Are you struggling to get your child to display good behavior? Does your child have difficulty accepting no? And after telling your child “no,” is it nearly impossible for them to move on? Do they obsess over the same topic after you tried numerous times to end the conversation? As Elsa would say, can’t he or she just “let it go?”
Yep, been there and done that! And it seems no matter how many times you’ve been patient, answering the same question with more and more detail, a “no” is never a satisfactory answer. They just keep coming back with the same old question.
Well here’s the thing. Persistence is a great trait to possess! I mean, many of the great accomplishments we’ve made wouldn’t have existed were it not for that same kind of grit and determination. So let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater, especially as it applies to children with autism!
So if persistence is a good trait and one we should encourage, then what are we to do with your child’s inappropriate nagging? How are you supposed to respond when they ruminate excessively to the point where it paralyzes them from moving forward? And how can you help them display good behavior whenever you tell them “no?” Well, one thing I’d suggest that you have them do is to table it!
Tabling and Good Behavior
Having dedicated a substantial portion of my work to individuals and families impacted by autism, I’ve found this tabling procedure to be extremely helpful in producing good behavior. So how do you actually “table it,” and why is it necessary?
Well, the whole idea behind tabling it is this. Children, particularly autistic children, need proper guidance on how to better manage their emotions. They have strong desires, feelings, and opinions, all of which parents need to positively affirm. However, due to their development, children often have difficulty understanding the “not now” concept. Sometimes they don’t fully grasp that everything they desire doesn’t need to happen “right now.” They incorrectly interpret a “not now” as “never.” They falsely believe that “not now” is somehow a threat to their current state of stability. They assume that it’s either now or never.
Now we’re all familiar with the way that many natural situations unfold. Simply put, things never go as planned all the time.
We live in a broken world where desires are constantly delayed, disappointments arise out of nowhere, and plans change. A critical part of development is knowing how to better manage these changes.
So tabling helps in two ways. First, it serves to help you to affirm your child’s feeling of what matters to them. Keep in mind that whatever your child is perseverating about, no matter how small it seems to you, to them it is a big deal.
If you’ve developed a pattern of shutting down the conversation and minimizing their topics of interest (“Why are you making such a big deal about ____”), your child likely interprets that as a trivializing of what matters to them. A pattern of this kind of interaction weakens the relational connection between you and your child.
So then tabling affirms that what matters to them. It communicates to your child that you are willing to hear them out. Your act of listening allows them the opportunity to give voice to what matters to them. And believe me, this is priceless. Fostering the relational connection through letting them know they are heard, and that you care about what matters to them is huge! And that’s the kind of investment you want to make.
Secondly, tabling allows you to teach your child a very important skill, namely this. Everything that they want right now can’t always be. Tabling teaches them to cope with the unfortunate reality of life. It teaches children that even though things won’t always go as planned, it doesn’t have to have a paralyzing impact. You can move on in a healthy manner while displaying good behavior.
How Tabling Encourages Good Behavior
So what’s the goal and how exactly does tabling work? Well, the main goal in tabling is to work with your child to predetermine a later time to discuss their concern. In short, you’re delaying the conversation. So when your child starts to perseverate, think 1) Stop, 2) Table it, and 3) Talk Later. First, let’s discuss the “Stop.”
Step 1: Stop
Stop here means that you’re interrupting the chain of bad behavior. You aren’t merely trying to silence your child, but rather shift their focus and redirect the conversation in a healthier direction. When interrupting the perseveration, you need to communicate to your child that 1) you do value their concern, but also that 2) you need to table it for discussion at a later time. This brings me to the next step, “Table it.”
Step 2: Table it
To “table it,” have a notecard with the following prompts “When you…” “I feel…” “And it makes me want to…” See below:The first step is to have your child identify what their trigger is. Triggers are key events prior to them perseverating. So, for example, let’s say your child wants a certain video game. They ask you to buy the game, then you automatically shut down the conversation (“Absolutely not, I just bought you a game last week!”). Then your child starts the constant nagging and whining. In that situation, it’s likely that your saying “no” was the trigger.
Using this example then, your child may complete the first statement by saying “When you tell me ‘no’ after I ask nicely for video games.” Have your child write this on the sticky notepad.
Secondly, your child needs to identify their feelings at the time of the trigger event. If your child needs help with doing so, you can use an emotions wheel like the one here. Identifying the specific emotion gives them clarity and properly frames for them what they are experiencing. This gives them a greater understanding of what is happening.
So the second statement might read “I feel furious.” Have your child write this statement next.
Thirdly, your child needs to express what they want to do when they have those particular emotions. This step helps your child to identify unhealthy patterns of behavior they adopt. The third statement might read like this, “And it makes me want to break anything I get my hands on.” Have your child write this statement down.
So combined, the three tabling steps help your child identify the triggering variables, their feelings, and subsequent patterns of behavior that follow. Now that your child has identified all three things, you can focus on establishing a later time to discuss their concern. Now we’re ready for the last step, talk later.
Step 3: Talk Later
The final step is to establish a later time to discuss their concern. This means your child will have to wait for some period of time before discussing their concern. The exact time could vary based on your availability or your child’s temperament.
As a general principle, you don’t want to have the waiting period to be too long. If you start with a shorter wait period, you’ll need to make gradually increase the wait time so that your child learns to wait for longer periods.
Once you establish a time, take the sticky notepad and place it somewhere visible, such as on the refrigerator. And congratulations, you’ve just tabled it!
Now that everything is set, the idea is that your child would stop all nagging and perseveration and wait until the designated time to discuss their concern. You’ll need to reiterate this to your child. So in the event that they start nagging before the waiting period is over, simply point to the sticky note and remind him or her that you’ve already tabled it for discussion at a later time. Doing this will encourage your child to display good behavior during the interim.
So to reintegrate, tabling is a great way to accomplish several things. First, it interrupts the chain of perseveration that can go on and on with no sense of resolution. Second, it helps children to sort through their emotions. Thirdly, it helps children with autism to learn the skill of coping with delayed or denied reinforcement. Fourthly, it fosters a positive connection point with you and your child by communicating that what matters to them matters to you.
Implementing these tabling steps lays the groundwork for you to begin to have productive interactions with your loved one. So let’s get to it, and remember, just table it!
In conclusion, I know the challenges that come along with parenting an autistic child are numerous and multifaceted. So as an additional resource to help you in the journey, I’ve prepared something to ease the load. Click here to get your copy of Navigating Autism Spectrum Disorder.
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.