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How to Discipline a Child (The Complete Guide for Different Ages)

How to Discipline a Child (The Complete Guide for Different Ages)

One of the most difficult aspects of parenting is discipline. We want to have a good relationship with our kids. Discipline can make us feel like the bad guy.

Handing out consequences for bad behavior is not fun. It generally makes our kids upset to have consequences for their behavior. Then they get mad at us for being the enforcer of consequences. It is a tough thing to be the disciplinarian of our children. It would be great if a reward system with charts and prizes would be enough to keep kids well behaved and not need discipline at all. Reward systems are great, but they are simply not enough.

Children need age appropriate discipline. It is a simple fact of life and parenting. If you are at a loss for how to discipline your child, I hope to provide some helpful tips for what can work for your child.

I have three kids and all three require different discipline approaches. No child is the same, nor will they respond to discipline the same as the next kid.

Being flexible, fair, consistent in follow through, and loving are the keys to making discipline effective without breaking the bonds of trust with a child. Using discipline that is too harsh or without warning will leave a child having trust broken between parent and child. They need to feel that they are being treated fairly in order for the consequence to not harm the parent and child relationship.

This doesn’t mean all forms of discipline are the same for all children. You need to implement systems that work for each individual child in the household. Discipline is not a one size fits all.

Why discipline is essential

Children need discipline because it will help them now and also in their future as adults. They will develop a sense of right and wrong, with discipline in the home playing a major role in their moral development.

Discipline helps them to understand what is acceptable behavior and what is not. They will also learn to respect authority when discipline is done fairly and comes from the love of a parent. If they can’t learn to respect authority in the home, it will not be favorable to their future.

Will they listen to their boss and respect his or her authority? Much of their development of respect for figures of authority is directly correlated with how they were disciplined in the home.

Was there discipline and correction in the home or were the rules loose and unknown? They will develop a good sense of respect for authority figures when discipline is done correctly in the home with clear rules and consequences in place.

This again means that it is not too harsh (i.e. screaming and yelling), does not involve abuse, and is never done when a parent is filled with anger or rage.

How discipline affects development

There are four major parenting approaches, as outlined in this Psychology Today article:[1]

  1. Authoritarian
  2. Neglectful
  3. Indulgent
  4. Authoritative

As parents, we need to strive to be authoritative parents in order to be effective in disciplining our children in a manner that helps them develop into the best adults they can be.

With authoritative parenting approaches being utilized, a child will come to respect authority and discipline. The article from Psychology Today states the following regarding authoritative parenting methods:

Typically, authoritative parents give their children increasing levels of independence as they mature and this leads to higher leadership potential in the children of authoritative parents. Social skills, self-control, and self-reliance are more highly developed, and these are qualities that make ideal employees, leaders, and life partners.

When authoritative parenting methods are utilized, children will develop respect for authority figures that will carry over into adulthood. What we are teaching our children now in our discipline methods will have them develop not only a sense of morality of what is right and what is wrong, but they will also develop respect for authority figures.

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The other methods of parenting (authoritarian, neglectful, and indulgent) are flawed and come with consequences that affect the child in their adulthood. The goal is to raise children who are prepared to leave the nest someday and be fully prepared to take on the world.

Discipline, and the parenting approach it stems from affects the development of children. Authoritative parenting is setting rules and boundaries that are fair to the child and their age. It is also discipline that helps the child to understand right and wrong behavior and the consequences of either within the home.

How to discipline a child

Whether we are using appropriate and effective discipline methods will determine whether our children will develop a strong sense of morality (that you have taught them) and a respect for authority.

