Appropriate After School Schedule

Q: What is an appropriate afterschool game plan for a first grader and third grader? Can you give me some advice on how to handle homework, chores and bedtime for this age? What type of expectations should we have?

A. I love this question, mostly because so many parents start the school year without even considering what kind of afterschool schedule their kids should have. We get so focused on school, we forget there’s other hours in the day that need our careful consideration as well.

I’m of the firm belief that less is more when it comes to kids and their schedules. As a result, our four kids do very little compared to my kids’ peers–and frankly, they like it that way. Maybe because that’s what they’ve always known, but I think it’s because we give them plenty of time to be kids–carefree and footloose, so to speak.

Here’s how you can come up with a schedule that will work for your entire family. Jot down your priorities as a family. For us, it’s eating dinner together and having time to relax (in other words, free time!) and having a flexible schedule that allows us to visit grandparents frequently and do things together as a family, and keeping Sundays blocked off for church and family. That means we tend to avoid signing up for things that involve dinnertime practices or that have regular Saturday events or games.

Our kids have lots of daily and weekly chores. For first and third graders, such chores might be loading the dishwasher, setting/clearing the table, taking out the trash, making lunches (and making their own breakfast), being responsible for their belongings, sweeping floors, mopping floors, taking care of a family pet’s food/water, etc. I have a chore book that outlines age appropriate chores in my webstore (only $2.99) that also gives instructions on common chores.

Bedtimes for these ages should be between 7 and 8 p.m., leaning toward earlier. They will be more tired at the start of school and kids need lots of sleep! Sleep should be a top priority, over sports and other activities. Kids who don’t get enough sleep don’t do well in school, etc.

Some elementary schools are finally seeing the wisdom of NOT assigning homework or very little homework, especially in the lower grades, but if yours isn’t one of them, then my advice is to stay out of homework as much as possible. I set an end time that homework had to be done (generally a half hour or so before the child’s bedtime), and then let the child decide when to do it. Some kids like to tackle it right away after school, while others need to play in the fresh air before their brains are able to handle more school work. If your child is struggling with homework directly after school, you might need to suggest a break before homework. Give the child space to do it, and don’t hover, etc.

One rule in our house that has served us well is that we never signed any papers or helped with any projects, etc., in the morning—that cut down on the AM chaos and also helped our kids to make sure everything was ready for the next day the night before. Yes, there have been tears when a child realized she’d forgotten to get our signature on something, but when we stood firm on that policy, the child learned not to wait until the last minute on things.

Overall, make sure your kids have plenty of free time. Play is essential to their well-being and academic success. I’d go so far as to say that free time for play is even more important than organized sports. Free play develops your child’s imagination and rejuvenates their mental and physical well-being.

A Child’s Frustration

Q: My 11-year-old son has autism. Recently, he told me that he should not live because he will never be able to achieve his dreams, that he will not be able to have a wife and children because he can’t have friends and he has problem to follow simple rules. He’s also said that he should not belong in this world because he can’t stop doing noise with his mouth even if he tries. He can’t stop putting his fingers in his nose, and everybody finds him disgusting. He can’t stop reading at night when it’s forbidden. He doesn’t want to do chores because it’s boring and he finds it really difficult. He said his sister is always on his back and she is not playing as the rules (he’s right).

In the last year he has changed and become more frustrated. He reacts to everything like it’s the end of the world, where he used to smile and laugh. A lot of people intimidate him at school. Tonight it crushed my heart. Any suggestions?

A: It’s always difficult when a child expresses his fears and anxieties in such a way—kids feel things so keenly and they don’t have the adult experience to know that what’s their reality now doesn’t have to be their reality tomorrow or the next day or the next month, etc. And they lack the skill set to enact change, especially bad habits.

At 11, your son is probably starting to experience puberty in some ways, so his emotions are likely to be all over the map, which means he’s not able to moderate his feelings. Everything’s a crisis!

How can you help as a mom? Along with the following suggestions, I’d also recommend talking with an autism specialist to see what you can do to help him navigate this time as his body starts to change and grow more.

