Thursday, November 20, 2008

Handling Aggressive Behavior and Deliberately Hurting Others

We have been looking at 5 different types of misbehavior: disobedience, attention-getting behaviors, breaking rules and routines, deliberately hurting others, and wrong behavior rooted in real problems. So far we have covered disobedience and attention-getting, and breaking rules and routines. Today we tackle the question of what to do with a child who is acting out aggressively or deliberately hurting others.


The primary tool for teaching a child who is hurting others or acting out aggressively is the “time out.” When carried out consistently and properly, this can be a very effective means of helping a child learn appropriate behavior. But it can fail to accomplish this goal if it is not applied quickly, consistently and completely. Here are some guidelines for applying the time out:


1. Act immediately. We sabotage ourselves when we do not take action the first time we see the behavior. “If you hit your brother with that toy again, you are going into time out.” Giving this warning teaches the child that consequences come after a second offense. Giving the time our right away teaches the seriousness of the harmful behavior. This also keeps the situation from escalating to the point where the parent loses his temper. Remember, a parent losing his temper is the number one way to lose effectiveness. How can a child learn self control if we can’t?


2. The length of the time out should, under normal circumstances, be 1 minute for every year old of the child. A small kitchen timer or microwave timer can be used to track the time. Don’t just use the clock, this puts the burden of watching the time on you. (Besides, you need lots of kitchen timers around the house to track turns on the computer, reading time, turns on the video game, TV time, etc.)


3. There should be nothing interesting to do in a time out. Going to his room where there are many toys and games is not really a time out. Sitting on the bottom step, in a chair or in a corner, out of view of the TV, is more appropriate. A crib or travel yard can be used for small children.


4. Say as little as possible before, during and after the time out. Little Joey hits his brother with a plastic shovel. Mom comes up and in a calm but firm voice says, “We don’t hit other people.” Picks Joey up and deposits him in the play pen in his room and sets the timer. Also notice the statement is phrased as a general truth, “we don’t hit,” rather than “I’m sick and tired of you hitting your brother!” This second statement is about “the child’s hitting” making “me sick and tired,” which puts the tension between me and the child, rather than where it belongs: between the child’s behavior and the universal truth that hitting others is not acceptable. Absolutely nothing is spoken during the time out. Once the time out is over, for very young children (under 4) a one sentence reminder of the offence is all that should be spoken, “We don’t hit other people.” For older children (4 and up), nothing at all should be said. The child should be able to start over. At this point look for neutral and positive behavior to affirm so he knows that you are on his side.


5. If the child resists or does not stay in the chair, use the “kinetic assist.” Remember, this is using your body or movement to affect the body or movement of the child (this is not hurting or punishing, it is assisting). If the child does not stay seated or tries to run, place your hands on his shoulders and hold him to the chair and explain, “You must sit quietly for a 5 minute time out. I will start the timer when you sit quietly.” You continue to hold him until he stops struggling, then calmly, without a word, set the time and walk away. You may have to repeat this for an hour or all evening long, but showing the child that the limits are firm and secure, no matter how hard they are tested, will pay off in the long run. Keep your cool, the struggle is not between you and him, but between his self control and the temptation to fight the limits.


6. Finally, if the child’s emotional state becomes escalated, you may have to physically restrain him to help him get control of himself. To do this, come behind the child, his back against your front, put his arms across his chest (holding his left hand with your right and his right with your left), sit down and wrap each of your legs around each of his and say to him, “I am not going to hurt you, but I am going to hold you until you can calm down.” When he relaxes, loosen your grip, if he struggles, tighten your grip. It may take an hour or more before he is ready to sit quietly for his time out, but that is still the goal.


If all of the above are being followed, and the aggressive behavior is increasing rather than decreasing, then it is time to look for the underlying causes and get outside help from mature, trusted friends and perhaps a good Christian counselor.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Handling Habitual Breaking of Rules and Routines

We have been looking at 5 different types of misbehavior: disobedience, attention-getting, breaking rules and routines, deliberately hurting others, and wrong behavior rooted in real problems. So far we have covered disobedience and attention-getting behaviors. We now come to the third of these: breaking rules and routines.

