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  • Writer's pictureJordanna Spaulding

HELP! Not listening to me, Silly, and Out Of Control.

_________________Coached on: Task Avoidance___________________


Avoidance coping refers to choosing your behavior based on trying to avoid or escape particular thoughts or feelings. It can involve "doing" (e.g., someone who excessively washes their hands to try to get rid of fears about contamination) or "not doing" (e.g., when someone avoids having an awkward conversation).

Trends/ Patterns to look for:

When your child is all of the sudden acting “silly”, “out of control”, destroying the learning materials, demands to use the bathroom in that moment, leave the room, or other similar escapes, it could be because he is exhibiting task avoidance behaviors.

What can you do?

First, notice the trend in behavior. Assess the situation and decide if he is avoiding a task. A simple check would be to redirect to the original task with verbal, gesture, or physical prompting by repeating the direction with VERY simple and limited language, pointing to the working space, or physically moving him to the designated work space. If the behavior persists, it could be due to task avoidance.

Can I just let my child not do the task?

Accepting task avoidance teaches the child that he does not have to follow your direction and defiant behaviors are acceptable. Even more as a developmental skill, without withstanding the discipline to complete tasks that are not highly preferred, the child does not learn how to emotionally regulate during similar situations, which can become detrimental to independent success and controlled behaviors.

So What Can I Do When My Child Is Doing “Task Avoidance”?

Bring the child back to the original task. Coach them through completing the task. Maybe say, when we are done with ____ we can do ______ (something HIGHLY preferred). This will incentivize the task to be completed as well as celebrate is completion. In order to complete the task, different prompts are likely necessary. Verbal language might become over stimulating because there is anxiety and other uncomfortable feelings arising from the onset of the task. Its best to repeat the directions 1 time. If the child does not begin the task, take hand-over hand into play and use your hands to guide his hands to complete the task. Also, a very important piece is to not allow him to leave the specific designated work space. Any concession will dismiss the original task requirements and reinforce the task avoidance behavior. Once the task is started, phase in verbal positive praise. “Good Job!”, “I like how you’re ___!”, etc. High fives, pats on the back, hugs… physical affection also teaches that the task is complete and the child did a great job for completing it. If there is a token board in use, increase the amount of token received during this task completion. Remember- that’s the goal… to finish the task.

How Can I Limit The Assistance and Increase Independence In The Future?

Make a note and take a chance to make an analysis. Using this table can help you to see trends in what is happening in order to make subtle changes for best practice. Pick ONE thing to change and run the play game a few times and continue to take data. If you don't see a change, decide whether you have done it enough times and you think he knows the expectation. Maybe change an additional factor and keep going. Don't give up. YOU CAN DO IT!

What does this chart tell me?

I suggest to pick a few tasks (up to 3) that are not preferred and are likely to instigate task avoidance behaviors. Practice these select tasks as frequently as you can. The idea would be to increase the amount of reps that can be completed. That means that your child is learning to cope with their emotional regulation. It also means that your child is learning the expectations for the task and can complete it because he knows what to do.

For more information, look for our Parent and Child Excellence Program, designed for the frustrated parent.

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