Behavior Bites Series: #1 Be EXPLICIT with your children



The dreaded shopping cart. This cart always brings me back to a few years ago when my oldest son would flat out refuse to get into it. Not only did he refuse, but he would scream as loud as he could and tantrum right in front of the store while everyone watched me swoop him up and continuously try to get him to go in. I failed miserably. At one point, my son became so irate, that I had to restrain him from hitting me. Embarrassed, I finally picked him up and carried him out of the store kicking and screaming, all the while feeling just a bit hopeless. I was a teacher with an exceptional student education background and held several certifications and endorsements and yet I could not manage my own son.

I’m sure this scenario hits home to some of you out there and while I thought I knew how to manage behaviors, it wasn’t until I enrolled in a behavior course called HOT DOCS (Helping Our Toddlers Developing Our Children’s Skills)  offered by the University of South Florida that really turned it all around for our family. It made such an impact on how I dealt with behaviors at home and within the classroom setting, that I completed the certification program for parents to become an instructor. What I will be sharing with you in the next few weeks, I hope will make you see behavior as something more than a fit or tantrum. Behaviors speak in volumes and it is up to you as the parent or caregiver to crack the code, and take the bite [and sting] out of the behavior to meet the need.


Whether in public or in private, every parent goes though the “Terrible something’s”. We’ve all been there. The melt downs because they wanted something in the grocery line, or maybe having them eat their dinner AT the dinner table is an issue, or even the dreaded bedtime routine that makes you want to run and hide. And whether we want to label it as complete defiance, it really boils down to one thing: Communication.


Communication is the ability to understand what is being said (receptive language) and the ability to express (expressive language) wants and needs in an age appropriate manner. Due to limited language skills, young children will become frustrated when not understood, which can then lead to emotional outbursts and meltdowns.


By definition, behavior is a reaction to a certain situation, event, time, place, person, or thing. It’s a reaction to an action. Behavior serves a purpose and  effectively gets a child’s needs met immediately by either “getting” or “getting out of” something. Our children are quite clever and have figured out the best ways to get what they want, when they want it. And once they discover that you will take the bait, it then becomes a learned response.


Developmental Milestones

Young children tend to express their wants and needs differently depending on where they are in their developmental stage. It is important that you take this into account first. Each child develops at his or her own rate and depending on where they are within their development, will determine if what you are asking them to do is age appropriate and how you address the behavior. Remember, this is a range and children can be slightly above or behind in various stages.

Developmentally Delayed

A developmental delay means that a child has not met an expected milestone within one or more domains—physical, mental/cognitive, emotional, language and adaptive(daily living skills).

When we first started going through this process, my son was diagnosed with a developmental delay. He was behind in speech, language, and the social/emotional domains. He had just turned four years old and we quickly got him evaluated and assessed for private therapy, as well as, early intervention programs through our school district. It is because of early invention that my son is doing so well in school. He currently has an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) but has since dropped the DD (developmentally delayed) label, and they are looking to dismiss him from the ESE  program next school year.  I cannot express how valuable early intervention is. If you suspect a delay, talk with your pediatrician to determine what next steps to take. Children with diagnosed developmental delays can be made eligible for services, depending where you live.


I love this title. When I started writing this I was chucking to myself as I came up with the graphic. And although sometimes we want to be “EXPLICIT” in that manner, that is not what I mean. I save that kind of dialogue for after hours with my girlfriends as we swap stories and have drinks from our finest sippy cups.

As parents, when we see our children doing something they shouldn’t be, we immediately run to the words “NO! DON’T! STOP!” It’s a habit. It makes complete sense to try to stop them in their tracks using these particular words, and most times, at least in my experience, it didn’t work anyway. I try to save these words (no, don’t, and stop) when it has to deal with their safety. Otherwise, children become desensitized by hearing them continuously that they begin to lose their meaning, which is to keep them safe.

So what words should we use? Well, instead of telling them what NOT to do, tell them what you WANT them to do. For example, this morning my youngest son (2 years old and has a significant case of the Terrible Twos) had his feet up on the walls and was banging them over and over up against the walls. I am in the bathroom getting ready and I poke my head out to say, “Elijah, feet off the wall, please.” I had to say it twice and then physically come over there to help move his feet and tell him again, “feet off, please.” He complied. I then thanked him for complying, “thank you for taking your feet off.”  I redirected him to find his trains and play while I finished getting ready. You want to address what they are doing using clear simple language that is developmentally appropriate.

Give clear directions examples:

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Remember, this will take practice and some getting used to. And it may take some time to get them to comply, but be persistent and stay consistent!

Comment below and share some of your clear directions that you will be working on changing or have changed so we can all learn from each other.

Charlee is a Tampa native and currently resides in Valrico with her two boys (ages 5 & 2), and husband, Ben. Charlee is a teacher by day, and recipe developer by mealtime. She loves being in the kitchen and propping her boys on the counter to assist as her sous chefs. She believes that involving her whole family in the process will foster healthy habits and an appreciation of where food comes from. Charlee has a food blog called Little Red Bird Kitchen where she posts recipes and the reactions of her little guys and big guy, too. Charlee enjoys reading, pinning, crafting, and finding tasty local eats. She loves glam vintage, wears Chuck Taylor Converse everyday, and rocks the bow tie. Visit her blog @ and follow her Instagram @CharleeChomps.


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