  1. Ask him to identify which habit he wants to change the most, then help him devise a plan to conquer it. Don’t offer suggestions, rather guide him into finding solutions that he can work on.
  2. Share some of your own struggles to change something about yourself—how you tried and failed and keep trying.
  3. Read stories or books about people who overcame hard things by perseverance, etc. Watch movies on the same theme. The more you expose him to other stories of perseverance, the more he’ll absorb that storyline for himself.
  4. Stop trying to talk him out of feeling like he can’t have his dreams. Instead, ask him what he wants to work on to achieve those dreams—show him how to break things into small, tiny steps. He wants to follow simple rules. How does that start? By breaking those rules into steps.
  5. Also tell him that following through with his chores will help him in other areas, like his conquering his bad habits. Show him more clearly the line between cause (do your chores even though their boring) and effect (he develops a stronger ability to keep with something).
  6. Remind him that Rome wasn’t built in a day—that things take time. That he’s been doing these bad habits for a long time, so stopping will take time too.
  7. Above all, remind him in both words and deeds that he’s loved and that he’s exactly who God made him to be, warts and all. If you’re a believer, then reading Bible stories of heroes who fell but God still used them can be of great comfort to kids.

Will He Ever Wake Up Dry?

Q: Our nearly 5-year-old son has been daytime potty trained since 22 months but has never been nighttime dry. He had his tonsils and adenoids out a few months ago, and our pediatrician said that may help with his deep sleep/bedwetting and waking up since he had snoring and sleep apnea. He recovered very well and has stopped snoring.

We put him in undies at night over a month ago, and he didn’t even wake up when he was wet until it got cold. We got a bed alarm almost three weeks ago and have used it nightly since, but we seem to be going backwards with it. It is the kind that clips to his undies. He was waking up a little with the alarm at first (at least sitting up in bed, but not really awake), and we would go in a help him wake up, then walk himself to the bathroom, change his own clothes, cover the wet spot if there was one, and we help get the clip back his undies in the right spot.

The past week, he is completely sleeping through the alarm. we try to nicely but firmly wake him up, turn the lights on, and get him to the bathroom, but he is often so disoriented he just starts crying—sometimes turning into screaming. He is now only wetting about once a night (an improvement from three to four times!), but I am not sure if there is anything else we can do?

The screaming and crying is the part I am really struggling with—hard to keep calm in the middle of the night when he won’t get up! Do we just keep going helping him wake up, sometimes having to drag him out of the bed? Wanted to start potty training my 19 month old in about a month, but don’t know if I can handle both!

A: Let me first dispel some common myths about nighttime training based on my own experience and the experience of many friends, plus some commonsense.

First, wetting the bed is more biology than anything. A child who wets the bed on a regular basis literally can’t help it—he sleeps too soundly to wake up when his body tells him he has to pee.

Second, nighttime training has nothing to do with a child’s daytime potty training. Often, a boy will master daytime well before night time.

Third, bed wetting alarms only work when a child is ready for nighttime training. As you’ve seen yourself, your son is sleeping soundly through the alarm.

It’s obvious that your son isn’t ready biologically to not wet the bed. Some boys (my two sons included) aren’t ready for night time training until age 5 or even 6. Sometimes, family genes can play a part, such as one friend whose sons wet the bed until 8 or 9—her husband and his brothers experienced the same thing.

So I would ditch the undies at night and the bed-wetting alarm, and go back to diapers or a pull up at night. Have him put it on and take it off in the morning, etc.

When will he be ready to transition to undies at night? A good rule of thumb is when he starts waking up dry three or four mornings out of seven. When he does that for a week or two, then you can try underwear again. His body will tell him when he’s ready.

A Troubled Adult Son

Q: Our 29-year-old son was essentially a model child growing up, a good student with very few behavior issues. He graduated college in 2010, during which time he was charged twice for possession of marijuana. He also was prescribed anti-depressant medication during this time.

