Tips for Parents: Summer Provides Time to Reinforce Positive Behaviors at Home

A Brief Overview

  • A tidal wave of emotional meltdowns can douse a family during summer break. Read on for tips to create a positive home environment that encourages expected behaviors.
  • A key concept from Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) is that punishment doesn’t teach children and youth what they should do instead. Adults can direct a child toward a better choice of actions or interrupt an escalation cycle.
  • The easiest way to change a behavior is to point out what a person does right.
  • Parents might find success with strategies they can share with school in the fall!

Full Article

Summertime brings relief and grief in different measures for families. Taking a break from school can mean more time to sleep in, take a vacation or simply daydream. Still, a change in routine can disrupt some children who prefer days that are all the same amount of busy—and disruption can lead to dysregulation. A few strategies, described below, might help smooth troubled waters. In addition, parents might find success with strategies they can share with the school in the fall!

Experts in education are excited about a framework for creating a positive environment with Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS). Currently a popular topic for webinars and in-service trainings nationwide, PBIS has been implemented in more than 26,000 U.S. schools. The PBIS framework has been shown to decrease disciplinary removals and improve student outcomes, including grades and graduation rates. When done well, PBIS provides positive social skills, communication strategies and “restorative justice,” (working it out instead of punishing) and may prevent 80-90 percent of problem behaviors.

Punishment doesn’t teach

PBIS requires an understanding that punishment doesn’t help a child know what to do instead. Researchers have learned that a child who is being punished enters an emotionally dysregulated state (fight/flight/freeze) that blocks learning. Adults who calmly direct a child toward a new way of problem-solving can interrupt or prevent an escalation. De-escalation strategies might include:

  • Remove what is causing the behavior
  • Get down to eye level
  • Offer empathy—the ability to understand and share the feelings of another
  • Provide choices
  • Re-teach expectations
  • Reinforce desired behaviors
  • Communicate care instead of control

Simple, consistent, predictable language is a critical component. Insights about these strategies and more were shared in a webinar by Change Lab Solutions on April 30, 2019.

Among experts talking about PBIS are staff at the University of Washington’s School Mental Health Assessment, Research and Training (SMART) Center, where staff lead the School Mental Health supplement of the Northwest Mental Health Technology Transfer Center (NWMHTTC). These agencies, in collaboration with the League of Education Voters, in June 2019 hosted a webinar: How to Implement Mental Health Supports in Schools, focused on the importance of blending school and community supports with PBIS.

A University of Washington (UW) expert who participated in the webinar is Kelcey Schmitz, a former OSPI staff member who has written articles for PAVE about positive behavior supports and state initiatives and has experience helping families and schools implement PBIS.

“PBIS is a game changer for children and youth with behavior challenges and their teachers and caregivers,” Schmitz says. “In fact, everyone can benefit from PBIS. Behavior is a form of communication, and PBIS aims to reduce problem behavior by increasing appropriate behavior and ultimately improving quality of life for everyone. The same approaches used by schools to prevent problem behaviors and create positive, safe, consistent and predictable environments can be used by families at home.”

Schmitz, an MTSS training and technical assistance specialist, provides the following specific tips for creating a PBIS home environment to create fun, surfable days instead of emotional tidal waves.

Tier 1: Support Positive Behavior before there’s a problem

First, it’s helpful to understand the structure of PBIS, which is set up with three layers—called tiers—of support. The parent-child relationship is strengthened by loving and positive interactions at each tier.

Tier 1 support is about getting busy before there’s a problem. Much like learning to wash hands to prevent getting sick, expected behavior is taught and modeled to prevent unexpected behaviors.  Parents can take a look at their own actions and choices and consider what children will see as examples of being respectful, responsible and safe.

Tiers 2 and 3 are where adults provide a little more support for specific behaviors that are getting in the way of relationships or how the child or youth functions. Tier 2 is for students who need a social group or some extra teaching, practice and reinforcement. 

Tier 3 supports include conducting a functional behavior assessment to find out why the behavior is occurring and then matching the student’s needs to an individualized intervention. Any student should be able to access supports that include aspects of Social Emotional Learning at all three Tiers. At home, Tiers 2 and 3 naturally will be more blended and may include support from a community provider. Note that targeted interventions in Tiers 2-3 work best when Tier 1 is already well established.

Define, teach and routinely acknowledge family expectations

  • Discuss how you want to live as a family and identify some “pillars” (important, building-block concepts) that represent what you value. Talk about what those pillars look like and sound like in every-day routines. To help the family remember and be consistent, choose only 3-5 and create positive statements about them. Here are a few examples:
    • Speak in a respectful voice.
    • Be responsible for actions.
    • Be safe; keep hands, feet and objects to self.
  • Identify a couple of “hot spots” to begin. Challenging behaviors often occur within routines.  Perhaps mornings or mealtimes create hot spots for the family. After discussing 1-2 ways to be respectful, responsible and safe in the morning, teach what each looks like. Have fun with it! Set up “expectation stations” for practicing the plan and assign each family member one pillar to teach to the rest.
  • Behaviors that get attention get repeated. Notice when a child does the right thing and say something about each success: “I noticed you stopped to pick up your shoes in the hallway. Thanks for putting them away and keeping the walkway safe for others.” The easiest way to change a behavior is to point out what a person does right!
  • Remember this catchy phrase, “5:1 gets it done” to ensure five positive interactions for each negative interaction. When the expected behavior becomes routine, the reinforcement can fade away.

