when checking on things (ex.: shoes under bed in a line? Bed made with pillows under sheet and sheets not showing under the blanket, clothes off floor, etc.).  This length of this process depends on the age of your kid AND how successful they are.  The usual fault here is asking too much too quickly.  Be slow.  Remember, you are teaching them, not hiring them.
  6. Payment for services rendered? – There are a bunch of opinions about whether to pay allowances or not, or to pay for chore completion.  I will not lead you one way or the other, but will suggest there might be some benefit to using some reinforcers/rewards other than “because you should do it.”  For some families, I suggest simply having a “chore” a day (planned and following the rules above) and preferred activities (iPad, Nintendo, computer, etc.) will be available after that chore is completed.  Click here to see a post about that or  my thoughts on token systems/sticker charts if you want to learn more about that.  Some families do quite well with an allowance system.  I will suggest there is also something to be learned from the money management side, and for that, I suggest Dave Ramsey’s insight on this (if you are unfamiliar with Dave Ramsey, check him out at www.DaveRamsey.com.

A good plan and a good attitude will go a long way with this process.  I am sure there will be more to be said on this, but for now, let me know what you think, either here or on the BehaviorBandAid Facebook page.

The skeleton key…what behaviors open doors?

         

skeleton key (plural skeleton keys)

  1. A key that has parts filed away so that it will open a range of locks

When I think of a skeleton key, I think of one key that opens a variety of doors.  When it comes to your kid’s behaviors, I think about behaviors that result in a variety of options that were only made available after the behavior occurred.  The behavior “opened doors” that were previously “locked.”

“Open sesame!”

A child asks for chocolate chip cookies for snack.  The mother says, “no, you cannot have cookies for a snack.  You can either have bananas or blueberries.”

The child complains about how much he hates bananas, and the blueberries are too squishy.  This quickly turns into whining, mild tantrummy junk, and something that looks like a close cousin to a Riverdance.

The mother gasps and, as she opens the refrigerator and the pantry, says, “well, you could have these leftover strawberries, your yogurt or…well, what would you like OTHER than cookies?  You can’t have cookies!”

The child stops, pouts and grabs the yogurt from the refrigerator.  He stomps off.

What just happened?

The choices available to the kid changed or increased AFTER a series of protests.  She started with bananas and blueberries and, after the tantrum, presented the whole lot of the refrigerator and pantry.  Wow, that was nice.

The protest was the “skeleton key” in that it opened the door to choices that were not available before the protest happened.

Think about this a bit.  How many times do our kids get options after a crummy behavior they did not have before the crummy behavior.  Is your kid “opening doors” this way?

Here is another example

Your 12 year old is laying across the couch texting one of his girlfriends and your 5 year old daughter circles around him like a gnat.  The 12 year old swats her away, but the gnat is relentless.  You see what is going on and tell your daughter that her brother is busy, to “go play, while I make you dinner.”  She crosses her arms, stomps and says, “HE NEVER PLAYS WITH ME…” and starts crying.  You look at your son with those eyes that say “Please, son, help me out here.”  After a quick LOL and :), he puts down his phone and says, “What do you want to do, you little gnat?”  She smiles as she sets out the princess set.

Access to the brother was locked before she pouted and cried.  Access was granted after she cried.

Dinner is served

We have talked before about picky eaters and how behavior around the dinner table can ultimately be a skeleton key to more food choices or for less demands on what your kid needs to eat for dinner.  You’ll want to read that if you have not already: mealtime negotiations 

Isn’t this hard to avoid?

Yes.  But it is important to be aware of how your kid’s behavior opens doors that were not open before the behavior occurred.  Some “skeleton key” behaviors are desirable: calm requests for other choices, reasonable explanations for why something did not occur or cannot occur, or other behaviors that help the child successfully communicate in an appropriate way.  For example, “mom, my stomach got upset last time I had blueberries, can I have something else?”  Nice.  That request opens up a variety of “doors,” including the pantry and refrigerator.

So what do I do?

Be aware of the potential problem.  There are times you know that the choices are terrible and you are likely to get some resistance.  You know it.  All parents have been there.  

If there are options that you are OK with, give them up front…before the tantrum.  