Rules and routines are expectations of family members that are clear and have been taught over the years. We keep some of ours printed out and posted at strategic locations throughout the house (we did this even before the kids could read!). These are things that kids know about, but tend to ‘forget’ over and over again. Examples are: not finishing school work, not cleaning up toys, leaving a bike out, leaving a mess in the kitchen, forgetting to feed the pet, and not taking out the garbage. These can often result in a power struggle between a parent and a child that builds tension and can be very damaging over time. To begin to eliminate these behaviors, the parents need to set up an environment where the child can experience the natural or logical consequences of such behavior. In this article, we will focus on logical consequences. These accomplish a main goal that we have mentioned many times: put the tension where it belongs: between the child and the behavior, rather than between the child and the parent.

Here are some tips for developing some natural consequences to address this type of behavior:

1. Decide which behavior you want to change. Don’t try to tackle everything at once. Pick the one that is causing the most problems and work on that, then move on to other things. Recently we had an issue with leaving a Kool-aid mess in the kitchen, so we will use that as an example. (This is obviously for older children, the same core concepts would be applied to younger children.)

2. Determine the most logical consequences for the action. This should be as fair and reasonable as possible, otherwise it will be perceived by the child as punishment or personal revenge. It should be set up so the inherent logic and life experience will do the teaching. For our example, we would say, “If we find powder on the counter or Kool-aid drops around the kitchen, you will not be allowed to make Kool-aid for a certain period of time.” My tone of voice and demeanor communicate that “I am not mad and you’re not in trouble, this is just the natural order of things.”

3. The consequences should put the discomfort on the child not the parent. If my child has a habit of leaving his coat on the floor by the door every day after school and I choose to remind and nag him to hang it up, then I am taking on the burden and putting the tension between me and him. If I simply set up a logical consequence: “If your coat is left on the floor, you will lose a certain amount of allowance,” then there is no argument or anger or tension. If I see the coat, I just write on the dri-erase board, the child’s name and “-$1 coat”. I don’t want to take away allowance, I am on his side, I am his greatest cheerleader in getting victory over “forgetting to use the coat-hook.” But I don’t say anything, I let the consequences do the teaching.

4. Follow through. Be consistent. Not carrying out the logical consequences teaches the child that your word is meaningless. Even if a child seems very sorry and promises never to do it again, the consequence should be carried out. If a child can avoid consequences by being cute, they will practice charm instead of appropriate behavior and grow up to expect others to absorb the results of their poor choices.

5. The child should be able to “earn back” freedoms and privileges. “When we see that you are able to clean up your mess, you can starting making Kool-aid again.” This also teaches them the natural and logical order of things in the real world. When you are responsible, you are allowed to have freedoms that are given to responsible people.

Logical consequences give children the gift of experiencing a taste of life in the real, grown up world in a controlled environment, mixed with the patience and love of someone on their side.

In the next article, we will be looking at how to handle hurtful and destructive behavior.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Handling Attention-Getting Behavior

We have been looking at 5 different types of misbehavior: disobedience, attention-getting, breaking rules and routines, deliberately hurting others, and wrong behavior rooted in real problems. In the last post we looked at the first of these: disobedience. Now we come to the second: attention-getting behaviors.

There is a long list of things that children do to get attention: whining, arguing, throwing fits (falling on the floor or kicking and screaming), pestering other kids, crying without reason, not responding to an adult when spoken to, demanding parents or adults to do things for them, interrupting, saying “you don’t love me,” or “I don’t love you,” answering every response with the question, “why?” when they are not really interested in the answer, and the list goes on. What distinguishes these behaviors is not the behavior itself, but the motivation: to get attention. As you can see, the severity of these behaviors spans a wide range.

There is a two step process for dealing with attention-getting behavior that deals with the core of the issue. The first step is to ignore the behavior. The second step is to be used when the child’s behavior begins to infringe on the rights of other people, and that is to set up the either-or-choice.