Upon graduation, he took a construction job, which he then lost due to a DUI and driving illegally on a restricted license. We had noticed behavioral changes after graduation—he developed an aggressive, sometimes hostile demeanor. He agreed to see a psychiatrist, but stopped after a short time. As his behavior became increasingly hostile and erratic, we suggested that he return to see the psychiatrist which he adamantly refused to do. Finally, after one particularly disturbing episode, during which he came to our home acting very strangely and ultimately became verbally and physically abusive, we, upon the advice of a psychiatrist friend, called the crisis mental health hotline and had him involuntarily committed to the hospital. We repeated that awful experience twice in the following month due to his continued bizarre behavior and his refusal to follow up with the mental health support team, which he had previously agreed to.

He is currently living alone in a house we own, and refuses to get a full-time job, preferring to try and get by doing odd jobs for people. Due to privacy issues, we never got a definitive diagnosis from the hospital, but nurses we spoke with mentioned schizo-affective and bipolar disorders. The psychiatrist he had seen prior to his hospitalization had advised us to stay in contact with him and to make sure he had food and shelter. His behavior continues to be unpredictable, and we are torn between cutting him off financially and telling him he is totally on his own, or continuing to be supportive, not knowing for certain just what his mental status is. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

A: First of all, I want to say how sorry I am that you’re going through this. I know it must be extremely painful and difficult to see your son not seek the professional help he clearly needs. However, as you’ve seen, there are limits to what you can do to help him, and unfortunately, you can’t make him get better–he has to want that for himself. And right now, it doesn’t look like he’s in a place to do that.

So what to do? You don’t mention that he’s doing drugs or other substances (alcohol, for example), so it appears that he does need medical intervention, which he is refusing. You already had him committed twice and that hasn’t worked out. If you can—and he’s not destroying your property or clearly endangering himself or others—then you could continue following the advice of his former psychiatrist.

However, I would caution you against throwing around diagnoses—you can’t know for sure what’s ailing your son, and talking nurses, who can’t tell you because of privacy laws, into speculating will only either give you a false impression or send you down the wrong path. For now, you will have to live with the fact that you might not know what’s exactly wrong with your son.

What you can do is to meet him on his terms (as long as he’s not being abusive to himself or others) and don’t try to change him—just love him and let him know that you do through word and deed.

How to Help Kids Adjust to Hurricane Displacements

Q: We were affected by Hurricane Harvey. Our house flooded by a few inches, and we had to relocate until we’re able to redo some parts of our house. My husband, 24-month old son, and I are currently living with my sister.

I noticed my son started sucking his finger a lot more and is a bit more clingy than usual. Is there anything I can do to help him during this transition? He also has his own room here, but since the move, we have been sleeping with him. When do we transition him to sleeping back on his own without heightening the anxiety? Thank you!

A: First of all, kudos on trying to establish as normal a situation as you can with your toddler. In 2003, my husband and I, along with our nearly 1-year-old daughter, had to relocate to my in-laws’ home after Hurricane Isabel dropped a tree through our home, so I do understand the stress of leaving home quickly and trying to figure out how to get the house fixed, all while raising a toddler. We ended up living with my in-laws for five months while our house was put back together, so we went through much of what you’re experiencing in transitioning to temporary housing situations in less-than-ideal conditions.

Kids pick up on our anxiety, which is probably why he’s sucking his finger more and being clingy. He doesn’t understand what happened, only that mom and dad are not acting like usual. What worked for us is establishing as normal a routine as you can, including moving him to sleep in his own bed in his own room. There might be a few nights of some crying (just go in and reassure, but try not to pick him up—pat on back, maybe sing a song, etc.

Try to ensure he’s napping as usual and has plenty of time to run around/use up his energy during the day. If you have to meet with people to discuss your house repairs, make sure you bring toys or books or things for him to play with. Also try to stick to his regular diet as much as possible–when we eat well and sleep well, things are generally better all around (and this goes for mom and dad, too).

The more calm you can act, the less anxious he’ll be—a tall order, I know! But remember: children are very resilient and he’ll soon settle into the new environment and routine fairly quickly.