A good example is the first story above: if you are OK with yogurt or the leftover strawberries, give those options up front.  If you are wrist deep in dinner, ask your son to help out with the little one before she starts begging and bothering him.  If you are OK with your son only eating 1 green bean then being done, serve 1 green bean.  If you will ultimately play with your son while over at a friend’s house TRYING to have a relaxing time, play up front, NOT after he bugs the heck out of you. This requires a bit of thinking on your feet and some effort up front when you might not think you have it, but you can do it.

If it does happen (and you have followed the recommendations above), leave it.  Don’t open the doors to more options.  If you are only OK with bananas or blueberries, then those are the choices.  Say, “sorry…we’ll have dinner in a bit” and move on.  If big brother is studying for the SAT, say, “your brother is busy” and ask your son to go to a place where he cannot be bothered.

Can you think of some situations where your kid used a “skeleton key” to open a door?

Don’t be shy…tell us your story on the BehaviorBandAid.com Facebook page

Football season over…when to “punt” as a parent

             

There are times in every parent’s life (maybe more often than we expect) when we have to “punt,” which is to do something to make our kids comfortable when things don’t line up in their favor.  I’m here to give you permission to punt…lets talk about it.

Alright…lets face it: we can’t control everything that affects our kids’ behavior.  There is no way around that family reunion, the power is going to go off every now and then, your father-in-law is going to require everyone to sit together, including the 2 year old, to hear family stories “because they will appreciate it later.”  No-win situations for the kids (or for you if you don’t watch out).

These are opportunities for your child not to learn how to manage difficult situations. What I mean by that is, sometimes all I want a kid to do is NOT learn how to escape terrible situations by screaming and crying, NOT to freak out and hit cousin Millie because she has never been allowed to lose a game (and now she has), NOT to scream “I DONT CARE ABOUT MY GREAT GREAT AUNT, HALF REMOVED! (“what is ‘half removed anyway, Mommy?’”).  These are infrequent, but potentially powerful moments in parenting.  

Punting is OK.

Because these events are infrequent (and even if they are not), I am giving you permission to bring the DS, to bring the My Little Ponies, to allow Harry Potter to come along for the ride.  This is “the punt.”  Your goal is to get through the day, hour, half-our and sometimes the best treatment is preventative.

Now, don’t confuse me.  If you can control, either through practice or through management of the environment (making sure your kid doesn’t play Chutes and Ladders with Millie, leaving the party before Uncle Dave starts using “potty words” or speeding through the grocery to get the last minute items) absolutely do it.  You cannot win a game by punting all the time.  You can win if you punt at the time when the alternative ensures the loss. 

I have talked over and over about preparation and practice, and how important it is to expose your kids to difficult scenarios little by little to ensure success.  However, sometimes there is not a possible way to re-create or to practice a certain circumstance. You do not have ample control over the environment (the things, people and places you might run across), so you are at a loss before you start.  

So what is “the punt?”

“The punt” is what you would do to give into your kid when she starts protesting, but doing so BEFORE it happens (not after…that would be silly and would defeat the purpose).  Do not wait, just go ahead and let him bring the trains along to entertain himself, take advantage of a portable DVD player, YouTube on your iPhone for crying out loud (seriously, crying out really loud).  

DO THIS BEFORE THE BEHAVIOR OCCURS.

You know it is going to happen, heck you even want to rev up the engines and get out of there.  You ask for another glass of wine to get through it…the least you can do for your kid is to give her a little extra Elmo time to get her through.  You cannot force it…you will regret it.

Your family won’t remember your kid was in the other room watching TV, they will remember the massive tantrum during the 3rd course of dinner.  But that is not what this is about.  This is about NOT putting your kid in a situation where behavioral failure is inevitable.  You have been there before, you will be there again.

I give you permission to punt.  It might be the best defensive move your offense has made.

Should do??? Won’t do!! – How to get your kid to do what they should

     

Just because you think your kid should be doing something does not mean that he will just up and do it one day…”just because he should.”

Look, there are a lot of things parents think their kids should do, but ultimately the question remains: IS he doing it?  If the answer to that question is ever “NO,” lets talk about it a bit more.

The source of this comment is usually about getting up in the morning, going to bed at night, completing chores, taking a bath, following general directions and simply being “respectful” to parents and other adults.  Here is the thing though…it has to have some benefit to the kid for him to do those things without throwing a fit, complaining, or pouting as he takes out the trash.  

