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  • Writer's pictureJordanna Spaulding

Couch to Couch #3: Defiant, Aggressive, Nasty, Doesn't Listen, Throws Everything, Withdrawn

This one is for the parents and caregivers trying to navigate emotions that are flying high and low, sometimes at the drop of a dime. This one is for everyone who is disoriented and those who are unsure if thinking, "yeah, I'm doing alright" is reasonable.

Raising a child during quarantine isn't easy. No one is saying this is awesome- but as the days go on, I hope that you are starting to find a way to make this work. Maybe you're realizing a solo daily walk, add a few minutes to your shower, escaping in a good book, getting creative by making, building or designing has helped you find moments of peace.

You just want your kiddo to do their school work or sit and not even participate in a video call with the rest of the class. Instead, you find yourself dealing with a little terror who is defiant, aggressive, opposition, manipulative, withdrawn and power hungry.

As a behavior specialist and a special education teacher, a part of the job is to help the child's life beyond the classroom by teaching coping skills and strategies that work for them. In my training and experiences, I learned a lot about positive behavior support strategies that are extremely effective. They work when I use them with my students and clients and parents have has success who have implemented them at home.

A misconception about positive behavior supports is bribery. "I'm not going to bribe my child to do what they're supposed to do." While a piece of positive behavior support is allowing children to earn privileges rather than taking them away, it is so much more than just that.  It is a way of speaking, acting, and responding to behavior. You are teaching your child the power or EARNING something as opposed to loosing. Its a privilege to have and earn and its hurtful to loose. Which one is more motivating and feels better?

Once you can identify behaviors that you want to change follow this step-by-step guide to implementing positive behavior support systems.

1. Mindfulness: Before we start, check in with yourself. Am I going to be easily agitated? Am I emotionally ready? Am I focused and able to block time for this?

Its important to check in with yourself. As your about to be the captain of this chapter, if you're not prepared to not flip your sh**t when your kiddo tries to push your buttons then now is not the time. Takes some deep breaths, go for a walk, stretch, find silence in your head.

Your poker face is your greatest value.

2. Flush the playlist: Same as when the radio VJ decides to go off script and play old school songs on a Friday you will change your expectations for the day. Let's say no school work today. Today is the day you spend time bonding and strengthening your relationship with your child. The day you don't expect them to do school work or even bring it up. In stead you spend the day hanging out, sharing, playing, and communicating. This isn't to say school work isn't required, yes it is, but I am suggesting to reset your expectations. By doing this, you can start verbal praise, meta-cognitive thinking- and rewarding good choices.

Start with just hanging out together, without any demands to do something other than what comes up naturally. Push the school work, zoom calls, or stressful expectations to the side... Just for a moment.

3. Present choices: Given a chance to have power is everything. Present choices and praise your kiddo for the choice they made.

Sample Conversation:

Me: James, what cereal do you want, Cheerios or Oatmeal?

James: Oatmeal

Me: That's a great choice.

The choice didn't matter or make a difference but you're reinforcing the choice was made and it was a good one.

4. Discuss the consequences of each choice: This is setting the limit. Consequences aren't defined as punishments. Consequences are what happens next, and that's up to you. You can help your child understand consequences as long as you follow through and the consequences match the situation in a reasonable way, otherwise its value is lost. Using first then statements help directly communicate the expectations and consequences.

Using SMART goals on the fly are a great skill to start to build. We will discuss this at length another time, but consider each of these points when you are setting the limit.

  • Specific

  • Measurable

  • Attainable

  • Relevant

  • Timely

James: You can first do a (SMART task) and then have (insert highly motivating consequence) or you can (SMART task) and then have (insert motivating consequence).

Using the ABC journal chart here, you can journal and decide how effective are the consequences that you have been using. If you find that your reactions are not making change in your kiddos life its time to consider trying something new.

Sample Conversation:

Me: Do you want to do your homework and then play with your American Girl Dolls or clean your toys and then play card games? If you choose American Girl dolls you will have to finish these 5 math questions before the (20 minute) timer goes off. If you choose clean up your toys you will have to finish before the timer goes off (20 minutes).

Here you see the SMART task explained so your child knows the expectation.

Strategies to keep your kiddo on task for longer increments of time to come soon.

Both of these set the expectation, using SMART task format to be transparent with what will happen and what your kiddo can expect.

5. "A verbal agreement is binding". Stick to your word. This is why a consequence should be something that is attainable and reasonable. To get your kiddo to buy into this model its helpful if the consequence is something that can happen in that moment. The agreement likely wasn't, "first you will finish your school work and then you will earn an ice cream scoop but then wait until my call is over. and then wait until after lunch. and oh, well not this behavior doesn't get your your ice cream". That wasn't the original agreement so really you're child is only responding to the expectations you set. She did her part and you held the reward out of reach. Yeah- the afternoon behavior doesn't warrant ice cream but after she finished her work was more appropriate and therefore meaningful. Make sure you are mindful of the "contracts" you are building with your kiddo and hold yourself accountable to it.

6. Reflect and talk it out. Reconciliation is one of the most important parts of this. When you work with your kiddo and discuss what was a good choice and what was not a good choice is crucial. Some examples include “excellent job picking up your toys,” “you were so focused during homework tonight,” “nice job listening to directions” etc. Specific praise or acknowledgement of healthy behaviors reminds the child what behaviors you are looking for and reinforces them. Adding how it made you feel adds a layer of emotional consequences. "excellent job picking up your toys today. That made me happy to see."

7 Avoid arguing. Power struggles can be real. You already set the limit and stick to it. You want your kiddo to do something and they can have a say in the reward but that's the line. They pick or you pick the consequence.

8. Starting with win win situations will help benefit the both of you and your relationship. If your child is doing something productive and then gets the earn the consequence you are both winning. Pick your battles.

A break at this point my be deserved. Over time you can link this system chain back to back so more can get done of wanted achievements.

Stay connected. Reach out with questions.

Mindfulness is important for your children but for you as well. You need to be ready to get your poker face and avoid reacting to behaviors that are not acceptable and name the consequences. Follow through.

Our group classes hold these expectations for all of our students. Even with virtual classes, we take the time to reconcile choices that are made. If your child needs this as a support, register now and get your first few classes for FREE.



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