Living with the new children: changing problem behavior

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TERRAN DAILY shares her own experience of how to work with children to change their behavioral patterns, so that everyone in the family can be happier and more peaceful.


I had a visit from my 7-year-old granddaughter Zoe some time back. Zoe is definitely one of the sensitive, strong-willed, electrically alive New Children, and life with her is not always easy. She had been taking up to an hour for simple tasks like eating a meal, brushing her teeth, and getting dressed. She would jump up and down from the table like a yo-yo, and spend long periods gazing at herself in the mirror. Her family runs on a tight schedule, and this dawdling had been driving her parents bonkers! For Zoe and her parents, life had become an endless round of scolding, crying, frustration, ignoring, and loss of temper.


Children with problem behaviors often need
some external reward to get started in the
right direction, but once they find how much
better they feel, they are able to maintain the
new behaviors for more subtle, internal rewards.


My son and daughter-in-law know that as a pediatric occupational therapist, I have experience using Positive Behavior Intervention, so they asked me to see what I could do to change these behavior patterns. I worked with Zoe on this, and we had some good success. I’d like to offer some of our strategies to other parents and grandparents dealing with problem behavior. Here goes …


This can be hard when you’re tired, frustrated, and in the middle of a difficult time with your child. But it’s important. Take some time each day to do something together with your child that you both enjoy – building with Lego, reading stories, flying a kite, doing origami, planting seeds, singing songs, cooking, learning magic tricks, whatever. Let your child lead in choosing the activity, and then have some fun. This will break negative patterns and build a more positive relationship. The activity Zoe and I chose was studying gems and minerals together, something she had been requesting for a long time.


What would you most like your child to do differently? Choose 2 to 4 goals that are:

Doable: aiding growth and challenging, but not so hard as to discourage your child. In occupational therapy we call this finding the ‘just right challenge’.

Positive: what you want rather than what you don’t want, if possible.

Specific and measurable: you both will know when the goal has been met.

The goals Zoe and I chose were:

Eat each meal within 20 minutes,

Remain seated during each meal, and

Brush teeth and get dressed within 15 minutes.


I told Zoe that I had a way she could earn time doing something she loved – playing an educational video game she adores. Her parents are careful about not letting her have too much screen time, so I had to be careful that all her ‘prize minutes’ would only add up to the 30 minutes screen time her parents allotted her. I offered her the following:

Eat each meal within 20 minutes: earn 4 minutes for breakfast, 4 for lunch and 4 for dinner.

Remain seated during each meal: earn 4 minutes for each meal.

Brush teeth and get dressed within 15 minutes: earn 4 minutes.

She really liked this idea. We went over the goals to be sure each one seemed doable to her. Zoe is a picky eater and she wanted to be sure the meals would not include foods she couldn’t stand. We made a list of the foods she liked so that no meal would be too distasteful to her. I did require that each meal contain a protein source and at least one helping of fruit or vegetables.

We approached each meal, and brushing teeth and dressing, with a sense of excitement and fun. In the 10 days she was with me, Zoe met her goals every time but once.


If you think about it, we all need some inspiration for changing habitual behaviors. We may change for some external reward such as extra pay or gaining recognition. We may change to make someone else happy or to avoid upsetting them. Or we may change simply to feel more satisfied or at peace with ourselves. Children with problem behaviors often need some external reward to get started in the right direction, but once they find how much better they feel, they are able to maintain the new behaviors for more subtle, internal rewards.

When choosing incentives, consider the following:

Be sparing in the use of toys or other physical objects as rewards. Toys and possessions can be very strong motivators, and are sometimes exactly what is needed, but be careful. The house may become cluttered with prizes, and inflation may set in with the child wanting more and more expensive prizes. Also, reflect on what values we are teaching by giving material rewards. Are we encouraging materialism rather than interpersonal and spiritual values?

Focused time with parents or special friends and relatives can also be a strong motivator – earning minutes building with Lego, making cookies, playing football, or learning to sew might be just the thing.

Consider ‘Golden Time’. Created by English educator Jenny Mosely, Golden Time is a period at the end of the day when the child can choose from a number of favorite activities that are available only at that time. It is a happy and relaxing time that children love.



Be sure you are working with your child on behavior change, listening, respecting their input, and finding ways to make the process interesting and fun. As we know, attempting to dominate or coerce, just doesn’t work with children.

Good luck! I hope you find these strategies helpful.


FURTHER EXPLORATION

1. Behavior at Home, on the Center for Parent Information and Resources website: http://www.parentcenterhub.org/repository/behavior-athome/
2. Challenging Behavior in Children, on the PBS Kids website: http://www.pbs.org/parents/inclusivecommunities/challenging_behavior.html
3. Glasser, H.N. and J. L. Easley, 2016. Transforming the Difficult Child: The Nurtured Heart Approach, Nurtured Heart Publications, USA



Article by TERRAN DAILY


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