With everyone stuck at home right now, I’m hearing from many parents that behaviors are escalating. When that happens, so many times frustration takes over. It feels like everything is going wrong and there is no way to deal with it.
Here are some simple steps to help you pinpoint the behaviors you dislike and define those you want to see, teach those to your child and reinforce them.
Pinpointing undesirable and desirable behavior
Step 1: Determine which behavior you want to stop. Take a breath, close your eyes and think of that thing that’s making your day difficult.Is it that your kids ignore you when you ask them to do something? Is it the crying and screaming that takes place when you make a request?Is it bedtime?
Whatever that frustrating thing is, be as specific as you can in defining it.
Step 2: Determine what you want to happen instead. Once you know the behavior you don’t want to see, it’s time to determine what you do want. Parents often skip this step, but it is actually where the magic happens. When we get a child to stop one behavior without making clear what behavior we want instead, we open up a space for them to fill (and, trust me, what they fill it with is often worse).
Again, be as specific as possible. “I want them to listen to me,” isn’t as clear as, “When I ask them to do something, I want them to stop what they are doing, listen, agree and do what I asked right away.”
Next, it’s time to teach and reinforce the behavior you want to see.
Teaching and reinforcing behavior
Step 1: Break the behavior down into three easy-to-follow steps. So many of the behaviors we want our kids to display seem to us like things they should just know how to do. But that might not be the case. The best way to make your expectations clear is to break each behavior into three steps. For instance, if you want them to do what you ask the first time you ask them, the steps might look like this:
- Stop what you are doing.
- Listen to all of my instructions.
- Begin following my instructions within 1 minute.
It is always nice to have a visual with the steps written out for your child to refer to. Just stick with the three steps. The more “extras” you add in, the less likely your child is to perform the behavior correctly.
Step 2: Practice the behavior. Don’t try to teach your child a behavior at the same time you are actually trying to get them to perform it. Take the time to teach your child the three steps you are looking for, and practice, practice, practice! Think about any new skill you have learned and about how long it took you to master that skill. It will be the same for your child with this new behavior.
Step 3: Reinforce the new behavior. This is where you get to really make sure the new behavior “sticks” and that your child understands that this new behavior is what you want to see each time.
You might be dealing with multiple behaviors, but work on one behavior at a time. Otherwise, a reinforcement system becomes difficult to manage for you and confusing for your child. I recommend working on the behavior that is creating the most interference (the one that’s driving you most crazy). You can add more behaviors once you manage that first one.
Make it clear what your child is working toward. I recommend working on this together. Help your child come up with a list of everything they would want to earn, then sit down and decide with works for both of you. It should be motivating for your child, and easy enough for you to stick with.
Reinforce as often as you can at the beginning. There is no such thing as too much reinforcement when teaching a new behavior. And be consistent. If you say that your child will get reinforcement every time they show the skill, then stick to that.
Reinforcement can be your best friend if used as part of a plan to work on your child’s behavior. The great thing is there is no one right answer or one right path. Reinforcement works when it works for both of you!
Brandie Rosen has spent the past 25 years as a special education teacher, special education administrator, district and school trainer and special education consultant. She has facilitated more than 5,000 IEP’s, built enduring district-wide programs and trained thousands of teachers. Through Brandie Rosen Consulting, she consults with families and school districts on all things special education and helps build collaborative teams to help all students succeed.