It’s a balancing act!
Parenting is not about picking every battle. It’s about picking the right battles! As yourself these two questions when deciding if a battle is worth picking:
1. Have I avoided this battle with my child before?
You may be doing your child a disservice because they aren’t getting the opportunity to learn a new skill when you prevent the battles. You may be teaching them it is okay not to persist through difficult tasks. S/he may be learning that the battle works to delay, avoid, or get out of something s/he would rather not do. While you may only see this at bedtime now, your child is wise enough to take that same tool to other parts of his/her day. Do you only use a tool in one situation if it works well for you?
2. Am I picking the battles at all the wrong times?
If you don’t want battles and tantrums in public, you have to know how to pick the right battles at home!
You cannot expect your child to tolerate being told no in public, if you give in at home when s/he whines, protests, or pitches a total fit to get you to change your mind.
If your child cannot sit at the table in your home, you cannot expect your child to wait nicely at a restaurant for food to come.
You cannot expect your child to listen when you tell him/her not to run into the street if s/he doesn’t listen when you tell him/her not to play in the dog’s water dish.
We teach the expected behaviors at home in most cases because we are more likely to keep your child’s “switch” on at home. When your child’s “switch” is on, the brain can receive the new learning! So you don’t have to work so hard! Your child learns the expected behavior quickly because s/he practices using the expected behaviors when his/her “switch” is on!
As frustrating as it can be, we all have accidents. Keep your parenting “switch” on in those moments. Try not to make it a battle or a lesson in that moment! Likely, your child’s “switch” is dim or off following the accident. They already know they did something wrong! There is no need to talk to them about it in that moment. By giving additional instructions, you are more likely to activate the fight, flight, or freeze response. Respect your child’s first layer of protection of his/her brain, or the “switch” as we call it at Behave Your Best, to prevent activating the fight, flight, freeze response, which is the second layer of protection for your child’s brain.
Clean up the accident or if your child is old enough, silently hand him/her a washcloth or paper towel to help clean it up. There is no need to talk about it at this moment. Talking about the unwanted behavior when the child’s “switch” is dim or off is likely to result in more unwanted behavior. The brain is also actively blocking your teaching to protect your child when his/her “switch” is off.
In many cases, your child clearly already learned from the accident and moved the cup of milk further from the edge of the table before it even all finished spilling out. Acknowledge that self-correction and move on with silently cleaning it up. “Thank you for moving the cup further away to prevent the spill next time.”
Next time your child has a cup with a beverage in it, acknowledge if s/he is preventing the accident. Model the correct response if the cup is too close to the edge. Point to the cup to silently indicate your expectation to move the cup further away from the edge. These are all things you can do to teach them the expected behavior. Talking about the obvious isn’t going to correct their behavior and prevent future accidents. Especially when your child’s brain is actively blocking new learning when his/her “switch” is off.
The key is that you don’t ignore the problem or situation, but you just strategically decide when and how to address it.
When you decide you HAVE TO pick that battle…
When you determine a battle is worth picking, the key is NOT forcing your child to follow through while his/her “switch” is off and teaching the new expected behavior when his/her “switch” is on. You can learn more about how to “Pretend You Are A Light Switch!®” in this blog. Here are a few steps to set you and your child up for success to prevent future battles:
Step 1: Check your teaching strategy
When we meet families for consultation we see two trends: parents continue to use ineffective parenting tools despite lack of improvement in their child’s behavior OR parents try a new approach to their child’s unwanted behavior EVERY TIME the child displays unwanted behaviors. Parents are often inconsistent with their children and with one another when it comes to parenting. Parents who we’ve served do consistently agree on one thing: our approach helps get them on the same page because, I mean, who can argue with science!?!
Step 1a: Change your approach
If you continue to use ineffective parenting tools despite the lack of improvement in your child’s behavior, we recommend you change your approach. The way that you have been approaching it clearly isn’t working or you wouldn’t be reading this blog searching for answers, right? You likely are quite aware that your tools aren’t working and don’t want to keep using them, but don’t have any tools left. We recommend an assessment of the reason for your child’s unwanted behaviors so that we can match our recommendations to the reason your child engages in unwanted behaviors and identify new skills to teach.
Did you know we have pre-recorded parent workshops OnDemand, webinars, and offer a complimentary phone consultation to any family interested in our services? Click on any of them to learn more!
Step 1b: Stick to one approach
If you are guilty of trying a new approach each time a battle ensues, we recommend consulting with an expert. Our expertise can help determine which strategy best suits your child’s pattern of unwanted behavior. Your child is likely confused what your expectation is when you inconsistently respond to his/her unwanted behavior. Maybe you’ve tried lots of different ways to approach the situation and they all have ended in a battle?
Based on an assessment of your child’s reasons for using unwanted behaviors, we help identify a plan to resolve the unwanted behavior. We help you develop an individualized plan to teach new skills to prevent or replace that unwanted behavior. Our goal is to ensure the plan is something you CAN do so you are able to implement it consistently. We won’t just tell you to just be consistent. Being consistent with the wrong tools and expectations can make matters worse!
Step 2: Teach new skills
Focus on what you want your child to do differently next time. We can’t squash unwanted behavior all day without giving your child something else to do instead. Rather than focusing all attention on only eliminating the unwanted behavior, we focus attention on teaching new expected behaviors. New behaviors are chosen specifically to be incompatible with the unwanted behavior. Your child cannot possibly engage in the new incompatible expected behavior and the unwanted behavior at the same time!
Step 3: Temporarily break it down
Your child’s unwanted behaviors may be indication that your current expectation is too big given his/her current skills. While it may be age-appropriate and a realistic expectation, it can still be too big of an expectation. Do you hand your 5-year old a chapter book and expect him/her to read? We break down literacy into manageable teaching components like letter identification, phonemic awareness, sight words, etc. Behavior is the same way. By using baby steps, your child is set up for success to learn a new skill or expectation. You also minimize the big burst of unwanted behavior that can occur when you increase your expectations too quickly!
We help take the guess work out of parenting with evidence-based education and consultation for parents just like you! Not sure where to begin? Request your complimentary, 30-minute phone consultation here!
Jamie Waldvogel, MS, BCBA
Alicia Janni, BS, BCABA