Pandemic Parenting Problems: 3 Categories of Behavior and How to Respond
by Erika J. Vivyan, PhD
As the COVID-19 crisis continues into summer, kids and teens are finishing up their online classes and moving toward a more relaxed summer schedule, albeit without some of their favorite activities. Without summer camps, singalong campfires, and sports practice, many parents and caregivers are still struggling to manage behavior at home. Most of this behavior falls into one of the following categories, and our response can make a big impact on whether that behavior will continue…or cease entirely. Using principles drawn from Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (Eyberg & Funderburk, 2011), parents and caregivers can learn what to do and say to improve behavior while we are all at home.
Category 1: Good Behavior
Kids and teens are often pretty amazing humans. They might decide to wake up and make their own bed, or they might get started on their summer reading book. When parents and caregivers noticed these exceptional behaviors, the best way to respond is with labeled praise. A labeled praise involves both identifying the behavior and providing a positive comment about it. For example, “I really appreciate that you made your bed!” included both a label (“you made your bed”) and a praise (“I really appreciate that”). This type of communication, when genuine, is most likely to increase good behavior. Bonus points for super exceptional behavior if parents and caregivers add in an external reinforcer such as a special privilege or allowance.
Category 2: Okay Behavior
Most of the time, kids and teens are doing okay. They might be scrolling through Instagram or playing with Legos, and that’s usually just fine. Parents and caretivers are typically fine with these types of activities. If the behavior is acceptable and you’d also like for that behavior to continue, use a description. Tell your child or teen exactly what they are doing. For example, “You built a truck using that old Lego set!” lets your child know that you see and approve of what they are doing.
Category 3: Problem Behavior
This is the category of behavior that adults tend to focus on the most. The defiant, noncompliant, oppositional behavior that leads to nagging, arguments, and yelling makes everyone feel more on edge. Problem behavior falls into two broad categories: dangerous and annoying. Dangerous behavior, such as hitting, punching, kicking, and destroying, should be stopped swiftly and calmly. Annoying behavior – including such gems as swearing, stomping, and name-calling – should be actively ignored. The “active” part of this strategy includes turning or walking away from your child or teen, taking your attention completely away from the problem behavior. As long as your child is safe, active ignoring can help to cut down on the behavior entirely…but only if you’re patient. Often, when a child or teen is ignored for a behavior that used to elicit a lot of attention (think: yelling rude cuss words), the behavior will increase in frequency and/or intensity (think: louder and more obscene cuss words) before it is extinguished (finally). The concept of actively ignoring is best practiced with a partner (e.g., a co-parent or another caregiver) for maximum effectiveness and emotional support.
These 3 types of behavior are surely present in every household as we enter a strange summer sans socialization and sports. By following through with these strategies, parents and caregivers can bring more positivity and peace to an otherwise difficult experience for everyone. Here’s to staying mentally and physically healthy as we navigate the coming months!
Eyberg, S. M., & Funderburk, B. (2011). PCIT: parent-child interaction therapy protocol: 2011.
Gainesville, FL: PCIT International, Inc.
© 2020 Erika J. Vivyan. All rights reserved.