Before I begin this process, I will usually let the child know what they are doing wrong and, if possible, the appropriate action to take. For example, “You are whining right now and I am not going to respond, if you would like to ask for something properly, then go ahead.” Or, “This conversation is now turning into an argument, and I am not going to argue.”

Ignoring a child’s attention-getting behavior is a lot more difficult than it sounds. It requires giving the child no attention at all: no words, no facial expressions, no eye-contact, no body language, nothing. Pretend like they are not even in the room. This can be very difficult if the child is throwing a fit, but if you have ever been ignored, then you know how powerful this can be. You must go about your business and even have a good time, remember: you are in control of your own attitude and emotions. Over time, the child will realize that the behavior does not accomplish their goal of getting your attention.

When this does not eliminate the behavior, or the child escalates to infringing on the rights of others, the second step is to give him an either-or-choice. This is not punishment and you are not angry, you are just going to create a situation in which their behavior does not affect others and you can continue to ignore it. For example, “You can either choose to stop whining, or you can go to your room and whine there,” or “You can either choose to stop pestering your brother, or you can go to your room.” You are not giving them a command at this point, there is no anger or power struggle. They have the choice. If they do not either stop the behavior or go to their room, then you will have to assist them (see previous post on the “kinetic assist”).

These steps are a teaching process and learning a new behavior takes time. Being consistent and remembering not to sabotage the process by giving attention, or becoming angry or emotional will help the learning take place.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Handling Disobedience

In the last post, I introduced 5 different types of misbehavior: disobedience, attention-getting, breaking rules and routines, deliberately hurting others, and wrong behavior rooted in real problems. Today we look at how to respond to the first of these, disobedience. There are two tools in the hands of parents that are very useful for dealing with simple disobedience.

The first one is what I call the
kinetic assist. Kinetic means “motion” or “causing to move.” The kinetic assist is helpful when a small child is learning to obey simple commands such as, “come here,” “pick up the toys,” and “bring that book here.” Think of this as a teaching tool to help your child learn to follow your instructions the first time. Sometimes this can be as simple as walking over to a child (your motion effecting their response), sometimes it may be putting a hand on a shoulder helping the child do what is instructed (causing the motion), and other times it may be physically picking a child up and moving them to the required location. The idea is, you are using your motion to cause their motion. You do this with as little force as is necessary.

For example, you tell little Suzie, “come here,” and she continues to sit and play, or says, “no, I’m busy right now.” You calmly restate the instruction, “Suzie, I said come here now.” She is silent. Without any emotion you walk over to the child, place a hand on her shoulder and direct her to come over to where she was asked. There is no need for anger of frustration, or even any more words at this point. You are just teaching that when you give an instruction, you are going to make sure that it is carried out. If you are not willing to get up and make sure the child obeys, then don’t give the instruction.

Your attitude during and after the kinetic assist is key to establishing the tone of the relationship. There is no anger, no lecturing, no “holding anything against them.” You simply go back to whatever it was you were doing before, treating the child as if nothing ever happened. This way they know it was the behavior that was disagreeable, not him or her as a person.

The second tool to correct disobedience is
spanking. As foster parents, we were not allowed to use spanking so we had to work very hard on all the other tools for correction and instruction, but with our own children, I believe we were able to use it effectively. Some parents may shy away from spanking for a variety of reasons, but I believe, when used properly, it can be done appropriately, respectfully and effectively. Proverbs 22:15 says, “Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline will drive it far from him.” Understood properly, spanking is a tool for helping change the heart attitude of a child.

When a child fails to obey an instruction and the kinetic assist does not seem appropriate or useful for that circumstance, or if the child becomes more blatantly defiant, say to the child in a calm and controlled voice, “you are choosing to not obey Daddy, I am going to give you a spanking so that you will learn to obey.” Take the child to their room and administer one or more swats from your hand to their bottom. I am being very specific here so that you understand clearly what I mean (and don’t mean) by spanking. After the spanking has been administered, nothing more needs to be said about the offense. If the child has a task to complete, they may be given a couple minutes to stop crying, wash up, and then come back and complete the task. If not, you can just say, “You may come out of your room when you are ready.” When the child returns, once again, your attitude is key to establishing the tone of the continued relationship. The child should know that you love him, you have forgiven him for the offense, and that you are not going to “rub his face in it” or shame him.

