There's no question that since the COVID-19 pandemic first hit two years ago, parents have seen a number of changes in childhood behavioral and emotional difficulties, including anxiety, stress and depression from remote learning and canceled activities, among others. As families and communities dig out from underneath the effect of this pandemic, it is important to help support children who are struggling with certain behaviors that can lead to distress in the home. Fortunately, kids are resilient and often respond well to tried and true techniques. Justin R. Misurell, PhD, a recognized expert on the evaluation and treatment of child abuse, trauma and high conflict divorce cases, shared some insight into helping to manage childhood behavior concerns, using the POWER method.
Put Structure in Place
Kids tend to struggle when there is a lack of structure at home. Chaos and disorganization work against parents' efforts, which was highly evident during virtual school. Think: loads of unstructured time when parents were hanging on by a thread. A consistent home environment provides predictability and safety to children, and may alleviate anxiety and distress. Be sure to establish house rules and healthy daily routines to set expectations. Rules should be framed as broad-based, positive goals. Misurell encourages parents to use these rules: Follow Directions, Control Your Body, and Be Polite.
Behavior change requires motivation. Start with privileges. During the pandemic, kids had too much access to TV, video games and electronic devices. After all, busy parents had to survive, so screens were a way to occupy kids during the workday, which turned them into entitlements. Instead of allowing a free-for-all, make access to these privileges contingent on desirable behavior using a point system. If you "catch" your child doing something good, point it out and say 'you're doing a great job of following directions, you just earned a point!.' Kids can then cash in for various privileges.
Remember, improving children's behavior is a marathon -- not a sprint -- and takes hard work and consistency. Don't be discouraged if you don't see immediate improvements. Stick to your structure, remind them of the rules and reward positive behavior. It may feel exhausting at times but will be worth it in the end.
It's easy to become frustrated and impatient when your child misbehaves. A preschool-aged child having a temper tantrum in the middle of a grocery store is enough to make anyone want to run and hide. When you allow these challenges to make you frazzled, your power and effectiveness may not be as strong. It may seem easier said than done, but developing self-control skills is crucial. Try incorporating regular self-care activities into your day. Deep breathing, exercise, yoga, going for a walk, talking to friends or reading a book can boost your mental health, bring balance to your life, and put you in a better position to interact with your kids.
Try to embody the kind of behavior that you are hoping to see in your child, but don't beat yourself up if you happened to act out in front of your kids, particularly during this stressful time. When you're feeling upset or frustrated, show your child how you can calm down by taking deep breaths or going for a walk. Avoid yelling, nagging and hitting, unless you want your children to adopt these practices (which, we know, you don't). Use a calm, assertive and respectful voice when addressing behavioral issues. Try positive praise before using negative methods of discipline such as time outs or taking away devices. This shows kids that you value positive behavior and are rooting for their success.
By using these Parent POWER strategies, your children's behavior will gradually improve and over time, you should notice a big difference.
Justin R. Misurell, PhD, serves as Clinical Director at the NYU Child Study Center's New Jersey Office and is a Clinical Assistant Professor of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the NYU Grossman School of Medicine.