For older children, try not to discuss too much of the situation within their earshot, as too much information can bred confusion and anxiety. But do keep them informed with regular updates as to what’s being done and what to expect in the coming days or weeks.

Also, try to incorporate as much normalcy as possible with family celebrations, trips and/or outings already on the calendar. Another tall order, but that can help to make life seem just a bit off track and not completely derailed.

If your family’s situation isn’t too dire, consider volunteering or helping others in worse straits if possible. A morning spent helping someone shovel mud out of their home when yours only had water damage can help keep things in perspective.

How to Help a Bullied Toddler

Q: My guy just turned two and has been in daycare since he was 12 weeks old. My husband and I both work full time and right now, it’s the only option. We love his school. It’s very enriching and he’s learned a ton, except… in the past few months I am getting a call weekly that my child has been bit. He has to bruises on his back right now from bites. He had one on his arm, another on his hand.

The directors and teachers keep saying “It’s developmentally appropriate at this age” [for kids to bite each other] blah blah blah. One or two bites, I get, but weekly? Not okay. They won’t tell us who is doing the biting, and they won’t tell us if it is a repeat offender (but at this point, it has to be or every kid in the class has been taking a shot at my kid).

Instead they are trying to say my 2-year-old needs to start saying, “Stop, I don’t like that.” They say part of the problem is that he is one of the only vocal kids, meaning the others don’t speak and take out their frustration by biting.

What the heck do we do? I do not want my guy getting aggressive and biting back because it’s happening to him. How can we continue to make school a fun place for him and keep him safe?

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

A: My advice would be to look for a new daycare situation. Yes, children bite at this age, regardless of whether or not they are verbal, but to subject your son to biting with enough force to leave bruises on a regular basis, well, that’s another matter.

Your son saying, “Stop that” or something similar isn’t going to stop the biting—not for toddlers, who haven’t developed empathy and often are totally unaware that biting hurts. They also want to do what they want to do, so “telling” them to stop shouldn’t be the solution to this biting problem.

Frankly, I’m more concerned by the directors/teachers brushing this off as your son’s problem and looking to a two-year-old to solve it. Because children this age bite (and hit and push and throw things), a daycare center should train its teachers on how to stop this behavior. It boils down to more supervision, separation of the biter from other children, and perhaps short-term removal of chronic biters from the classroom until the biting phrase stops.

It sounds like they are doing neither of those things, and instead are saying the solution is to rely on the victim to stop the abuse. In my book, that’s not an acceptable adult response to this kind of problem. I realize that finding a new daycare situation won’t be easy, but it’s a necessary step to take for your son.

You might find a willing college student or older homeschooler eager to be an in-home nanny for a few weeks or longer to buy you some time to find a new daycare, one that will not expect a toddler to be part of a biting/hitting/pushing solution.

 

 

When a Child Reacts Badly to Discipline

For a video answer of this question, visit https://www.facebook.com/parentcoachnova/.

Q: I’ve been using the ticket method* for my fourth grader to tackle some ongoing behavior problems. When she loses all her tickets due to the target misbehaviors, the consequence is to be in her room the rest of the day. Instead of going to her room, she instead throws a major fit and refuses to go. What is the best course of action then?

A: Sometimes, we get hung up on the letter of the law—in this case, that your child isn’t complying with the directive to go to her room. Does that mean the punishment is ineffective? No. Does it mean you should levy different consequences? No. Does it mean you should just ignore the infraction? No.

In this particular case, your child is having a temper tantrum because her behavior choices have resulted in losing her freedom. For the tantrum itself, I’d ignore it. Walk away. When the child has calmed down, reiterate that she should go to her room. Don’t threaten. Don’t plead. Just state and give her The Look (you have one, right?) and stare her down until she complies. This might take a few tantrums before the child realizes that you’re not going to back down.

Even if the child outright refuses to go physically to her room, you can still act like the child is in her room. All other activities stop for the child—no electronics, no friends, etc. So she might be on the floor of the living room, but she’s still “in his room” in all the ways that count.

Remember, what you don’t want to happen is that you get into a battle of the wills with your child—making her go to his room physically, yelling at him to comply, etc. Stay calm, stay cool—you’ve got this!