Here are some general guidelines for authoritative parenting in regard to discipline:

  • Rules and the reasoning behind them are clearly explained.
  • Parents will try to help their child when the child is frightened or upset.
  • Respect for the child’s opinion is provided, even if they may differ from the parents’ opinions.
  • The child is encouraged to talk about his or her feelings.
  • Consequences for breaking rules are clear to the child before rules are ever broken.
  • Communications and conversations with the child take place after rules are broken to help the child and parent process what took place. This conversation is done with empathy on the part of the parent.
  • Children are provided with discipline when they break rules. This is done in a consistent manner (i.e. if their smart phone is revoked as a consequence of not having their bedroom clean, then it is also revoked the next day if that same rule is broken).
  • Parents discuss with their children the consequences of their good and bad behavior, so there is a clear understanding of consequences and discipline in the home.
  • Parents follow through with discipline and are not lax about allowing rules to be broken without consequences. Rules being broken means that there are consequences. Not just sometimes, but always.
  • Consequences do not involve harsh punishments, shaming, screaming, yelling, name calling, or withholding of love.
  • Consequences are followed by healing words of encouragement and love to assure the child that even though they are being disciplined they are still very much loved. Example, after a time out period the parent would hug their child and tell them they love them unconditionally.
  • Parents encourage children to be independent within boundaries.
  • The reasons for the rules are clearly emphasized when discipline takes place so that the child clearly understands the “why” of their consequence. For example, when a child runs into the street after their ball, they are taken inside for a time out and it is explained that they are not allowed to go into the street because there are cars driving on the street making it very dangerous for them (it is for their own safety).

Them knowing the house rules and boundaries along with the subsequent consequences are the first components to having a good discipline system in place.

The next major factor to consider are the consequences. Are the consequences for their behavior fair? Is the consequence age appropriate for the child? Below are some general guidelines for age appropriate discipline methods.

Discipline at different ages

Discipline methods need to change as a child ages. What worked for your child at age 2 may not be effective at age 7. You need to recognize when your discipline methods are no longer effective and need modification.

Understanding that age plays a role in the type of discipline that is most effective is important. Below are some age categories and discipline methods that are effective for these age groups:

Babies

Babies generally don’t need discipline. They are just learning about the world and they don’t have a grasp on good versus bad behavior. That will come soon enough when they are toddlers. However, this doesn’t mean that babies don’t do things that require consequences. For example, we don’t want our 9 month old crawling over to a light socket and putting their finger in it.

The key is to create a safe environment so that the baby can explore their world in a safe manner. If they develop behaviors such as hitting or touching things they shouldn’t, they can be redirected.

Redirect babies’ attention

Provide them with something safe to touch and play with. Teaching them the difference between “yes touch” and “no touch” is essential. If they can’t abide by the “no touch” for a particular item, such as pulling the cat’s hair, then remove the item from their view and ability to touch. A 9 month old is not likely to understand the concept of a time out.

Parenting.com has some helpful tips on handling a baby’s behavior outside of the realm of punishment. They state the following about discipline and babies:[2]

Discipline begins with trust. The child who trusts his mom or dad to give him food and comfort when he needs it will also trust them when they say, “Don’t touch!”

The key with babies is that they need love, comfort, and redirection rather than punishment such as time outs. They are just developing their sense of self and discovering the world around them. Soon enough they will be toddlers and consequences can become part of the routine. Until then, it’s the parents’ job to keep baby away from unsafe situations and things.

The parent can distract or redirect their baby when behavior needs to be modified.

For example, when I began brushing my kids’ teeth when they first got their new teeth as babies, they did not like to have a toothbrush in their mouth. I had one child that would kick, scream, and cry when she saw the toothbrush.

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I developed a silly song to make teeth brushing entertaining and distract her from what was happening. I made silly faces and sang the song very excitedly every time it came to brushing their teeth, so that she was distracted by my song and dance and I could more easily brush her teeth without a fit. It worked like a charm and within a couple of weeks, she was excited to see the toothbrush because it meant I would be the entertainment.

Find creative ways to distract your child or engage them with other activities to diffuse crying because they don’t want anything that is unsafe for them. They don’t need punishment for grabbing the TV remote control. Instead the parent simply needs to replace the remote with a toy and make the toy appear far more interesting and fun than a boring remote control.

Toddlers (around 1 to 2 year old)

Redirection of behavior is also helpful for toddlers. You will find yourself saying “no-no” repeatedly when you have a toddler. You have to decide which behaviors are stepping over the line and require consequences. Others beahviors can simply be redirected much like you would do with them in the baby phase.

