Parenting in itself is a challenging job, parenting in the current ongoing pandemic is altogether a different league. Our lives rise and fall in tandem with the daily news bites. We are glued to the television or constantly refreshing our mobile feeds to get the latest number of new COVID 19 infections. While we have been living in this heightened level of stress and anxiety; our kids have been lurking in the background trying to make a sense of what’s happening to the world in general and how it impacts their world - their inner sanctum, the place they call home.
WHO has said that “Children may respond to stress in different ways such as being more clingy, anxious, withdrawing, angry or agitated, bedwetting etc.”
Source: WHO Helping Children Cope with Coronavirus Stress
So how do we manage kids behaviour or change bad behaviour? We have been coping with our son’s various phases of bad behaviour with only one strategy - reinforce good behaviour and ignore bad behaviour. To put it simply, kids are much more likely to respond to positive reinforcements of good behaviour such as praise and rewards rather than negative comments or punishments for bad behaviour. Positive reinforcements can be as simple as giving high fives, patting on the back, a tight hug, offering verbal praise and sharing their good actions/ achievements with another adult.
There are various structured approaches to encouragement, but we need to first set them up for success by ensuring the following:
- Clear and simple instructions for the behaviour we wish to see them demonstrate;
- Notice every positive action in tandem with the set instructions;
- Prompt praise for the good behaviour; and
- Reward good behaviour.
We have to be consistent in our appreciation and reward. It is also pivotal that we refrain from commenting on bad behaviour, even though it is extremely difficult and kids have the habit of challenging their limits.
In the initial days of lockdown, I came up with a routine and a reward chart that we followed at home. At the end of the month, I was very proud of our excellent handling of the crisis. But then weeks rolled into months, and the uncertainty and anxiety of the pandemic overwhelmed all good sense in me. I was so depressed and self-absorbed that I let his routine go for a toss and the reward chart for April never got updated for May or June. Slowly and steadily, little outbursts and tantrums started growing in intensity and duration. When the alarm bells started ringing, I discussed with my husband and we resolved to handle this escalating situation head-on together. Back to the basics is the phrase that comes to mind.
We have made a list of the chores and activities for the day and he gets a sticker for every completed task. A reward chart has been put up on the wall, where my son gets a sticker or even a quick hand-drawn star for his little achievements every day, consistently and without fail. Since we have been so lackadaisical earlier, we now give him a small reward like a candy, TV time, iPad time, gummies and even watercolour sessions for every three stars or stickers. We are relieved to say that we are seeing progress and he is gradually steering towards the boy he used to be before this pandemic hijacked our lives.
Since I was planning to share our story with you, I thought of sharing a simple printable pdf version of the reward chart we follow at home. There is a school night routine that we plan to use once he starts going to school again, one is a daily chores chart with a few simple chores he does around the house. I know every home is different and our expectations as parents also vary. So I made a blank daily chores reward chart as well, where you can pen in your own chores list for your little one. I have created a printable for the first time. Leave a comment on how I can improve on this going forward.
Today, I have created three versions of the reward charts. Feel free to print the one that your child will find appealing. I know this will not resolve all the turmoil in your child’s life, but if you are diligent and patient you will witness remarkable changes. We all appreciate our kids, shower them with hugs and praise them when they accomplish something or comply with our instructions. But, sometimes a tangible representation of our reinforcements makes all the difference.