 

Can Parents Help Adult Son?

Q: Our 29-year-old son was essentially a model child growing up—a good student with very few behavior issues. He graduated college seven years ago. In 2010, he was charged twice for possession of marijuana, and also prescribed anti-depressant medication. Upon graduation, he took a construction job, which he then lost because of a DUI and driving illegally on a restricted license. 

After graduation, we had noticed behavioral changes, such as an aggressive, sometimes hostile demeanor. He agreed to see a psychiatrist, but stopped after a short time. As his behavior became increasingly hostile and erratic, we suggested that he return to see the psychiatrist, which he adamantly refused to do. Finally, after one particularly disturbing episode, during which he came to our home acting very strangely and ultimately became verbally and physically abusive, we, upon the advice of a psychiatrist friend, called the crisis mental health hotline and had him involuntarily committed to the hospital. We repeated that awful experience twice in the following month due to his continued bizarre behavior and his refusal to follow up with the mental health support team to which he had previously agreed.

He is currently living alone in a house we own, and refuses to get a full-time job, preferring to get by doing odd jobs for people. Due to privacy issues, we never got a definitive diagnosis from the hospital, but nurses we spoke with mentioned schizo-affective and bipolar disorders. The psychiatrist he had seen prior to his hospitalization had advised us to stay in contact with him and to make sure he had food and shelter. His behavior continues to be unpredictable and we are torn between cutting him off financially and telling him he is totally on his own, or continuing to be supportive, not knowing for certain just what his mental status is. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

A: First of all, I want to say how sorry I am that you’re going through this. I know it must be extremely painful and difficult to see your son not seek the professional help he clearly needs. However, as you’ve seen, there are limits to what you can do to help him, and unfortunately, you can’t make him get better—he has to want that for himself. And right now, it doesn’t look like he’s in a place to do that.

So what to do? You don’t mention that he’s doing drugs or other substances (alcohol, for example), so it appears that he does need medical intervention, which he is refusing. You already had him committed twice and that hasn’t worked out. If you can—and he’s not destroying your property or clearly endangering himself or others—then continue following the advice of his former psychiatrist.

However, I would caution you against throwing around diagnoses—you can’t know for sure what’s ailing your son, and talking nurses, who can’t tell you because of privacy laws, into speculating will only either give you a false impression or send you down the wrong path. For now, you will have to live with the fact that you might not know what’s exactly wrong with your son.

What you can do is to meet him on his terms (as long as he’s not being abusive to himself or others) and don’t try to change him—just love him and let him know that you do through word and deed. Continue to encourage him to seek medical help, either on his own or with you by his side.

I realize hearing that there’s nothing you can do beyond what your son allows is difficult, but you raised him to be his own person—and by all accounts, you did a great job too. I hope and pray you can find a way to stay in his life even as he spirals into a place that’s not good for him.

Ticket Method for Toddlers?

Q: For misbehavior, we’re keen on the ‘tickets’ strategy for major offenses. However my twins are under 3 (almost 31 months). Is it possible to use Tickets for children under the age of 3? I think they’re smarter than we adults think, and I believe they understand consequence, but again, not sure if tickets would work. For example, sometimes they will not do as I ask, and may flat out say ‘no’ or will do it in an exaggeratedly slow manner, all the while grinning impishly at me…like going up the step to wash their hands one inch at a time. I don’t intend to repeat myself, and a stern look from me will often do the trick. But I get stuck there sometimes. I don’t know how to win the power struggle when they’re in this toddler phase and don’t have language based memory or foresight of consequences (maybe?) at this age. Thanks for your thoughts.

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

A: What you’re describing—obeying one moment, asserting their independence the next—is typical toddler behavior. They will obey, but on their terms (slow walking to wash their hands or get their shoes on). That’s just part of the package that is a toddler. And as you’ve discovered, a stern look will usually get your twins moving. But not always, because, well, they are human beings, and not an animal.