Simple verbal corrections are helpful at this stage. When the verbal corrections fail, then you need to take action. Sometimes toddlers are just testing the waters to see what they can get away with.

Know your limits, so you recognize when the behavior has gone too far and verbal correction simply isn’t enough. That way you can move onto other methods such as time outs, taking away toys, or removing privileges (simple things for toddlers like no ice cream).

Toddler melt downs and tantrums are the norm. If you have a child who doesn’t go through a temper tantrum phase that involves yelling and hitting, then you are lucky and your child is a unicorn. For the rest of us, we need a huge dose of patience, deep breathing, and a calmness of our mind and emotions when the temper tantrums start.

Avoid triggers that cause tantrums

Try to avoid triggers that may cause the tantrums to occur (like skipping their naptime or forgetting their snacks and you end up with an “hangry toddler”). When you are in public, remove yourself from the public situation.

More than once I have left the store with a child in my arms who was in full tantrum mode. I take them to the car and we wait out the tantrum. I don’t yell or punish in any way.

Quiet times

The best consequences for tantrums of toddlers are quiet times. This is different than a time out. The time out is usually the same number of minutes as that of the child’s age (if the child is 3 then they get a 3 minute time out). Tantrums require additional time for the child to calm themselves and recover.

I always placed my children in their rooms on their bed and told them I would come get them after they calmed down and were quiet for a while. Sometimes, they would fall asleep because the tantrum was related to them being overtired. Other times they would come out of the room and say “I calm” in their toddler voice after they had recovered from their fit.

Usually I would go to their room after all was quiet and I knew that they calmed down and the temper tantrum was over. We would talk about things and then I would ask them to come rejoin the family now that they had calmed and were committed to good behavior.

The key with toddlers is to remain calm. You need to be their rock, not the one losing it when they lose it. Empowering Parents discusses some more helpful tips on dealing with toddler tantrums including the following:[3]

Be clear and firm with your child. They want to see that you’re in charge and that somebody is in control. Keep your center and be very firm. You can say, “We are not staying here. We can come back when you can pull yourself together. We are leaving now.”

Time outs can begin during the toddler phase. A special chair designated as the time out chair is helpful for making this consequence method consistent and understandable for the toddler. You can use a timer that is designated as the “time out” timer.

A general guideline for time out length is that the number of years of the child’s age is the same amount of minutes for the time out (i.e. 2 minutes for a 2-year old, 3 minutes for a 3-year old, etc.). If the child keeps getting up from the timeout chair, then the parent needs to keep taking the child back to their time out chair until their time out is complete.

I instituted a policy in our home that if they got up from time out then their time out would start over. They learned from a very early age not to get out of time out until the timer went off.

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It can be a battle of the wills having to keep putting a toddler back in the chair over and over again. But doing so will teach them that you will not give up and they are required to finish the entire time out.

Eventually they will catch on and realize that the time out will go much quicker if they simply go to the chair and do the time. It may take dozens of time outs to get to that realization, but it will happen eventually.

If it results in an all out temper tantrum, then use the tantrum policy and remove the child to a safe area, such as their bedroom or crib until the temper subsides and they are calm once again.

There are some kids that do well with a time out when they can sit with Mom or Dad. They need their parent there as it is a reassurance that they are still loved even though they are being disciplined. That works too as long as they are being removed from their playtime and toys, the consequence of time out in their chair with Mom or Dad near them is fine.

Removal of toys

The policy for toddler toy removal is that the toy is taken away if it is used to harm others or two or more children are fighting over the toy.

Toy time out is what we call it in our home. The toy went on top of a cabinet that the children could not reach. Be sure to put these toys for time out in a place that the children will not try to climb to retrieve and get hurt in the process.

Our cabinets are bolted to the walls because of this safety issue. My kids were all climbers and you don’t know if your child is a climber until you catch them doing it and by then it can be too late to avoid a horrible accident.

