NEW Q&A Series: Parents ask about social emotional support

Today’s Q&A: How can behavior support help families around the holidays?

Q. How can behavior support help families around the holidays?
A. Use this simple strategy: Provide extra practice with safety instructions

Ways to use this strategy:
-Embed instruction practice in games
-Find times each day to use a playful “stop/ go” game with children.
In a simple “stop and go” game, instructions to “STOP!” or “GO!” (or ANY instruction that rarely gets practiced but is important, like “COME TO ME” or “SIT DOWN”) can be interspersed with fun gross motor, fine motor, or verbal activity.
-The point of the game, is that when the parent or caregiver gives an instruction, the child practices immediately stopping, listening, and doing, in order to experience a fun outcome.
-This game can be used as “priming”, or practicing the safe behavior in a less intense context BEFORE going outside or walking across a parking lot where it is absolutely CRITICAL to follow the instruction.
-Some parents practice “stop and go” listening in the hallway before going on trips to a store.
-Play Simon Says with variations like “mom says”, “grandma says”, “dad says”, “babysitter says”, or “sister says”
-Write funny instructions down and put them in a container. Players take turns drawing an instruction and trying to do it. Players can take turns deciding what the “payoff” will be for following these instructions. For some families and children, it is fun just to choose the snack or hot cocoa flavor for when the game is over. Others may want to choose the next game, choose to earn stars they can trade for free time or their favorite chore, or earn special 1:1 time with a family member after the game.

Ask your friendly local BCBA or Social Emotional Support provider which programs they recommend strengthening or practicing the month before and during holidays or a visit that is out of the ordinary.
Game players can practice skills they will need during the holidays.
“go get mom and tell her something”
“find a family member who is hiding”
“follow 2-step instructions”
“tell someone you need a break”
“find and use a chill-out space at a holiday party”

Let others know when you see them doing what is expected or needed for a given social situation.
-Remind others how to listen (or be safe or be helpful) before it will be required.
Example: 6-year old Bobby is about to attend the holiday parade with his family. His babysitter reviews with Bobby while they park the car. She says, “This will be fun! There are a lot of people around. I want you to hold my hand anytime we stand or walk together. That way we’ll all stay safe. What do you need to do?” Bobby says “hold hands.” Babysitter says “that’s right! We’ll hold hands.”
-Family members can repeat back the “need” or the “rule” or “expectation” in their own words.
-Most families find it helpful to state expectations before the event (remind children and others what is needed or expected to be successful and be a part).
-Families need to use words that their members can understand, and that help them practice the social skills that will contribute to family harmony. It’s really important to hear these words often BEFORE the social situation where they really need to be used.
Example: Young children might need to hear “we stay in our seats at dinner”, or “let’s sit while we eat”. Older children might need to hear “if someone is telling a story at the dinner table, we can help (be a supportive big sister) by looking at them and then asking a question about the story.”)
-Use only positive instructions: Use “we can” and “let’s do ___” language. Say what we CAN do. Instead of saying “no running!”, say “we can walk in the house.”
-If something is “forbidden” (like “running in the house”, make sure you find times and places where that thing IS okay. Example: “We can WALK in the house. We can GO OUTSIDE (or go to the basement) to play running games.”

Benefits of using these strategies
-Builds the skill with less stress for parents or caregivers and child or client
-Gives child (or client) the opportunity to receive teaching when the parent (or caregiver) is focused. Parents get much better at this the more they do it.
-The child receives practice hearing and following the instruction at a neutral, non-threatening time. Children get much better at this the more they do it.
-Research provides lots of evidence that teaching does not occur in a crisis situation; learning how to use an alternative behavior takes lots of practice.
-Gives family members practice noticing and “reinforcing” the act of listening to an important instruction and following it right away.
-Gives family members lots of practice listening to others at neutral times. All this practice can make it easier to follow a safety instruction that is given “when it counts” (at a critical time).
-Builds practice and skills with MANY people who might act as teachers or caregivers, instead of just “hoping” a child will listen to a new teacher or caregiver
-These strategies are not new, hard, expensive, or strange… but effectiveness requires practice.

Bottom Line: Find the strategies above that your family can do, and do them often.

Payoff: That way, WHEN IT COUNTS, it won’t be as difficult to insure a child follows through, listens, or helps out, if s/he is already practicing it and receiving lots of feedback on it.

Stay tuned:
Our upcoming Q&A in this series deals with holiday travel and meeting new family members:
Q: How can I prepare my child for interacting with extended family for the holidays?
A: Use The Reverse Social Story!