Why most kids do what they should

Yes, some kids do such things so they can avoid making you mad, keep access to the game system, or simply preserve the ability to sit down without wincing (have a sense of humor…I am not saying spanking is a good idea).  There are also kids who do these things because they have sufficient experience with these things resulting in positive things such as praise, high fives, parental acceptance or even access to a little extra time in front of the TV or computer that night.  For a lot of kids, these two things are enough.

For some, it isn’t.  Here is the help:

To turn the should do into did do you need to begin with a three step shaping process:

1.  Arrange certain things to make the behavior more likely to occur.  This might mean shortening the task, making it less effortful, less time consuming or more interactive with someone fun (like YOU, for example). 

“Clean your room” becomes “pick up those socks, put those shoes under your bed and throw me that towel and we will get out of here!”  “Clean the bathroom” turns into “squirt some of this weird blue stuff around the inside of the toilet, flush it and lets go…”  “Get dressed” gets done by you going in, putting everything on but the socks and then saying “put your socks on and meet me in the kitchen for those awesome PopTarts.”

2.  Reinforce the completion of the task since you just made it much more likely to happen.  Be nice.  High five. A pleasant, “I appreciate you getting that done this morning.” 

Rewards have not been successful up to this point because the task was too aversive or too difficult.  The reward did not work because they never got access to it.  Now they have…now the reinforcer can begin to work.

3.  Slowly fade into higher levels of demand: “Here is your shirt, now all you need is your pants and socks…see you in a second,” “Make sure you get that towel off the floor too, please” or “rub that brush around in that blue toilet stuff before you flush then spray the shower while I get the movie going.”  

You see…to make sure something happens, whether or not YOU think it should, it sometimes means taking a few steps back to make it more likely to happen so you can reinforce it.  

You should do this…

Time out: the baby with the bathwater. Listen carefully.

       

Have you ever tried something new, a new electronic device or something for the kids and got frustrated and said,

“This *&^% thing doesn’t work…why does everyone say these things are awesome…this thing is stupid!” 

Then someone comes over, grabs it, does something simple to it and says, “you’re doing it wrong…that is why it wasn’t working.”

It wasn’t working because you weren’t doing it right or you overlooked something very elementary.  Very simple.  I can’t help but think of the ultimate family man, Clark “Sparky” Griswold, in Christmas Vacation karate chopping the reindeer because the light switch was off, preventing the display of his Christmas cheer:

Here is the connection:

There are a lot of behavior strategies that are commonly misunderstood and misused and when they don’t work there are books written and websites dedicated to very strong responses regarding how awful these strategies are and how they “never” work.

Case in point, I commented on an internet article on time out two months or so and received a lesson in the incredible emotions, disdain, and clear misunderstanding connected to this thing we call “time out,” not only on my Facebook page, but on the other pages associated with the conversation.  It was if those who even think about time out should be reported to child protective services.  

What was clear was that the term “time out” has been over-used, misused and mischaracterized so that many parents who thought they were using “time out” were unsuccessful.  It created more problems, it was difficult to maintain, it did NOT help.  This resulted in “time out” (even though what they were likely doing was wrong and NOT time out) being framed as a terrible, heartless parenting strategy that “never works” (the phrase “never works” is what triggered me to respond to the article due to how insanely incorrect this statement was). 

OK, now, for my thoughts.

I strongly believe in an incredibly positive and proactive style of parenting and behavior management.  I believe reinforcement strategies are the strongest tools in your parenting tool belt.  Proactive teaching in a way that reduces, as much as possible, the likelihood of “error” or challenging behavior is my mantra.  For example, waking up several times throughout the night to take a child to the bathroom can and does work to teach toilet training sometimes without error!  Helping your child navigate the social demands of a birthday party before the party, teaching ahead of time, turns a potentially difficult situation into a successful learning opportunity. Taking shorter trips to the store so it can be successful instead of painful is more effective than taking away your kid’s Nintendo DS (or threatening Santa’s naughty list) because they screamed through the two hour long escapade through the mall on the week before Christmas.  Check out my archives and my Facebook posts and see how much I believe in prevention and proaction…its pretty clear.  

I do not believe punishment strategies are to be used to shape behavior, but do believe there are times when time out, when used appropriately and with sufficient caution, is an effective and prudent strategy.  Decades of research have supported this.  I have a top 10 list…check it out here.