Be sure to differentiate between normal toddler behavior and direct disobedience. I had one toddler use coloring crayons to draw all over the walls. My daughter who is two years older than her twin brothers pointed out that they didn’t have any more coloring pages left so he had to draw on the walls. Sure enough, I had told them to go into the kitchen and color. I had never told my toddlers to not draw on the walls.

Rather than scolding him and sending him to time out, I had him helped me clean the walls and we talked about how color crayons are only for paper. I let him know that next time there would be more serious consequences if he wrote on the wall with crayons.

Toddlers do strange things, so be prepared for your reaction (or the need to hold off on reacting to your toddler’s antics) because sometimes a bean up the nose is just a toddler experimenting and not them trying to be disobedient or act out in any way badly.

Preschoolers (around 2 to 3 year old)

Time outs are also useful for preschool aged children. The preschool age is when you can begin to see that some discipline methods work for one child but they may not work for another.

I have one child that will laugh at me and say “I don’t care about time out, it doesn’t bother me” and I know he means it. Therefore the time outs are no longer used for him. Instead we take away favored toys.

If you child is obsessed with their fire engine truck that they have to take to the store, to church, and to preschool, you then know it will be effective in taking away this toy for disciplinary measure if needed. For our kids it depends on the severity of the action. For hitting that caused injury to a sibling they will lose that toy for an entire day.

You don’t want the child to ever feel defeated, so don’t threaten to throw it away because that is far too harsh. Instead a time out for that toy for a designated amount of time is appropriate.

Thorough explanation and discussion of the behaviors

It is important at this phase to be more thorough on explanation and discussion of the behavior and consequences. You want your children to understand why you are taking away their favorite toy or giving them a time out. You also want them to feel a sense of growing right and wrong in their heart and mind.

When they understand that their name calling or hitting their siblings results in hurt feelings and physical hurt, they can begin to empathize with their siblings pain and hurt. They will feel bad for their actions.

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Maybe not immediately, but as they grow and you are consistent with both the consequences and the calm, empathetic conversations about their actions and the resulting consequences, you will find that they will develop a greater sense of remorse and empathy.

The goal is not to simply change their behavior. It is to change their heart and motivations. You want your children to desire to get along with others and to abide by the rules. They will when they understand the reasons for those rules, the clear consequences, and their emotions are involved in the process.

Discipline is guiding their hearts as much as it is guiding their actions.

School-age children

When children reach school age, then generally the era of when time outs come to a halt. However, there are times when quiet time in their room is needed. For attitude adjustments and mood swings, room time for the child to calm themselves away from others (and electronics) is often very helpful.

Taking away screen time

This is the age where electronics are becoming more important. Whether it is a personal tablet, smart phone, or television, school age children are increasingly more attached to these items. It becomes an easy source for effective discipline. They lose time on their electronic device as a consequence for rules being broken.

No child specialist has yet to say that depriving a child of screen time will be harmful to them. If anything just the contrary has been proven. Therefore taking away screen time as a consequence of their behaviors can be beneficial to them in more ways than one.

Be sure the time frame is fair with the severity of the behavior. If they didn’t make their bed that morning, maybe an hour restriction is fine. For purposefully damaging their siblings property or harming another child, the device can be restricted for a full day or more, depending on the severity of their behavior.

Again, it is of utmost importance for the child to understand the “why” of the rules, so they understand why consequences are necessary when rules are broken.

Removal or restriction of privileges

This is also effective for school aged children. Understand your child and their desires to make this effective. For example, you may have a child that likes to go ride their bike around with neighborhood kids after school. They may have gotten in trouble at school for something that you deemed worthy of restricting their after school bike riding for a day or two.

Make sure that your child understands why they are being dealt the consequence and try to make the time productive- such as writing an apology to the teacher or child they offended at school.

School age is when friends become increasingly more important to kids. Socialization is an important part of development. However, when misbehavior is severe enough, then time with friends can be restricted. “Grounding” is what my parents called it.

