We are moving along into 2018, and there’s a chance you set some goals for yourself this year – such as keeping your “light switch” on by doing some self-care, getting outside more, being more present across the day, and we hope that helping your child’s “light switch” stay on and come on faster is included! It is common for us to hear “one child is doing fine, it’s just this one we really need some support with.” Then, coincidentally (or maybe not so coincidentally), once the first child’s behavioral issues are being supported, you notice either different concerns arise for that child, or notice that another child is having more issues than the first! This is just one example of how focusing on one issue can leave other areas of concern to go unattended.
This month, I’d like to offer 5 Tips to Prevent Unwanted Behavior! Our theme this month focuses on supporting you to stop waiting for your child’s unwanted behaviors to emerge, and instead KEEP them using (or teach them to start using) their DESIRED behaviors all along!
- Teach something else! I’m starting at the top – if you have a child as young as 18 months, it is never too early to start supporting your child to gain your attention appropriately, wait calmly, and ask for things nicely! If you have an older child in grade school, you can and should continue to teach new skills – practice completing a task within a time limit, how to tolerate when a friend says something unkind to them, or when negotiations are/aren’t available. Now we don’t expect all adults to act perfectly all day every day, and we don’t expect this of children, either, as they are constantly learning new and different behaviors as they grow. We want to see that 80% or more of the time they are using their desirable behaviors.
- Take mental note of a situation that was difficult, even if the situation was out of the norm. It is common to think “she fell to the floor crying because she’s tired”, “he didn’t hear me because he was so excitedly playing with the toy” or “they heard me and they are intentionally ignoring me”, but “it’s just a phase.” We are dedicated to helping you identify these “it just happened this one time because…” situations at the onset and helping you figure out how to prevent these “one time” situations from getting bad enough! If you find yourself continuously using tired, hungry, or the cold weather keeping you indoors as excuses for your child’s behavior, you are likely missing teaching opportunities. Learned behavior continues to develop as your tell yourself that your child is just tired, hungry, or hasn’t been outside enough. Don’t let the weather or “out of the norm” events become normal excuses for your child’s unwanted behavior.
- Use gestures that are predictable and universal when you are able to use words, so you know your child understands the meaning when you cannot use words. Holding up a finger to signal “Wait” while saying, “I need you to wait” and putting your hand out with palm up to signal “give me that please” or “can I have it please” while saying these phrases builds your child’s recognition of gestures as signals for when you are unavailable and unable to talk or when you need to use silent support to cue follow-through with an instruction!
- Intentionally and regularly push your child’s buttons a just little bit (to progress their learning). Ok, I understand this may seem counterintuitive – “Why would I poke the bear when things are calm?!?!” – but this is what supports your child’s ability to be flexible and adjust with life’s unpredictability as they get older. If they typically HAVE TO line up their cars in a certain way or HAVE TO always put on their pants before their shirt, when his/her “light switch” is on, find small ways to slightly alter what they “HAVE TO” have to play and adjust them briefly across different times playing until they are able to be more flexible with how things go. For example, maybe the red racecar always has to start the race, but you as the adult can briefly adjust the dialogue with a simple “Oops, the race car has a flat tire and the tow truck needs to pull it to the pit stop first to change a tire, done! Let’s race!” If you find yourself saying, “My child won’t let me…” we encourage you to seek support. If your child won’t let you now, how will you get them to do what you need them to do when they are bigger than you with more sophisticated words?
- Time your attention appropriately! When your child is playing quietly and calmly on his/her own while you are occupied, THIS is the time to occasionally peek-in or call out, rather than waiting for the house to fall apart before you intervene. This can be a difficult pattern for you as a parent to break, but with practice, it can become your new auto-pilot.
If after reading these tips you’re thinking “This seems like a dream, how can I make this happen!” or “We’ve tried all of that, but it doesn’t work!”, we’d love to hear from you! A complimentary, 30-minute phone call is a great way to identify if our services would be appropriate for you and your family!
Keep an eye out for our March 2018 blog on how to help you manage your expectations of your child’s ever-changing behavior as you start to use these techniques!
Anna Milligan, MS