Create engaging and predictable routines

  • Children crave structure and routine. Adults may look forward to a relaxing evening or weekend, but kids often need regular activity and engagement. Consider that either the kids are busy, or the adults are busy managing bored kids!
  • Use visuals to create predictability. A visual schedule can display major routines of the day with pictures that are drawn, real photos or cut-outs from magazines. Create the schedule together!  Parents can ask a child to check the schedule – especially when moving from a preferred to non-preferred activity. It’s hard to argue with a picture!

Set the stage for positive behavior

  • Teach, pre-teach and re-teach. Children need to learn behavior just like they learn colors and shapes. A quick reminder can help reinforce a developing skill: “When we get in the car, sit up, buckle up, and smile!”
  • Give transition warnings or cues to signal the end of one activity and the beginning of another: “In five minutes, it will be bath time.”
  • First/then statements set up a child for delayed gratification: “First take your bath; then we can play dolls.”
  • Focus on Go instead of Stop. Children often tune out words like No, Don’t and Stop and only hear the word that comes next, which is what an adult is trying to avoid. Tell a child what to do instead of what not to do: “Take your plate and put it in the sink.” Save Stop and No for dangerous circumstances that need a quick reaction.  
  • Choices prevent power struggles: “Would you rather play for five more minutes or get in the bath now?”  “Feel free to choose the pink pajamas or the green ones.”

While these strategies may not eliminate all problem behaviors, they create consistency, predictability and a more positive atmosphere. They teach new skills to help children get their needs met. The solid foundation will help even if challenging behaviors persist by creating a bedrock for additional layers of support.  

Here are places to seek additional information:

Parenting with Positive Behavior Support: A Practical Guide to Resolving Your Child’s Difficult Behavior 

Home and Community Based Positive Behavior Support Facebook Page

Home and Community PBS Website

Parent Center Hub Positive Behavior Supports Resource Collection

Intensive Intervention: An Overview for Parents and Families

The Association for Positive Behavior Support

Getting Behavior in Shape at Home

Family Resources for Challenging Behavior

The National Center for Pyramid Model Innovations (NCPMI) Resource Library, articles in multiple languages

Stay Cool when Summer Heats Up

Summertime brings special challenges for families whose children have special needs. Some medical conditions and medications make individuals particularly susceptible to the heat. Be sure to check with your doctor about which medications might increase heat sensitivity.

Keep in mind that extreme heat combined with humidity can make a person even more vulnerable. It’s harder for the body to sweat and cool itself off when the humidity rises, making it even harder to maintain a healthy body temperature.

The US Department of Homeland Security manages a website, Ready.gov, to help people prepare for and mitigate emergencies, including a variety of natural and man-made disasters. The website offers articles translated into a variety of languages. The campaign provides these bits of advice related to the risks of extremely hot weather:

  • Extreme heat can occur quickly and without warning.
  • Older adults, children, and sick or overweight individuals are at greater risk from extreme heat.
  • Humidity increases the feeling of heat as measured by a heat index.

Here are a few ideas for your family when the heat is on:

  • Stay indoors and in an air-conditioned environment as much as possible unless you know your body has a high tolerance for heat.
  • Drink plenty of fluids but avoid beverages that contain alcohol, caffeine or a lot of sugar.
  • Eat more frequently, but make sure meals are balanced and light.
  • Never leave any person or pet in a parked vehicle.
  • Avoid dressing babies in heavy clothing or wrapping them in warm blankets.
  • Check frequently on people who are elderly, ill or may need help. If you might need help, arrange to have family, friends or neighbors check in with you at least twice a day throughout warm weather periods.
  • Make sure pets have plenty of water.
  • Salt tablets should only be taken if specified by your doctor. If you are on a salt-restrictive diet, check with a doctor before increasing salt intake.
  • If you take prescription diuretics, antihistamines, mood-altering or antispasmodic drugs, check with a doctor about the effects of sun and heat exposure.
  • Cover windows that receive morning or afternoon sun. Awnings and window coverings can reduce the heat entering a house by as much as 80 percent.

If you go outside:

  • Plan strenuous outdoor activities for early or late in the day, when temperatures are cooler.
  • Take frequent breaks when working outdoors.
  • Wear a wide-brimmed hat, sun block and light-colored, loose-fitting clothes when outdoors.
  • At first signs of heat illness (dizziness, nausea, headaches, muscle cramps), move to a cooler location, rest for a few minutes and slowly drink a cool beverage. Seek medical attention immediately if you do not feel better.
  • Avoid sunburn, which slows the skin’s ability to cool itself. Use a sunscreen lotion with a high SPF (sun protection factor) rating.
  • Avoid extreme temperature changes. A cool shower immediately after coming in from hot temperatures can result in hypothermia, particularly for elderly or very young people.

