This past week I stopped at the library. That is nothing new. I stop at the library several times a month. This time, in addition to a few smutty historical romance novels, I picked up a few books categorized as Psychology/Child Development. That was my major in college and as a mom, I find it relatively fascinating. I do tend to only half agree with most of the stuff that I read though. I often read through such books thinking, “Interesting theory…I see how they could find that a useful paradigm…huh…” This book had several useful points, but I got bored near the end and didn’t finish.
Sometimes I take notes. Then I lose them. Lost notes are not particularly useful. Then I thought…”Eww… I could share them with people who might choose to read my blog….boring reading for them!” Boring for you, useful for me. I won’t misplace my notes. In fact, I had already lost them and had to pause in my typing to go hunting for them. After skimming 4 notebooks on the shelf with Onen’s art supplies I found them. So without further ado…
Transforming the Difficult Child- The Nurtured Heart Approach by Howard Glasser M.A. and Jennifer Easley, M.A.
Howard and Jennifer base the book on the premise that intense children, the difficult ones, are addicted to bursts of energy and so they push peoples buttons. They aren’t pushing to be mean or spiteful or difficult. They are pushing because it causes people to REACT!!!! They go on to say that usually the parents of difficult children are doing all the right things according to conventional parenting wisdom. Their methods would work beautifully on most kids, but conventional strategies backfire when used on intense children who are addicted to the thrill of a big response.
They have a seven step approach to transforming such kids. The first 4 are all about recognition. If you give a child energetic recognition regularly, they will feel less of a need to push buttons looking for a response.
“Your energy, or the ways in which you choose to assign your life force through your words, thoughts and actions, is the single greatest gift you have available to give anyone, especially your children. Your children are not out to get you. They are out to get your energy.”
Howard and Jennifer say that parents who use this approach with their difficult child, tend to use it with all children in the home older than 3.
Step 1: Active Recognition– They call this Video Moments. Several times a day acknowledge what your child is doing. Don’t judge. This shows them that you notice and care, that your child is not invisible to you. Some examples are, “You are using a lot of red blocks in that tower you are building,” and “You look frustrated.”
Step 2: Experiential Recognition– Several times a day comment on behavior that uses positive values such as patience, gentleness, kindness, etc. “Adding a dash of emotion to your description along with some appreciation will deepen the healing effect and will make the success more powerful.” This would be comments like, “You are being very cooperative, thank you,” and “You are really concentrating on that. I am impressed by your focus.”
Step 3: Proactive Recognition– Express appreciation for the use of self-control and not breaking specific rules. “Like” their effort. This teaches them the rules while they are being obeyed. Children are not receptive to learning rules when they are being criticized for breaking them. Examples of proactive recognition would be statements like, “Thank you for not hitting your sister just now,” and “I appreciate that you did not throw your toy.” Sometimes you have to catch them just before they break the rule.
Step 4: Creative Recognition– Be clever in finding tasks for them to obey so that you can praise them for it. Give clear, simple instructions, not wishy-washy suggestions.
Step 5: Use a Credit System. In the book, Howard and Jennifer recommend starting with 4 lists. The first three lists are ways to earn. The fourth list contains ways to spend.
List one is the rules they are expected to follow. Use clear language, “No hitting. No throwing toys in the house. No disobeying.” List two is the positive behaviors you want them to use, such as being polite, being gentle.” List three is the list of chores they are responsible for, “making their bed, tiding their toys.” Each day have a review time. Give them points for each item, say 10 if they did an amazing job, seven for a decent job… Don’t dwell on why they didn’t get points. Dwell on why they did. This whole thing should only take 5 minutes or so. This isn’t the time for lectures and sermons. They can then spend or save their points. You can have tokens or “Onen dollars” for them to keep or use on items from list four.
List four contains all the privileges they can purchase with their “Onen dollars”. This list can contain anything from a can of soda to a trip to the zoo, to a board game with mom. The cost of each privilege should reflect how much value you want them to place on it. An educational tv program might be only 30 points, but a soda could be 700. Make it easy for them to earn the privileges that they usually have each day. Be a generous employer, don’t just pay them minimum wage.
Step 6: Consequences -Intense children often have not yet developed adequate self-control for their level of intensity. Often it is because their limits are confusing. We give the energy that they crave with the consequence. You MUST remain unflappable. Pretend that you will win a million dollars for remaining neutral, if that is what it takes. Do not issue warnings! You cannot prevent the child from breaking the rules.
Howard and Jennifer recommend using a time outs. The short time out begins when the child is sitting quietly. Escorting them to the chair uses a parent’s energy and thus is a privilege and should be deducted from their credits. They are not allowed to spend any credits until they have completed their time out. Do not talk to them. Do not answer questions. Do not discuss their infraction. Do not use a timer. Do not gift them with your energy. Give credits at the daily review consequences done well and bonus credits for days with no time outs.
You can practice time out procedure and praise them for practicing with you.
It is not the length of the time out that matters. It is the connection to the event and the parent’s attitude. After the time out the child must then clean up any messes made during the time out process as well as any task that was issued before the time out.
In addition to time outs, some rules could have the additional consequence of community service time. This additional consequence should be predetermined.