I got a call a couple of weeks ago for parent coaching that I thought many of you would be interested in. Amanda, called about her 4 year old son Ada...
YUCK! Picky Eaters
March 13, 2015
The most common goals I’m asked to tackle in my parent coaching sessions are around helping parents develop discipline skills to stop children from be...
Why Does My Child Do That?
February 26, 2015
I have been thinking a lot about some of the trends in cognitive development and intelligence. There are a lot of products out there that promise to...
What are brain scientist playing with their kids?
March 24, 2015
Changing Behavior For The Better
March 3, 2015
Last week I talked about understanding why your child engages in the behaviors thatyou would like to stop. But people rarely come to me asking for parenting help to only understand why their child engages in the behaviors are driving them nuts! Parents want support to change the behavior.
So this week let’s talk about the parenting strategies you can use to change these behaviors. One of the first things I speak to families about in parent coaching sessions is the idea that parents must be willing to change the things they do in order to change their child’s behavior. If parents can make these changes and they are consistent the behavior will change! Are you ready?!?
Once we have a theory on why the child is doing the behavior 9see previous post: Why does my child do that?) we can choose a parenting strategy. How will you know you picked the right reason? Simply put: if you use a set of strategies below and the behavior decreases, you are right! Keep up the great work! If you use a set of strategies and the behavior increases, you were wrong and need to go back to the drawing board.
Give me- Behaviors to get something
What to do before a behavior happens:
Fill ‘em up: When possible try to decrease your child’s desire for the thing she wants. If you have been out of the house all day and he wants your attention, try spending some special time with him on a favorite activity for the 10 minutes after you get home. If she wants candy, provide access to sweets at appropriate times of the day.
Tell them when: If you are not able to provide the thing your child wants now (or it is simply not appropriate) tell him when he will get it. Remember that young children have a very hard time with time and waiting is torture! To make time concrete give them something to go by such as” after your nap” or “once the toys are cleaned up”. If you will be there in 10 minutes, set a timer so that your child can check the timer to see how long is left.
Give an alternative: If the answer is simply no, and if often has to be, provide some alternatives. You can’t have candy but you can have raisins or strawberries. We are not able to buy that new toy, but we can go to the park. Often giving a choice between 2 acceptable alternatives is most effective because it allows your child to feel that he has some level of control. Of course you got to choose the choices but he does not need to understand that!
What to do after the behavior happens
Change expectations: So far the behavior has worked pretty well for your child- Dad says no, I do something that drives dad nuts, and I get what I want! We need to teach your child that the behavior that drives you nuts is a reliable way of not getting the thing he wants. Stick to your guns…this is the hard part and it is likely to be a bit of a rude awakening for your child!
A word of warning- it is likely that your child’s behavior will get worse rather than better for the first 3-7 days. Stick with the plan for 1 week before deciding that it is not working. After 1 week, if you still see an increase or no change in the behavior it is likely that your theory on why your child was doing the behavior was incorrect.
Teach an alternative: If the problem is not what your child is asking for but how, teach your child to ask in an alternative way. For instance, tell her, I can’t understand you when you whine, can you use a nicer tone of voice? Don’t expect perfection right away, start by responding to even modest improvements and gradually increase your expectations.
Get me outa here- Behaviors to get out of something
What to do before the behavior happens:
Set the deal: Let him know that if he eats his veggies, he can have cookies after dinner. Let her know that if she goes to bed right away she can have an extra TV show in the morning. The most important thing here is that you set the deal before any behaviors occur and that your child does the thing he does not like first and only gets the reward after she has done it.
Say only what you mean: Only set a deal you can follow through on reliably. If you do not mean it, your child will quickly learn that compliance does not turn out the way he expected. So if you can’t go to his favorite ice cream shop because his sister needs to take a nap, do not promise it.
How long will it last: Set your child’s expectations about when it will be over. For instance, you need to stay in your bed until the clock says 2:00 and then your nap is over. You need to eat 4 bites before you can have ice cream.
Provide a reward for getting it done: We all need to do things we hate once in a while. To teach your child to do these things without protest, provide a small reward for doing it. For instance, if he shares with his brother, give him a sticker for being such a good older brother. Maybe tell your child that if she earn 4 stickers in the week, you can go on a special outing to the zoo.
What to do after the behavior happens:
Change Expectations: If you child is doing the behavior to get out of something it is because she has learned that the behavior either gets her out of doing something or at least delays it. Therefore it is really important that you follow through. If at all possible (and the reality is that sometimes it is not possible) do not let your child delay or get out of it. You can lower the demand (e.g., 2 bites instead of 4) or “help” your child by physically guiding him to pick up toys and put them away to ensure that you have some success.
Teach an alternative: Teach your child to tell you nicely that he does not want to do it by using words like “I’m done”, “I need help” and “no thank you”.
It just feels good
Behaviors that are done because they feel good are some of the most difficult to change. We all engage in these behaviors but as adults we have learned the appropriate places and times to do these things. Provide your child with an alternative that is acceptable to you. The key to success is that the alternative must be at least as good to your child as the original behavior. For instance if your 4 year old child still drinks from a bottle when waking up in the morning, consider offering something else that is appropriate to suck on such as a thick smoothly through a straw. If your child engages in a behavior that is not acceptable in public you might insist that the behavior only occur at home or in her bedroom.
Good luck parents! Give these strategies a try. If you have questions or comments please reach out by email firstname.lastname@example.org. Next week…getting picky eaters to try new foods.