Let me clarify what I mean when I say, “punishment.”

Punishment: something that makes the likelihood of that behavior less likely to occur in the future (not this time, next time).  It is not what we think should be “punishing” (sometimes yelling at your kid for saying a dirty word makes the kid say more dirty words…whoops), but what actually happens to the behavior.  Does it go away, or persist despite your “punishment” efforts?  

As I have stated in previous posts, things like spanking, timeout and harsh words don’t always fit this definition.  If spanking does not reduce the future likelihood of a behavior occurring it is not punishment. STOP IT.  If time out does not reduce the future likelihood of a behavior occurring it is not punishment. STOP ITIf harsh words do not reduce the future likelihood of a behavior occurring it is not punishment. STOP IT

So, in many cases, these strategies do NOT work because of the nature of the behavior and are therefore potentially harmful for a variety of reasons, but it is not the strategy that should be deemed ineffective.Herein lies the misinformation and misleading comments from those in the parenting “web world.”

So, here is the lesson. 

Think through the strategies you are using to reduce unwanted or undesirable behaviors.  Are they working?  Are you finding yourself doing them more instead of less?  Have you read up on “time out” and how it should and should not be used?  Do you actually even keep up with this to know?  Is your spanking reducing the occurrence of the behavior for which you spanked?  Remember: it is not what makes the behavior stop in the moment, but what makes the behavior less likely to occur again.

Be informed…let me help.

Attention seekers and “empty cups”

      

Listen carefully and pause to think after reading this next phrase:

Your kids will get your attention one way or the other. 

Read that again, out loud…here, I’ll help

“The reality is that my child will get my attention one way or the other…whether I like it or not”

We have all seen it…kids who do a variety of things “for attention.”  From dance routines in the restaurant to counting in a foreign language to funny fart sounds with an armpit (a classic).  All behaviors that draw attention, both in good ways and not-so-good. 

It starts early.  Not long after they learn to talk, here it comes, “Hey, look at me!”  At least at this age it is obvious.  They are actually asking for the attention rather than getting it as a by-product of some behavior.  It is clear, right in your face.  It is not far at all from “Hey, pay attention to me.”  If only it were always this blatant.

Kids do so many things to draw attention to themselves.  Truly, it is not a bad quality to have if used appropriately and with behaviors that you actually want to occur again.  The problems come from when those attempts do not work.  

You’re job is to decide how you want them to get your attention (not really hard), to respond to them when they use those behaviors (kinda hard), to NOT respond to them when they try other ways (hard, truly) and to realize when they are doing things just for your attention (harder yet).

Lets start here:

I’m a “cup-full / cup-empty” guy (there is research behind this, so its really more than just me being me).  Truly, this is an example of being hungry versus being full.  People will do crazy stuff when they are hungry for food, attention, sex, etc.  Those behaviors get crazier when the initial attempts do not work and they are then more and more hungry, attention starved, etc.  You’ve seen the reality shows…c’mon, you know what I’m talking about.

Same thing with your kids.  If their “cup” is not filled, if they are attention “hungry,” they will behave in ways that often result in attention.  Don’t get me wrong, they might not be doing this purposefully (“I am going to pull the cat’s tail to get it to scream, then mommy will come running”), it is just how behavior works.  If they are not getting the attention, they will ultimately get the attention and likely with behaviors you don’t like and don’t want to see again.  

You HAVE to respond to the cat screaming, your underwear in the fan, mayonnaise in the baby’s hair, the phone being dialed that sounds a lot like 9-1-1, the dirty word or the ugly “where did you learn that” dance.  You have been there. 

If you don’t “fill their cup,” you will automatically be teaching them the more ridiculous and disruptive you are, the more likely it is I will pay attention to you.  EESSHH

If this sounds like your house, like your kids (all kids do it when “hungry”), make a point to pay more attention to the things you want: ask them to tell you a story, help in the kitchen, play a game, etc.  Set a timer, put something in your pocket or refrigerator to remind you – “hey go pay that kid some attention.”  It really does not matter, just as long as you are “filling the cup.”

The cup is always leaking, some kids leak faster than others and require more frequent attention, but “every now and then attention” keeps most kids “full.”  

My bet is the craziness will go away because they will already be “full.”

Do it on your terms…your kid does not come with a “30 miles till empty” warning.