My tips for managing 7-year-old boy outbursts

My son is bright, athletic and unfortunately, quick tempered with the tendency to react physically. He runs away. He’ll hit someone. Sometimes he’ll curse (which is actually an improvement, but still not appropriate). We’re working with his school to help him develop the emotional maturity to express anger and frustration rather than act on it. We know that by the time he’s nine, it’ll be better. But he’s seven and it wasn’t a big surprise when the sleepaway camp sent an email that he was having some “behavior issues”.  Most impressive was that they asked for strategies to help him succeed. 

My son isn’t particularly unique – his emotional development is normal. Average. Unimpressive, but not clinically delayed or anything.  And the motherhood manual doesn’t include strategies to help a little boy react older than he is. So – here’s my addendum to the motherhood manual – my top ten tricks for managing a 7-year-old boy.

  1. Create a meaningful reward chart
    Tried and true, goal oriented boys like to have a target to reach. Create a reward chart for the bunk, group, siblings or class so that they can support each other.  Make tasks that they need to do together in order to succeed. Make the reward something they really like – a pizza party, ice cream social, extra baseball game.

  2. Put him on a team
    Make the group a team. Find a way to get them to “score”.  When they aren’t in the game, can they score by cheering for their friends? Who is the loudest cheering “team”? When they are waiting at the flagpole or before a meal, is there a game about finding the coolest cloud in the sky or the biggest leaf on a tree?  They like to compete.  Have them work together.

  3. Create and stick to a routine
    Routines make children feel secure. They need to know what is going to happen and when – how long will they have to wait?  When is the next game?  Tell them the routine, try to make it consistent from day to day and if the routine involves time, give them a way to tell time (position of the sun or shadows is fun).

  4. Give him a job
    Responsibility breeds self-respect. Each member of the bunk can have a job. They should know what their job is (line leader, bathroom inspector, laundry distributor, ball collector, game organizer, etc). Their job might aid in achieving the reward chart.

  5. Set expectations before the start of a game
    Few boys will ever want to sit out of part of a game, even if they should. Explain up front that during the game, you may get called out and when you are called out, you need to go to the sidelines quickly and cheer.  And then, when the game is over, we’ll start a new game and everyone can play. Except in a tournament when you are out for good. Then you cheer!

  6. Give him words to express his feelings
    Boys often do not have an extensive emotional vocabulary and its important not to talk him out of his feelings.  If he’s mad, let him be mad.  Talk about how it feels to be mad and what made him mad. Then ask him what he can do about feeling mad.  Until he decides he doesn’t feel mad anymore.

  7. Don’t let him idle/stand in line
    Idle hands go wild. So – if there is waiting in line, give them something to do.  Sing a waiting song…do pushups…strike a pose…climb a fence.  Anything that keeps the hands active and not on each other.

  8. Give him someone/something to take care of
    My son does especially well when he feels responsible for someone else’s well being.  It could be the dog but it’s better if it’s another child. He’s an attentive friend and big brother if he’s needed. Pair boys up and give them the responsibility to help each other make good choices.

  9. Supervise especially in down time
    Even though it might get mind-numbingly boring or infuriatingly irritating, you have to watch them and interfere if they cannot resolve a conflict. It’s a delicate balance between helicoptering and Lord of the Flies. But if a situation is escalating, try not to resolve it – just introduce new words to redirect it.
  10. Give him a hug
    He’s a little boy trying to act big. He needs a hug.  A lot of hugs. He doesn’t know to ask for them – but he needs someone to wrap their arms around him and hold him tight for a few minutes so that he feels safe and loved.

What would you add to the manual?  Any techniques work for you and your active boy?

Tips for getting your kids ready to go back to school

I was shocked in June when Target was promoting Back to School - hadn't we just finished the school year. But now it's August and it's really time to start the "re-entry" process. Here's our back to school acclimation program that is more productive than a shock to the system on Sept. 1.

Tip One: Don't stop reading
Couple in background, rear view, sitting on grass beside lake, British Columbia, Canada.

We've encouraged reading throughout the summer and my eldest has an assignment to write a report on two books he's read. We let the kids choose books to read for the summer and enticed them with a slight extension to bedtime exclusively for reading. I'm pretty sure parents have been trying that trick for generations.

Tip Two: Clean the desks - but make it fun

My family has a paper problem and I'm pretty sure the sheets of paper have learned to reproduce in our welcoming environment. I hired an organizer to help me deal with my husband and my issues.  So far, so good and it's been a couple of months.  For the kids, we let everyone know that Saturday morning was desk cleaning day.  Dad led the removal of everything from the desks and the initial garbage disposal. Mom led the review of what to keep and what to relegate to memories.  Empty desks ready for the next year of work.

Tip Three: Take inventory

School supplies aren't particularly expensive, but so many of them come home at the end of the year that it seems wasteful not to re-use the ones that are still virtually new. We put all the existing inventory on the dining room table, tested pens, pencils, erasers, markers and more until we had everything sorted. Compared our inventory to the school supply list and highlighted what was left to buy.

Tip Four: Make a playdate

My kids go to a bunch of camps over the summer where they make new friends and explore their interests. Sometimes there's a schoolmate at these camps, but usually not. August is a great time to reconnect them with their friends. We're doing a Giants game with one friend. Working on more (social calendaring is not my strong suit). If your child is at school with my sons - want to have a playdate?

Tip Five: Talk about school positively

It doesn't take much for kids to realize that summer is a lot of fun. No homework. No tests. No reports. Lots of sports and fun. Our kids usually find school to be fun too (not like summer, but still fun) - they like learning and being with their friends. Instead of bemoaning the end of summer, we talk about what they're looking forward to in their next year of school and what they want to learn. We convey our own genuine excitement for the experience they're about to have at school. A little bit of the self-fulfilling prophecy - you get what you expect.

Tip Six: Squeeze lots of memories from the dog days of summer

Six Children Have a Water Fight Round a Paddling Pool in a Back Garden
We're going to extract every last morsel of summer from the season. My sons and husband are going camping/rafting this summer with Dads from our school. Next weekend, my kids join my parents in the mountains by a lake...while we get a couples weekend.  Then we go to the lake.  Tired yet? And there's the possibility of a short, impromptu family vacation when none of the kids have school. Of course, we don't get those sorts of vacations from work!  Have fun and good luck.

Tip Seven: Plan the afterschool activities

Our kids are pretty active and we want them to run around and play a lot after school. Because we both work, we need to put a little structure into that playtime. Each son gets to play one organized sport a season - their choice. They have music instruction. And they get to do something else they like - active. Sometimes two something else's depending on proximity. So now we're choosing what the activities will be (except for soccer, that has to be chosen in April for the fall season). It's fun and builds anticipation with the kids.

Tip Eight: Make a big deal of the haircuts

Somehow, my kids have fallen in love with the haircut experience. It's likely the lollipop for the little girl and the Pao de Queijo for the older two. But in any case, before they go back to school, they need to look sharp and making this a fun outing reduces the amount of complaining it could otherwise entail.

Tip Nine: Ask your friends for their tips

So?  What do you do to get the kids ready to go back to school?



I wrote this blog post while participating in the TwitterMoms blogging program to be eligible to get a HarperCollins book set. For more information on how you can participate, click here.

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