MANAGING BEHAVIOR DURING
Sheryl Overby, MS LIMHP
There are 3 main types of ways to help kids with their social interactions with peers. Pre-teaching, coaching in the moment and giving feedback. All social interactions between children improve based on trial and error, and some kids need extra help from adults to understand their peers’ responses and to know how to change their behavior to make the interaction more pleasant.
Identify House Rules
- House rules, or rules for the activity should be decided between the caregivers and discussed in advance.
- These rules maybe different than those of siblings, and should be based on the needs of the child. Children who demonstrate good judgment will have different rules than children who have shown to have difficulty making good decisions.
- All privacy rules are expected to be followed by all children in the home and all children who interact with your child.
- Physical boundaries about where the children are allowed to go should also be determined ahead of time and should be stated as a house rule.
- Rules about the use of food and drinks should also be decided ahead of time.
Identify an agenda for the peer interaction
- Have an idea if the peer will be involved in snack or dinner time, the expectations for arrival and pick up, and their planned activities.
- Explain to your child what the expectations are for supervision (line of sight/hearing?) and how they should respond if the friend wants to do something that is against the supervision rules.
- Sometimes, kids need help to decide what to do with unplanned time, and a back up plan or activity is helpful if the original activity does not go well or the children change their mind and don’t want to do it anymore. Examples are to play a board game, play outside (depending on their need for supervision), do a craft activity or watching a movie.
- The parent needs to be available for coaching during all peer interactions and should be available as needed.
Identify an escape plan
- Have an idea of how you will handle things if the peer interaction is not going well for whatever reason and how the activity will end.
- You may need a signal your child can give you if he/she wants the friend to go home or have an excuse prepared that won’t hurt the friend’s feelings.
- Have a plan on how the friend can go home early if needed and who will provide transportation.
- Sometimes the phrase “cooperation/patience/ability to share is all used up” can explain the problem if the friends are arguing without placing blame on either child.
- Depending on your child’s supervision plan, you will need to provide visual and/or
auditory supervision with all peers. If your child has a sexual behavior problem, they have already shown that they have a problem with good judgment. You will also need to know what they do well with peers and what areas need improvement so you can know how to proceed in the future.
- Sometimes, a simple statement can help the peer interaction proceed more smoothly.
- Examples are to: label/notice positive behavior, suggestion to change activities, Suggest to your child in private to use the STOP or Turtle steps or distract both children with a snack.
- Be careful not to “shame” either child in front of their friend as this may backfire and create long term problems in your relationship and embarrass the child.
- If you need to provide individual feedback to your child, do so in private. Praise may or may not be provided in private, depending on the preferences of your child.
Use Natural and Logical Consequences
- If the interaction goes well, provide more opportunities and go out of your way to provide transportation so your child can have positive peer time.
- If the interaction does not go well, explain to your child the problem and the need for more supervision or the need to reduce peer time in frequency or length until the child has better skills.
- DO NOT completely stop all peer interactions; ask your therapist for help in getting creative to make opportunities for positive peer interactions.
These interpersonal skills will be needed the rest of your child’s life and it is part of the endless, unrewarded job of parenting to help your child learn this skill. Some children do not automatically have this skill and it will take lots of time and practice to learn it.
- Get your child’s permission first, especially for girls. Always ask your child if they are willing to talk about the peer interaction and listen to feedback.
- If they say no, then WAIT until they are ready. This issue can always wait until a positive conversation is possible.
- Make sure both you and your child are in the mood (not hungry or tired) to provide and accept feedback.
- Always sandwich negative feedback between praise for something positive, even something simple as being willing to listen and end feedback session with praise or hope that things will go better in the future
OTHER OPPORTUNITIES FOR SOCIAL INTERACTIONS:
- Allow “growth privileges”!! Participation in team sports, clubs at school or attendance of birthday parties are all good chances for your child to have interactions with friends while being supervised in a group setting.
- Use good judgment if you take away these opportunities as a punishment, it may backfire and cause more problems in the long run. Your child needs opportunities to practice and learn to share, respect authority and cooperate with others.
- Remember, coaches and other adults may be able to teach your child skills that you will receive benefits from in the future.
- Coaches are often willing to have child “run extra laps” or have other consequences while remaining on the team or do other things to help motivate your child to improve their grades or behavior. Please talk to your child’s coach or adult mentor before making them quit the activity.
- If your child has had problematic sexual behavior (PSB) or has committed a child on child sexual assault, please read other articles on this website for more information or go to NCSBY.org.