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Behavior Strategies During Social Distancing

I hope that you find the content of this article beneficial as you navigate this period of uncertainty; these are challenging times, and Olive Behavior Care is here to support you! This month’s newsletter will focus on a few strategies to implement during school closures and social distancing, specifically:

  • The “1 or none” strategy

  • Pausing during communication

  • Building structure and routine

The “I or None” Strategy

The “1 or none” strategy is an approach I use with my clients at least once a day. I utilize it because children respond well to choices and rules – and this strategy offers both. The concept is simple – I give a rule: “you can have one,” and a choice: “or none.” In most circumstances, the child quickly chooses 1, wanting to have something rather than nothing. This strategy can easily be used in scenarios that involve food or toys and may be modified for many other situations.

Here are a few examples of how this strategy may be used: Let’s say a child wants an entire bag of Goldfish, and you sense they will have a meltdown if they aren’t given what they want. You can say, “you can have 1 Goldfish or none.” If a child throws a fit to go out somewhere, you can say, “we can go later or not at all.” If siblings are fighting over toys, a parent’s response may be, “you can play with something else or play with nothing.” While this may seem harsh, giving a rule and a choice can be a powerful tool to redirect a child’s attention.

There are two easy ways to modify this strategy. The first is to give the child a better than “1 or none” outcome. In the Goldfish scenario, you can adjust the numbers and say, “you can have 5 Goldfish or 1 Goldfish.” Typically, the child will jump at the opportunity to have more rather than less and choose five over one – forgetting about wanting the entire bag. The second way to modify the strategy is to provide visual cues while delivering the phrase. Using the Goldfish example – while you are saying “1 Goldfish,” physically show the child 1 Goldfish, and when you say, “or none,” put the Goldfish behind your back. Giving visuals like this can often help children process language when upset.

Pausing During Communication

The next strategy is to pause while communicating with your child. In the previous article, “Shifting Your Communication Approach.” People, including children, (especially children with special needs), often require processing time while communicating. This is even more applicable if a child is upset or if they are being asked to discuss an uncomfortable topic. This strategy recommends that parents allow as much processing time as necessary before repeating the question or offering the language differently when promoting a child.

In my practice, I work with children with varying communication abilities – from those whose language skills are far beyond their age to non-verbal children who use Assistive Technology to communicate. Across the board, I give children up to a minute (or more) of processing time. We want to give children processing time because when/if we interrupt their train of thought, we are inhibiting them from developing problem-solving skills and coming up with language independently. Additionally, when we prompt or repeat ourselves, a child will slowly learn that they do not have to listen the first time because the adult will always ask a question twice. Note: this strategy can be tricky and requires patience. It is not our nature to simply wait until a response is given. I suggest setting a certain time limit in your head to monitor when you respond. For example, I often count to 10 before giving any prompt or redirection. Leaving ample processing time may seem uncomfortable at first. Still, it is much less frustrating as a parent or therapist to quietly and calmly wait for a response rather than repeat ourselves repeatedly.

Building Structure & Routine

The final strategy I will share is creating and implementing a visual schedule while school closure is in place. Every day a child gets to school, they receive a schedule, no matter what grade they are in. The teacher may use cute, friendly visuals in kindergarten and review the daily plan during “circle time.” In high school, the students may have a more basic, digital schedule that they simply memorize. Regardless of age, we all do better with visual schedules and checklists.

I have included links to a few visual schedule ideas for younger children. I recommend creating a schedule you, as a parent, feel you can implement and follow through with. Choose tasks that already happen in your daily life, such as “brushing teeth” and “eating breakfast.” A lot of parents include “screen time,” “outside play,” and “inside play” into their schedules in order to plan for when they will need to be more or less available to their children.

While all these strategies can be useful anytime, I believe they are especially important with the current social distancing and school closures. Giving rules and choices such as “1 or none”, allowing processing time, and building a schedule will help to maintain an orderly, organized home environment.

Please do not hesitate to reach out if you have any specific questions about how to best support your child!


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