So you don’t get into the power struggle with them. How? By figuring out what makes sense to be strict on and what doesn’t. Here’s an example: I had two rules when it came to getting dressed—the clothes must be clean (no digging in the dirty clothes basket!) and the child must dress himself. Other than that, I gave them a lot of leeway, and it showed with what adults would deem mismatched clothing, etc. It wasn’t a battle I wanted to fight because I had other priorities.

Think about what bothers you the most, and use that as your benchmark for strictness. If it’s matching clothes, then you can insist on that. If it’s a particular way to put away laundry, then focus on that. It’s up to you but only pick your top ones, and let the kids do the rest their own way.

Translate that into tasks that need to be done before something else can happen, such as washing hands before dinnertime. If you know your twins like to dawdle at this task, then call them to do the task extra early before it’s time to eat. That way, they can inch up the stool and you’re not waiting on them.

For tasks that need to be done quicker, set a timer. Toddlers love to race a clock, and this can help them. Turn things into a game when possible too (not a competition, with a winner/loser, but a together game).

If one child is consistently slower, see if something else is going on—Is she tired, growing, fighting a cold? Sometimes physical ailments can translate into misbehavior, and while it’s not an excuse, if a parent treats the ailment (putting the child to bed earlier, for example, to help with tiredness), then the misbehavior will likely lessen or go away.

If there’s nothing obvious (don’t spend a lot of time trying to find out—just a quick run-through in your mind about what might be going on will suffice), then you calmly step in to get the child moving when necessary.

As for your question about tickets and toddlers: The answer is that they are not ready for tickets, especially given that they are displaying age-appropriate misbehaviors that are better tackled by following some of the methods outlined in my answer. Don’t worry—you’ll have plenty of time to implement tickets into your household as your children grow up some more.

For how Tickets and other discipline methods work, visit the Discipline Methods section of this website.

Too Little Structure, Too Much Disrespect

Q: It is the first day of summer vacation. I have 9-year-old and 11-year-old boys, and I work part time from home. My plan for the summer was to brainstorm a summer bucket list with them, then schedule some fun activities to do together. We would do the fun activities after daily chores and learning. I sat them down after breakfast to discuss, and they became rude and disrespectful when they realized that summer was not going to be a free for all.

It began with refusing to set down the nerf guns they were holding while we talked. Then it was interrupting with an argument every time I spoke. When it became clear they were not going to listen, I ended the discussion and walked away. These are some of the comments I heard, mostly directed at me, and some at each other: “Stupid, idiot, blind, she’s a bat, summer is supposed to be fun, unfair, annoying, I’d rather be in school, etc.” Also, one son proceeded to kick a ball repeatedly against the wall, while the other son started crying and having a meltdown.

This is not uncommon behavior, unfortunately. They frequently refuse to do what they are asked and act disrespectful to myself and my husband with nasty words, yelling or aggression. After about 20 minutes, they both apologized on their own, so we tried to discuss again. The same thing happened. I’m not sure what to do next.  

Image courtesy of chrisroll/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

A: You have a couple of things going on here, so let’s tackle them one at a time. First, your boys are disrespectful because you allow them to talk back to you that way. This has become a bad habit with them, so you will need to do some rehabilitation in order to turn these brats into mannered young men. Since this appears to be a pattern with them, you can address it one of two ways: Kick them out of the garden for at least 30 days until they clean up their act or use Tickets or Chart/Strikes. Just really depends on what suits you best. Both discipline methods are described in detail in Discipline Methods on this website.

As for the summer, I’d simply list things they must do each day before they play video games, read books, surf the Internet, or however they spend their time. Examples include a half hour of outdoor exercise, chores (they should be doing LOTS of chores around the house and yard, such as vacuuming, dishes, cleaning bathrooms, mowing grass, weeding, mulching, etc.–I have a chore book with examples on this site), and an edifying activity approved by you but their choice (such as building a model, working on a scout badge, tinkering, hobbies—no electronics). Then restrict their electronics time (such as only online/playing video games between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. each day) and let them have free time.

I hope this helps, and remember—your sons didn’t get this way overnight, so it will take some time to yank them back into the land of respect.