If the power goes out or air conditioning is not available

  • If air conditioning is not available, stay on the lowest floor out of the sunshine.
  • Ask your doctor about any prescription medicine you keep refrigerated. (If the power goes out, most medicine will be fine to leave in a closed refrigerator for at least 3 hours.)
  • Keep a few bottles of water in your freezer; if the power goes out, move them to your refrigerator and keep the doors shut.

The Washington State Department of Health lists additional ideas through its website. Some Extreme Heat Cooling Centers in Washington State are listed through the state’s 211 Information Network.

Get Ready for Summer with Camp Planning

Planning summer camp for children with special needs requires a bit of extra thinking and planning. Your initial questions might feel fear-based:

  • Will the camp be accessible enough?
  • Will she be safe?
  • Will they care for him? 
  • Will the kids be nice?
  • Is she ready? Am I ready? 

Getting organized can alleviate your fears and help set your child up for a safe and fun summer experience. These broad-based questions can help narrow your search:  

  • Would your family prefer a day or an overnight camp?
  • Given your child’s unique circumstances, would it make sense to arrange special supports in a camp designed for all children?
  • Would an inclusive camp with a caregiver be the best fit? 

A guide to help you seek answers to these and other questions is The Center for Children with Special Needs Summer Camp Directory, which lists camps designed to meet unique medical, social and emotional needs. This directory lists overnight camps and week-long adaptive day camps.   

Here are some additional tips for getting ready:

Talk About Camp Early and Often

Make this a family project. Discuss the possible activities with your child, look at pictures and call the people at places that sounded interesting. Focus on what sounds fun and what it might mean to make new friends and share adventures. Invite your child to talk about what might feel scary—and that feeling jittery or homesick is a normal part of going to camp for all children who are new to the experience.

Practice makes perfect

Many camps have open houses or visiting times so a child can look around and begin to get comfortable with the environment. Have staff show you around and talk about the schedule so your child can feel prepared and know what to expect.

Safety First

Help your child talk about self-care routines. Your child can practice asking for something he or she might need, and you can talk about who the helpers will be. This is great practice in the life skills of self-determination and self-advocacy! Your child can also help you write down special instructions for the camp staff. Talk openly to the camp director, and document allergies and things to avoid. Ask whether a specific staff person can be assigned to your child so that person can receive training directly from you. Make sure to include specifics about your child’s unique needs (e.g.: He tends to have a tantrum if you ask him to rush; she walks in her sleep; or he needs a calming spot, a hideaway or a swing.) Help the staff feel prepared to help your child succeed, relax and have fun!

Make sure to talk with your child about privacy, safe touch, and respecting one’s body. Ask the camp what they have in place to ensure safety.

Check in With Your Child’s Doctor

You can schedule a medical appointment to talk about do’s and don’ts at camp. For example, DO go swimming and have a great time, but DON’T jump from high places into the water if a medical condition like brittle bones makes this dangerous. At the appointment, you can request additional dosages or back-up medications as needed. If your child has serious health concerns, a camp with nurses or doctors trained in your child’s specific condition may be necessary. You or a paid caregiver also might be able to visit during lunch or another time of day to provide needed medical supports, and this can be discussed with your provider during this pre-camp medical check-up. Be sure that everyone involved knows what is expected and who is responsible for which aspects of your child’s care.  

Don’t forget to include sunscreen, lots of water, and a hat for summertime heat. Take note if your child is taking a medication that might increase heat sensitivity.

Make a List and Check it THRICE!

Many camps provide detailed packing lists, but your family’s list will include specific items for your child’s individual comfort or unique circumstances. Medications, emergency changes of clothes, pads, or other medical supplies need to be written down to make sure they make it to camp!

Zip-closure baggies labeled with a Sharpie pen might help you get organized. You can write instructions on index cards inside the baggies. A Care Planner can help, with a medical release, copies of medical cards and instructions about where to take your child in an emergency.  Here are some resources to help you create a Care Planner:

Organize Your Child’s Medical and School Documents with a Care Notebook
Familyvoices.org
Seattle Children’s Hospital Center for Children with Special Needs
National Center for Medical Home Implementation

Enjoy Your Me Time

Wish your child an excellent adventure, and don’t forget to treat yourself to some self-care time while your super special child is away at camp!

Summer and Dads of Children with Special Needs

For more info go to www.dadsmove.org

Summertime Ideas for Dads

Summer time can be a particularly stressful time of year for us dads that are raising special needs children. One of the ways our family and many that we have served go through this time is by networking with other parents to do activities jointly with our kids.

Here are just a few ideas of what you can also take advantage of:

Many local parks have free and reduced priced local camps and many will work with our kids

The Boys and Girls club offers many programs and they do sliding scale

If you are in the Central Puget Sound there is a wonderful program called Sea Scouts.

DadsMOVE will be posting activities throughout the summer so keep looking for things to do at our website.

Attend local support groups to meet other parents like you

Special Families of Puget Sound host and posts many events and activities.

And don’t forget to give you and your significant other time for your own self care