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Chicken Patty, my middle child, is a 2-year-old disaster on wheels. Give me all the TIPS AND TRICKS, sisters. I have Googled “improve my kids’ behavior” on more than one occasion because of this dude.
I needed a solution to his craziness, so I started by identifying the stuff that makes me nuttiest. There were two specific behaviors making me extra frustrated this summer, and it was leading to a bunch of hollering and misery.
First, the older two hovering in the kitchen while I’m trying to drum up a snack or meal was driving me crazy. For some reason, they would linger in the kitchen, bickering with one another, putting in meal requests like I’m a dang short order cook.
The second thing I noticed was more of a root cause than a specific behavior. Every transition was causing Chicken Patty to lose his cool. Potty time? Flopping on the ground in protest. Meal time? Stiffening his legs and making it impossible to lodge his chubby self into the high chair. Time to put on clothes? Nope, he would streak through the house stark naked, laughing maniacally and refusing to dress. I. WAS. LOSING. IT.
Why I Tried A Doorbell to Improve My Child’s Behavior
I stumbled onto the doorbell solution by accident. I was cleaning out my 3rd grade classroom about a week and a half ago, because Covid-19 and having 3 kids under 6 (one being only 5 months and still nursing) finally did me in. It was time to stay home with my kids, and hope the work force would be waiting for me when I was ready to return.
I had a doorbell in my classroom, and now it was coming home with me. The doorbell worked GREAT for my 3rd graders – why wouldn’t it work for my own little troop of crazies? Could something so simple improve my kids’ behavior, too?
Worth a shot, I thought. In spite of having a 5 month old in the house, I decided, “Let’s add a bit more noise to this equation.” Because honestly, it couldn’t get any louder around here.
Why the Doorbell Works at School
In my third grade classroom, I used a doorbell to signal every new transition. For children, a fancy doorbell is a fun alternative to mom’s (or the teacher’s) nagging voice. It’s clear, loud, and consistent. It never says too much, it never speaks too harshly, and it sounds the exact same every time.
So for example, I’d ring the doorbell at the end of an activity, and without wasting a breath of mine, the kids would start cleaning up. They’d glance at the countdown clock on the SMART board and know they had five minutes to get the job done before reporting back to the rug for their next lesson. If you ask any first-year-teacher in the country, they’ll already be aware of one truth: tight and quick transitions are an essential behavior management tool.
How the Doorbell Works at School
Let’s say a third grade teacher wants her class to put away their colored pencils, relocate from their desks to the whole-group rug, and turn their textbooks to page 337. When she announces that to the class, she needs to make sure it all happens in under about 90 seconds. Students need to sense urgency, appreciate efficiency, and be eager to learn. Whether or not the class actually DOES this? That’s how you know whether the teacher has classroom management SKILLZ.
If those three moves take any longer than 90 seconds, behavior starts to falter. Muhammed will be telling Genesis that her colored pencil is a stupid shade of yellow. Amaris will be making fun of Eli for not knowing how to tie his shoes yet. The sweet kid with ADHD will be running around the room creating tripping hazards in his wake. Quick, tight transitions leave little space for shenanigans.
So I thought to myself, “If I can make 25 kids accomplish three tasks in under 90 seconds and be ready to go for the next activity, surely I could apply the same principles to help improve my kids’ behavior!”
How the Doorbell Works at Meal Time to Improve Kids’ Behavior
In our house, I plugged my old classroom doorbell (the larger square in the photo) into the hallway outlet nearest to the kids’ bedrooms.
The smaller unit pictured stays in the kitchen, but can easily be dropped into my pocket for movement around the house.
I began by testing out my theory at lunch time. I tried something new: no children allowed in the kitchen during meal and snack prep. Instead, I insisted that the kids “Go play until you hear the doorbell.”
Normally, “go play” is a non-starter, but the novelty of anticipating the doorbell sent them on their merry way. I also concentrated on making sure that MY behaviors would lend themselves to a tight and quick transition to meal time.
Before the doorbell, I’d yell out to them from the kitchen to come to the table, fully anticipating that it would take them a while to actually come running. I might still be plating their food, searching for their water bottles, and microwaving plates when I first called them. Sometimes they’d come right away and get into trouble in the kitchen while I finished up. Other times, they’d lag behind, playing and ignoring my instructions to come to the table.
My new strategy was to set up the meal or snack in complete peace in the kitchen, insisting that they stay away until they hear the doorbell. I wouldn’t ring the doorbell until their plates and drinks were perfectly in place, waiting for them.
Consequently, they quickly learned that when I ring the doorbell, the food is READY. If they waste time, they’re just missing out on a meal or snack that is 100% ready and waiting.
You know what? The mealtime solution has worked like a charm. I haven’t hollered or fussed at them in the kitchen in over a week. Something about having them bickering at each other underfoot while I tried to get food on the table was STRESSING me out. Now? Nothing but my podcasts buzzing in my ears as I busily arrange a meal with some half-hearted attempt at nutrition.
When I ring that doorbell, they hustle! They are curious what sort of absurd concoction mom has put on their plates this time. Mac n’ Cheese with a side of raw kale? Why not? Leftover pizza slice with an apple on it’s last day? Sorry, kids. I’m doing my best. You get a doorbell presentation but I can’t guarantee it’s edible.
Other Ways to Use the Doorbell
I figure this has to work in other ways besides just meal time, and that’s what I’m currently testing out. I am keeping the doorbell ringer in my pocket. I say things like, “When you hear the doorbell, it will be time to go potty.” Or I might say, “When you hear the doorbell, it will be time for our morning walk.”
It has a weird way of not holding me accountable for things he doesn’t like very much. Like I’m not the one making him go potty or take a walk? It’s this mysterious dinging that he doesn’t even realize is the result oof ME pushing a button.
After I give the verbal warning, I leave the kids at their play while I set up the next activity. When I ring the doorbell, I’ll be completely ready to give the kiddo my complete focus and attention, because set up and preparations will be done.
If you’ve got a wild man like me, who desperately needs extra structure, get yourself a doorbell!
What have you tried at home to improve transitions? Do you find that some kids handle transitions so much better than others? Can you trace any behavior problems in your home to sloppy transitions?