When children are of young school age, it can be simply not allowing them to attend an upcoming friend’s birthday party. Again, make sure that your punishment is not overly harsh. If they believe you are overly harsh and severe in your punishments, then resentments will form.

Talk with your school aged children about what punishments they deem fair or unfair and for what violations specifically. Having these open conversations can help you develop fair discipline methods that are also effective for your specific child.

Be a flexible parent

Determining what kind of punishment is effective for your child is not a one and done policy. What is effective this week may not be an effective consequence for their behavior the next week. Be prepared for conversations with your growing child so that you can understand one another in this process of discipline and rule following.

The clearer you can make the process for the child, the more likely you are to make things fair. Involving them in conversations about what they believe are fair consequences is also effective in setting up disciplinary measures for their behaviors.

Give them love and reassurance of that love following discipline because above all the goal is showing them love through the good and bad, so they feel that they are loved unconditionally.

Discipline is part of loving that child. If you love your child, you want them to develop into emotionally healthy adults and discipline is a part of that process.

Featured photo credit: Bing via bing.com

Reference

More by this author

Dr. Magdalena Battles

A Doctor of Psychology with specialties include children, family relationships, domestic violence, and sexual assault

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Published on March 5, 2020

How to Help Your Child to Develop the 7 Executive Functioning Skills

How to Help Your Child to Develop the 7 Executive Functioning Skills

Tommy wants his toy back. His brother is playing with his favorite toy and he wants it back. Tommy starts to scream and is hitting his brother uncontrollably. He is three and these fits of rage and lack of self-control rear their ugly head daily. Their parents rush into the room and diffuse the situation. They are at a loss as to why Tommy has little to no self-control.

Is it just the terrible twos that are stretching beyond the twos? Or is there something else that can better explain his behavior?

Actually, Tommy, like many little tots, is still developing his executive functioning skills. These skills are imperative in helping us regulate our behaviors and exhibit self-control. Parents need to understand the role of executive functioning skills and how they can help their child develop these skills.

I will provide an explanation of these skills and tips in this article to help parents with this understanding.

What Are Executive Functioning Skills?

Executive function is processes in the brain that help us function. Executive function helps with the execution of the variety of skills. These are a top 10 list of the skills associated with executive functioning:

  • Paying attention
  • Completion of a task from start to finish
  • Self-motivation
  • Self control, impulse control, and inhibition (the ability to control one’s actions and behaviors)
  • Organize and make decisions
  • Manage time properly for completion of tasks
  • Mental flexibility (being able to change directions with a task when needed)
  • Accurate self-assessment (able to look at one’s abilities and achievements objectively)
  • Memory and recall (ability to keep information and retrieve it when needed)
  • Task initiation (ability to dive into a project and get started)

People with low executive functioning skills have a harder time socializing, getting tasks completed, and controlling their basic impulses. There are a variety of problems and even diagnosable disorders associated with executive dysfunction.

For example, when a first grader with poor executive functioning skills wants the pink ball at recess, and another littler girl has the only pink ball, the little girl who wants the ball may hit the other child because her impulse is to do whatever it takes to get that ball.

She has not developed the skills to process the situation logically nor the ability to develop a plan to ask politely to share the ball. Her executive functioning skills are not developed enough so she reacts without thinking about the consequences. Her impulses take over.

The Center for the Developing Child at Harvard University explains the role of executive function as follows:[1]

Executive function and self-regulation skills are the mental processes that enable us to plan, focus attention, remember instructions, and juggle multiple tasks successfully. Just as an air traffic control system at a busy airport safely manages the arrivals and departures of many aircraft on multiple runways, the brain needs this skill set to filter distractions, prioritize tasks, set and achieve goals, and control impulses.

We are not born with executive functioning skills. These skills are something we develop.

Good parenting methods can help with the development of these skills. They are important because the benefits of learning these skills can last for a lifetime. These skills are those we begin building early in life and we can continue building upon in childhood and into adulthood.

This building upon skills is called scaffolding. It is never too late to develop executive functioning skills, but the earlier they can begin developing the better off a person will be in handling life, as the skills build upon themselves.