Here are some further guidelines that should direct the use of spanking:
  • NEVER spank in anger. If you are angry, wait until you are in control of your emotions before you administer the spanking.
  • Spanking is a teaching tool, not a way for a parent vent frustration.
  • Don’t think of spanking as a last resort, it should be used as a direct response to blatant defiance.
  • Spanking should never be done in public or in front of others, even the other children. A public spanking allows shame to enter the picture and shame should never be a part of any corrective measure.
  • I recommend not spanking on a “bare bottom,” a diaper or clothing should be left in place. Once again, shame has no place in discipline. I would also recommend spanking on the bottom only, and never the head or face.
  • Never spank with a belt, and I recommend never spanking with any object.

The kinetic assist and the appropriate use of spanking are two tools to use when a child is disobedient. Next time, we look at how to respond to attention-getting behavior.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Have a Plan for Discipline Part 1

It happens to all of us as parents. We are at a loss for how to deal with a child’s behavior. Is it a time out, a spanking, a lecture, take away a privilege, give an explanation, ignore them, physically move the child to another room, put him on restriction … what is the right consequence for a particular behavior and how do I administer it most effectively?!

We have now come to Passionate Legacy Principle #6: Have a plan for discipline. Learn what consequences should be applied to which behaviors, so that when the situation arises you are prepared to act decisively.

Before we can respond with the best possible discipline we must first understand what type of behavior is causing the problem. In this post, we will examine FIVE types of inappropriate behavior and in upcoming articles we will look at effective ways of dealing with each one.

The first is disobedience. The child simply does not comply with something a parent is telling her to do. “It’s time to go home now,” says the parent, and the child simply ignores it. Dad says, “Put the toy away, please,” and little Suzie responds with a very polite “No. I’m not done playing.” Mom explains, “You may not take the cracker into the living room, we keep our snacks at the table,” and Joey keeps walking with the cracker toward the TV. This type of situation may be very calm and cool or they may escalate into angry defiance with screaming and tears, but the basic behavior is the same: the child refuses to do what he is being told by the parent to do. This is disobedience and this is more common with younger children who are beginning to assert their own self-will.

Next is attention-getting-behaviors. These are things a child does to bring them lots of attention. Whining, arguing for no apparent reason, throwing a fit, asking lots of questions that they know the answer to, pestering a sibling, being bossy to other children or even adults, or yelling things like “I hate you!” are all examples of attention-getting-behaviors.

Third is breaking rules and routines. Where disobedience is not obeying a direct request at the time it is given, breaking rules and routines is when a child fails to comply with something they should not have to be reminded to do. Examples are: failing to do homework, not getting off to school on time, not cleaning up after oneself, going into off-limits places, not completing homework on time, and playing on the computer past the time limit. This type of behavior is more easily recognized and more common with older children. Many parents fall into the pattern of constantly reminding or nagging the child to do what they know is expected, and it feels like the parent is working harder than the child.

Next is deliberately hurting others. Other destructive or aggressive behavior could be placed in this category as well, like throwing toys or yelling at another person in a fit of rage. Sometimes a child might even hurt themselves. Although pestering a sibling might be an attempt to get attention, especially if it is only when a parent is around, violent and aggressive behavior toward a sibling would fall into this category.

The last category is wrong behavior rooted in real problems. In this category there is a real problem, need or conflict in which a child needs help, but do not know the proper way to get the help or solve the problem. A child has a legitimate need, say hunger, and whines to try to meet that need, “I----I’m Huuuuungry." Or he has a conflict with another child over a toy and it leads to a fight. They are not trying to get attention or disobey, they need help resolving a real life problem.

So, the five types of inappropriate behavior are:

1. Disobedience

2. Attention Getting

3. Rule and Routine Breaking

4. Deliberately Hurting Others

5. Wrong Behavior Rooted in Real Problems

Next time, we will begin to look at specific forms of discipline and responses to each of these types of behavior.