Parenting can be a headache. I’m talking major migraine stuff. From getting the lunches packed to getting them off to school to after-school activities, it’s nonstop!
And just like daily routines have become normal, so can those same behavior problems. Yep, it seems that tantrum over the same tooth brushing is always right on cue!
And what’s even more exhausting is when you know your child is capable of doing the task!
If that’s your situation, I’ve got good news. You’re not without hope. But you’ll absolutely need to add these tips into your arsenal. They’re very simple, but highly effective when you know when and how to use them. So pay close attention and here we go.
Tip 1: Mentally prepare your Child
For many children with special needs, mental preparation is critical. Why? Well simply put, they thrive off of routines. Even though children may resist at times, they do thrive off of routines.
How you go about mentally preparing your child is absolutely essential though. This is what will determine how effective you are in parenting. An example might suit here.
So let’s say that your child is watching television and bedtime is soon approaching. Your goal is to prepare your child for the inevitable transition. Keep in mind you’re moving him from a reinforcing activity to a non-preferred activity.
So you approach your child and say, “Brandon, you have 20 more minutes of tv, then it’s bedtime!” Would something like this be sufficient for mental preparation? Not at all! There are several critical things missing.
First, when you approach your child you need to make sure that you get their attention. It serves no purpose for you to give verbal instructions and they not pay attention to what you have to say. So if you need to mute the volume, do so. If you need to get between the television and your child, do so. If you need to pause whatever they are watching, do so. The point is, you want to know that you are being heard. Doing so will set you up for a successful transition.
So once you have his attention, which means eye contact, you give the prompt. At this point you can prompt, “Brandon, you have 20 more minutes of tv, then it’s bedtime, ok?”
But that’s not all! You also need to ensure that he responds!
This is why the “ok” at the end of the prompt is important. Whenever you are giving directions, your child needs to respond. Your child needs to give a verbal sign that he has heard you. So at this point, you wait for the response. If he doesn’t respond, you may need to repeat the prompt, get closer to him or pause the tv until you get the response.
Once you get a “yes,” you can leave the environment. You have successfully gotten past the first hurdle! So now, your goal is to give a countdown to let him know how much time remains before the transition. A countdown warning every 5 minutes is enough.
So at the 15, 10 and 5-minute marks, you go back into the room and repeat the same prompt, ensuring you get a response. I also recommend two final prompts at the 3 and 1-minute marks.
Each time your child responds to your prompts with a “yes,” that means your mental prep is working!
At the end of the countdown, your child has had good preparation. So then give your final prompt that time is up and its time to transition. For example, “Brandon, time’s up, let’s get ready for bed.”
This is not the only way to mentally prepare your child. The point here is that proper preparation reduces the potential for problem behavior.
Tip 2: Use Contingencies
Effective parenting tip number two is using contingencies. Using contingencies is extremely important because it sets expectations for your child.
The most common is the “first/then” contingency. The technical name for this kind of arrangement is the Premack’s Principle. And what exactly does the principle state? In short, before you get something you really want, you first need to do something less preferred.
So for example, let’s say that going outside is a preferred activity and washing dishes is not. Knowing these two things, we could easily form a “first/then” contingency. It would sound like this, “First wash the dishes then you can go outside to play.”
So exactly why are contingencies important? Well like most people, children also want immediate reinforcement! They don’t want to wait. They want reinforcement, and they want it now.
This is a problem because sometimes parents give in to their children when they start acting up. If you as a parent get into a habit of giving reinforcement but don’t have any (or few) expectations, you’re in trouble.
Contingencies give children the motivation to engage in appropriate behavior. Just imagine for a moment if you had a job that you hated going to. It was very far away and you didn’t like your co-workers. Now let’s say that regardless of whether you went to work or not, you got paid. That being the arrangement, would you go to work? Of course not! And what kind of boss would agree to pay you when you didn’t come to work?
That would be insane!
But brace yourself. Parents do the same thing with their children all the time! It happens when parents give reinforcement without having expectations of their children.
Parents need to use contingencies because it sets behavioral expectations for the child. It also puts responsibility in the hands of the child. The child’s ability to access reinforcement is directly tied to their behavioral performance. This is a critical component of parenting that children need to learn early. Reinforcement is not a freebie. It’s earned. In the long run, contingencies will help you to get to most out of your child.
Tip 3: Use Reinforcement (Pay attention to good behavior, not just the bad)
So we’ve all been there. We’re so quick to notice inappropriate behavior, but overlook when kids are behaving. It happens all the time.
Well if there’s one thing kids know is that inappropriate behaviors get attention. That’s right! Inappropriate behaviors have a way of getting our attention. And you know what? Children figure this out very early. That’s how they got us to feed them from very early on. And when children can’t get their way, they often use these behaviors to gain leverage.
What do I mean? When children don’t get their way they often become frustrated. Denying them reinforcers makes them feel powerless. So inappropriate behavior often becomes their go-to behavior when re-asserting themselves.
I’ll have some strategies to address these types of behaviors in another post. Nonetheless, the skill parents need to practice often is paying attention to good behavior. But it goes a little deeper than paying attention. The goal is to give more attention to good behaviors and less attention to bad behaviors.
Finding Something Positive
Right now I can hear someone saying, “Not my child, he’s a terror!” And it may be true that your child is difficult. But know that your child is still getting attention from you or others for those behaviors.
Certainly your child does something good, even if it’s a small deed at some point. It could be sitting still and concentrating on the computer. It could be his skill at playing a video game. Maybe it’s the care he displays for the dog. Maybe it’s his creativity in coming up with ways to get out of completing tasks.
Those are all positive traits, so encourage them! Affirm the positives you notice! It’s paying attention to the little things over time that will make the difference. Too often parents withhold their affirmation, fearing they might speak to soon. Or even worse, some parents may be so hurt and disappointed with their child that its difficult to find the good.
I need you to pay close attention here. Please listen. Choosing to ignore good behavior benefits no one. Not acknowledging good behavior communicates that you don’t value it. Ignoring good behavior affirms what you’ve indirectly taught your child. If most of the time you attend to negative behaviors, your child will also associate you with those behaviors.
This is powerful stuff! Here is where you have the power to attend to positive things. Affirming positive traits is not only possible, but it pays huge dividends. It establishes a foundation upon which a healthy relationship can grow. And the best part is, it’s in your control. It’s your choice and you can change the narrative by changing your parenting style.
I trust that you have found these three tips to be helpful. It may take some time to reprogram the way you think, but these tips will transform your parenting!
A.D. Daisley holds a Masters Degree from the University of Central Florida and has been working in the field as a Behavior Analyst since 2005. He has provided services to children and adults with varying diagnoses such as autism, mental retardation, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). His scope of experience also includes coordinating therapy to individuals and families in conjunction with other supports including School Teachers, Adult Day Training Facility Staff (ADT’s) and Speech/Occupational therapists. He is the Director and Behavior Analyst at Alternative Outcomes since 2007. A.D is also the Director of Creátre, a non-profit organization that uses the arts for the purpose of skill training, outreach and to display community leadership.