The Importance of Executive Functioning Skills

Executive functioning skills affect us in every area of life. Here are some examples.

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Health

If a teenager doesn’t have good impulse control skills, then that individual may be more likely to succumb to peer pressure. Their lack of self control can affect their decision making and lead to drug addiction, alcohol abuse, or addiction to pornography.

The executive functioning skill of self-control has an effect on our food choices. If we lack self control with food, we are more likely to make poor food choices, based on impulses. Junk food can easily become the go-to food for an individual who lacks self-control with food.

Academic Success

Memory is one of the primary areas of executive functioning. If an individual has not developed good memory and recall skills, they will likely do poor in school.

Studying for exams, learning how to memorize and recall information are imperative to success in school. Planning skills and task management skills (i.e. completion of assignments) is also imperative to academic success.

Career Success

If someone has poor executive functioning skills in the area of planning and task execution, then career success will be limited.

When assigned a work project, the individual with poor planning skills may wait until the last minute to prepare their presentation. Their poor time management and planning skills can lead to workplace failures.

Social Relationships

When a child doesn’t have good executive functioning skills which includes self-control, they may fail to see the feelings of others in the moment.

When they lose at a game, they may sulk or cry. They may also yell at their playmates when they don’t get their way. Worse yet, they can act out violently, such as hitting and biting when someone has a toy that they want. Their ability to control their impulses is poor when they have not developed good executive functioning skills.

Romantic Relationships

The man who doesn’t know how to take no for an answer when it comes to physical romantic interactions may be someone who lacks impulse control. He may know right from wrong, but he has not learned how to control his impulses. This can obviously lead to major problems in any romantic relationship.

If you don’t want a son who rapes girls (or vice versa, because that happens too), then you need to instill more than a sense of right and wrong. They must also be taught self-control and to navigate their impulses to make good decisions in heated situations.

Ways to Help Your Child Develop Executive Functioning Skills

A great deal of executive functioning skill development occurs during childhood. How a child is raised will have a big impact on whether or not they have developed good executive functioning skills by adulthood.

1. Routines

Daily routines can help establish order and predictability. Children (and adults) benefit from routines that establish good daily habits. For example, in the morning some good habits to establish and expect from children are getting dressed, brushing their teeth, putting on their shoes, combing their hair and preparing their backpack.

Making their bed, picking up their room, and other chores are also good daily tasks to add to the routine if your child isn’t doing them already. If you wonder what kind of chores are age appropriate for your child, you can check out this posting from Focus on the Family. They have provided examples of age appropriate charts along with a free printable chore chart.

If your child has difficulty getting things done in the morning, then create a chart for them to check off their tasks as they complete them each morning. You can find charts online for purchase, such as major creative websites like Etsy. They have magnet boards that can be customized for tasks you want your child to do each morning. Amazon has a variety of these premade boards for sale.

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Just use the search terms “daily routine charts” or “morning routine charts” and you will find lots of options. If you are crafty you can easily make one yourself. Below is chart of one such product found on Amazon using the search terms I mentioned above.

    2. After School Homework Time

    Most kids do not come home from school and decide to get started on their homework. It would be great if they did! If your child does this, then you need to realize you have a unicorn. Most children need reminding about homework, especially in the early days when they first start receiving homework.

    It is helpful to set aside a specific time period after school when homework is to be completed. For example, you can set a rule that they must do it immediately after school, and they cannot use electronics or play until it is finished.

    Getting your child in the habit of doing their homework sooner than later helps with planning skills. Having a teenager who waits until 11pm on a Sunday night to start a book report that they have known about for a week is a bad habit.

    Don’t let your child become an out of control procrastinator. Start teaching them time management and planning skills early in life. You will reap the benefits too.

    Start helping them plan on getting homework done before they can play is a good policy. It also helps with developing self control, as they must get the work done before they can do something enjoyable. They learn to appreciate their electronics and free time more when they have accomplished a task (i.e. homework) to earn the right to play.

