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How To Have a Good Day With a Challenging Child!!

At your wit's end with a child or two in your care? Please don't feel alone, that's why we're here. We hope to give you ideas that help you right away whether you're in a home or a classroom. These particular ideas work best with children ages 18 mos.-8 years but can easily be adapted to any age including adults.

How do we know these ideas work? They're backed by science, research, and real experience. Any "expert" could tell you what to do or which method to try but you're the one who really knows the child in question.

This method relies on that knowledge to create an experience that allows for emotional growth and connection. It was created by an early childhood professional with more than 30 years of teaching experience and a background in higher education.

Here's our two-step plan that works like a charm. It's easy to do but it's not too simple to be effective.


Step 1

Get a pen (or marker) and paper. Make a list in large letters of the child's best traits and qualities. Do this for each of your children. Hang it where you'll see it often.

Some ideas might be:

Cheerful, active, energetic, talkative, bright, perceptive, good listener, thoughtful, caring, quiet, persistent, careful, loving,  watchful, exuberant, playful, aware, helpful, good thinker, etc.

From the first time you greet this particular child in the morning, start to look for those traits and call them out. Let them know how those traits are helpful to you. Also, call out the good traits of others in the group or family.

Keep it up throughout the day. Make sure you're sincere in your noticing. Try to say things that are specific rather than general for clarity.

"I noticed you finished your b-fast with plenty of time today, Sheldon. That was helpful to everyone!"


Step 2

Plan some sensory activities during your day. The best, most engaging activities involve many different senses. Here's a list of ideas. I'm sure you can think of many more.


Sand Play, Water Play, Sand and Water Play, Swinging, Paint with Water Colors, Play with Sponges and Water (tip: put containers 1/2 filled with water on top of towels for less mess), Plant Seeds, Clay, Watering Plants, Smelling Spices, Spray Bottle with Water Outside, Playgrounds, Play Dough!


The more play dough the better. Here's a great recipe if you want to make your own:


In a medium saucepan or electric skillet combine the following:

2 Cups Water

2 Cups Flour

1 Cup Salt

4 Tbsp. Vegetable Oil

4 Tsp. Cream of Tartar

Food Color (optional)


Stir constantly over medium heat until the dough pulls from the sides of the pan and is the consistency of thick mashed potatoes. Turn it out onto a table and start playing with it as soon as it cools a bit. Store in an airtight container.


When they play with the dough, supervise them as much as you need to. Sit down with them at the beginning of their play. They may or may not need you to stay so close but it's a great way to connect.

Remember to notice when they're helpful and call it out immediately. Always give a 5-minute warning when play needs to end to avoid meltdowns. Some children may need more guidance to transition. You could use a visual timer or give one-on-one directions.

The combination of noticing their best efforts and providing an engaging, soothing learning environment will improve their behavior, making an easier, less stressful day for you. Try it and let me know how it works!

Nanci J Bradley is a child and family educator, parent, author, family aerobics instructor, and all-around fun-loving person. She believes in the power of sleep, lifelong learning, healthy eating, fun, and more than anything else, PLAY! She studied early childhood education at Triton College and received her BS in education from Northern Illinois University in 1986. She received her MA in human development from Pacific Oaks College in 2011. She lives and teaches in Madison, WI

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