The mother in front of me says she doesn't know what to do or where to start anymore.
She has two daughters in the age of 7 and 8 that attend the after school club I manage, and I have invited her to have a chat about their development and general well being. In the last couple of weeks I noticed that both girls were displaying attention seeking behaviour in a negative way.
Throwing coats on the floor, not wanting to eat while the other children are eating, showing (covered) private body parts whilst at the table...
Apparently the teachers at the girls' school have been reporting the same sort of issues with the mother. I ask her what their day looks like at home. She says that they do not listen, bicker a lot about each other and do not tidy. As a mother she often feels exhausted and wants time for herself without having to step in every two minutes. I ask what she thinks might be the cause of the changes in the behaviour of her daughters recently. She doesn't know. She talks a lot with the girls about how their days went when walking home. Unfortunately once they are at home, the conversational manor changes to complaining and bickering.
My tips and advice for at our club:
I put emphasis on wanting to give her girls a good time at our club, and suggest that our team is going to focus on the things that they are doing well. This means that whenever her girls do hang up their coats, of help another child or teacher out, they get a specific compliment about what they did that we like to see. With this approach they will still get a lot of attention, but in a positive way. To prevent the need to search for other types of attention, I will make a tailored plan for both girls with more structure for their afternoons with us. This means they both will have a choice between two set activities and that a teacher will be there from start to finish so that positive actions can be endorsed and negative actions can be adjusted.
My tips and advice for at home:
I compliment the mother for taking the time to talk to her girls and acknowledge the difficulties she faces as a single mum who works full time. I repeat her cry for needing time for herself as a person. I ask the mother if she, when she talks with the girls about their days and feelings, ever shares her own experiences and feelings. She acknowledges she's not a talker. Why would it matter? It seems to be all about the girls, their days and their development. What would happen if she would allow them to have a peak into her day as an employee and her feelings about the things that happened that day? The mother says she guesses the girls could be more empathetic, but doesn't see how sharing her experiences is going to solve the problems at home.
How can the mother use the time she has with the girls to give more structure to their afternoons/evenings? I ask her if they have whiteboards or something of the sort. When starting the day, before going to school, she can tell (not ask in this stage) the girls what the plan is when they get home and both girls get to write their activity on their own whiteboard. Let's start with putting our coats and shoes away when we come home. Done? Check. Maybe the eldest one starts with making homework in her own room for a set time, and gets to choose an activity she likes when all is done. The youngest might choose a colouring page or create her own drawing at the table, and gets to help mum tonight with setting the table when she's called to do so.
This way, there is no room for negotiation about what to do or whom gets what space to play in. Mum gets some time for herself and gets to compliment the girls for working along with the plan.
A couple of weeks later:
The girls behaviour has shown improvement; they both now accept and join the daily routine at our club happily. The mother says she has opened up more about her own experiences and feelings towards the girls and that this has been the start of some good heart to hearts. At home and at school, the girls listen better and even though they at times still bicker and complain, overall the atmosphere has improved noticeably. Taking the initiative to give structure to their days and search for ways to be able to compliment the girls, rather than giving negative attention, has so far paid off. We agree to keep working with the girls in this way and keep each other updated about how things are going at home and at the club.
Often, displaying attention seeking behaviour in a negative way, is a cry for any attention from the child. Without structure or set activities, which include things like tidying and helping around in the house, children get the space to fill their time with activities and behaviour you do not want to see. This causes a circle of negativity that is not easily broken. I strive to look for the positive things in all children. As a partner in raising children, I also take responsibility in looking for ways with the parent to prevent children from feeling the need to ask for attention (in a negative way).