    3. Calendar/Agenda

    Get your child in the habit of using a calendar or agenda book at an early age. When I was in 6th grade, our school issued an agenda book to each student. I have since been using the organizational habits I learned from that time in my life. I will still record writing deadlines among other appointments in my book.

    Have your child record their assignments in their own agenda book. Putting major assignments on a calendar is also helpful.

    Using a calendar or agenda book can help with establishing planning skills. If they look at their calendar in the morning and see that they have their term project due and basketball practice after school, they can go out the door with the completed project in hand along with clothes for practice. Helping your child prepare for their day, week, and month becomes easier when it is visible on a calendar.

    Do digital calendars work? Yes, but not as well as paper calendars. There is always a risk of losing things that are digital or having a dead phone. Having it on paper can also allow for a quick “month at a glace” viewing (if they have calendar that shows month to month like I do). Such a glace can provide quick reminders of what needs to get done in the near future or appointments that need preparation.

    4. Set Rules

    Rules are the backbone of the household function. If kids don’t know what time they are supposed to be home, what chores are expected, and when they should be going to bed, then they are not learning planning skills in the home.

    Kids need clearly defined rules. It doesn’t mean that they have to be strict or over the top rules. However, they need to be clearly conveyed to each member of the household. Putting them in writing will definitely make it clear.

    Setting clear rules such as no shoes in the house, no yelling indoors, no eating in the living room, etc. can help kids understand the parameters for their behavior inside the home. This helps them to develop self-control as they learn what is expected.

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    Broken rules should result in consequences (for example in our home it is usually loss of technology time or a time-out). Setting rules is setting expectations. This helps with children and their development of a variety of executive functioning skills including planning, organization, time management, paying attention, and self control.

    5. Consequences

    Consequences definitely help with the development of self-control. If your toddler learns that temper tantrums always lead to time outs, then they eventually stop with the tantrums because they realize they aren’t worth it.

    Consequences should be reasonable and age appropriate. For more details on this topic, you can check out my previously published article: How to Discipline a Child.

    6. Break Down Big Tasks

    Kids that have a hard time getting started on large projects or tasks simply feel overwhelmed and they freeze up. Help your child out by breaking down a larger task.

    For example, if they have a book report due next month then help them examine the steps involved. First would be writing the book, next writing the report, and finally turning in the report before the deadline. You can help them set the dates to get each of the tasks completed in a timely fashion. You can even go as far as helping them assign themselves specific chapters to read by certain dates. It helps them to see their big task as a series of small tasks that they can complete more easily and build upon.

    Breaking down big tasks can help with a child who has problems getting started on projects. It can also help them develop their planning, organization, and follow-through skills. These are all executive functioning skills that are wonderful to develop earlier in life than later.

    7. Memory Games and Play

    Playing games and allowing your child to play can help with the development of executive functioning skills. Memory is one of the top ten executive functioning skills.

    To help a child develop their memory, you can play matching games, such as the one actually called Memory. You can also play sorting games, hide and seek, and matching games. These types of activities can help with memory, recall, and the development of other executive function skills too (i.e. planning, organization, motivation).

    Teaching your child to sing songs from memory and play an instrument are also very helpful in developing executive functioning skills. Harvard’s Center for the Developing Child provides a resource list of fun activities you can do with your child to help them develop their executive functioning skills.[2]

    8. Motivate

    Internal motivation

    does not come automatically for all kids. Sometimes children need to have external motivation to get them down the path toward success. Once they feel success and enjoy their pursuits, they will learn to self motivate.

    To get them started you may need to help motivate them. Offering genuine praise for their success is one way to motivate. If you are motivating them away from bad decisions, you may need to use consequences or discipline. However, praise and rewards are always more motivating in the long run.

    9. Home Organization

    It is hard for a child to learn how to be organized, not lose their personal items, and keep on schedule if their home life is chaos. A home that is clutter filled, unkept, and where things are easily lost does not lend itself to helping a child develop good executive functioning skills.

    Some home organization methods that can help your child include having a specific place for backpacks, coats, and shoes to be placed when not being used. This will help with their routine, planning, and time management skills.

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    Having them participate in keeping a home in order helps with their development of executive functioning skills, as they are learning about organization, planning, task initiation, and task completion. Overall, the best benefits of an organized home are their development of time management skills and routine.

    10. Self Control Techniques

    Self control is an executive functioning skills that is imperative to life success. If you have a child who is still throwing temper tantrums in public at age 10 because they can’t control themselves, then you definitely have a problem.

    There should be consequences for lack of self control that is disruptive or damaging. For example, a child’s tantrums can result in loss of play time, or a child who steals a classmate’s lip gloss simply because they wanted it (lack of impulse control) will need to return it, apologize to the classmate, and will be grounded for a week. Whatever the situation may be, there should be an adequate consequence to match the failure to control their behaviors.

    Once children learn that their behaviors have consequences, they learn to control their behaviors better. A child who wants to go to the movies after church, but knows that they must be quiet during church for them to be allowed to go out with their friends, will likely be quiet during church so that they can get the desired result (movie with friends after church). Providing consequences in advance (or the potential for rewards like the example above) can help to promote self control in your child.

    Help to motivate your child by providing both rewards and consequences as fitting for the situation. Again, remember that rewards are always more effective for long term positive results and can help to create genuine motivation toward good behavior.

    11. Be the Example

    To teach your child skills that embody good executive skill functioning, you must be the example. For example, if you want your child to follow rules, then you should also follow the rules set forth for you (i.e. the laws). If you are a habitual speeder and you say things like “those speed limits are only suggestions,” you are essentially telling your child that rules and laws don’t matter. If you want children who follow rules, order, and the laws of society, then you must be a good example.

    If you want your child to not be late for school, then you should set the example for morning routines and leaving early to get to your destination. Your habits such as organizational skills, time management, following rules, planning skills, and completing tasks are being observed by your children on a daily basis. They learn just as much, if not more, through your actions than your words. “Actions speak louder than words” is a motto to live by.

    12. Teach Self-Evaluation Through Questions

    The ability to assess one’s own abilities and achievements (or lack thereof) is an executive functioning skill. If someone is weak at this skill, then they will be shocked when they fail at something.

    Help your child prepare for success and failure. If they fail at something, then ask them “what do you think you could do different next time?” If they can recognize areas that need to be improved, then their perception of the situation and the reality can become more closely aligned.

    If you tell your child “you deserved to win” every time that they lose, they are going to start believing you and they will see no wrong in themselves. You teach them to evaluate themselves by asking them questions.

    Below are some additional questions you can use with your children. Be sure to use a kind and inviting tone. If you sound sarcastic or harsh, your child is going to shut down to your questioning and it will not be productive. If you want a meaningful conversations, then use a tone that shows you care for them and are genuinely interested in their situation:

    • How do you think it went?
    • What could you do differently next time?
    • What is one thing that you could improve on before next time (next game, meet, test, etc.)?
    • What did you learn from your disappointment today (or loss or whatever happened)?
    • How are you feeling about your disappointment?
    • What did you learn from this experience?
    • What is something positive you can take away from the experience?
    • What do you think it will take for you to win next time (or pass the test or whatever the situation may be)?
    • What kind of plan do you need in place to take you to that next win?

    Final Thoughts

    Executive functioning skills are essential to human function. The weaker the executive functioning skills, the less successful a person is likely to become in life in all areas (except maybe sleep). Although routine and time management help with sleep too!

    Executive functioning skills are learned primarily in the home though a primary caregiver (usually the parent). How a child is raised (and treated), their home environment, and the behaviors (and example) of their primary caregiver play a huge role in developing executive functioning skills.

    Even if a child doesn’t develop them early in life, all hope is not lost. These skills can still be developed in late childhood and even into adulthood. Just do the best that you can do as a parent for your child now.

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    Featured photo credit: Paige Cody via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] The Center for the Developing Child at Harvard University: Executive Function & Self-Regulation
    [2] Harvard’s Center for the Developing Child: Executive Function Activities for 3- to 5-year-olds

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