Posted in Behavior, Compliance, Parenting

“Compliance”

You know how some people hear certain words and cringe?  “Moist” is, for many people (not me), a cringe-worthy word.  “Compliance” seems to have gotten a bad rep too!  What is it about the word compliance?  From speaking to parents, I’ve gathered that some of them see images of militant children with no personalities when they hear the word “compliance.”  For them, having a “compliant” child means having a child who doesn’t think for themselves and obeys every command/direction/instruction/prompt 100 percent of the time, no matter what.  I can see why that would be an off-putting concept.  And maybe that’s what some people mean when they say “compliance,” but, according to Merriam Webster online, comply means, “to conform, submit, or adapt (as to a regulation or to another’s wishes) as required or requested.”

As someone who has studied and used behavior modification, I don’t bat an eyelash at the word compliance.  To me, it simply means following directions.  Many parents avoid the word “compliance” and use “listening” instead.  Oftentimes parents come in and say, “my child won’t listen to anything I tell them to do.”  Wrong!…well at least most of the time.  I say that because in my experience with children and families in therapy, the problem isn’t that children aren’t listening, it’s that they’re not following through!  Compliance is the part after listening… the conforming, submitting, or adapting.  My daughter listens to me say “no” – I know she hears me because she looks right at me and hesitates, but then she reaches for the dog food bowl anyways.  That’s not a listening (hearing) problem – she’s being noncompliant.

Making kids into obedient little robots that say “yes, ma’am” and “yes, sir” all the time is not the goal!  But children need to be able to (most of the time) listen AND follow through (aka comply) with caregivers (parents, teachers, grandparents, etc).  Kids who can’t be mostly compliant struggle to be successful in multiple settings, including home, school, church, and at extracurricular activities.

My hope is that parents will be more comfortable hearing and saying the word “compliance.”  It doesn’t have to be a negative word!  In The Princess Bride when Wesley says, “as you wish” and fetches a pitcher for Buttercup, he is complying with her request.  When my daughter points at her sippy cup, I comply with her request for her water.  When my husband asks me for a back rub after a long day at work, I comply (usually) by giving him one (and vice-versa).  Nothing negative about all that!

Posted in Parenting

What To Do When Your Child Is Sent Home From School For Negative Behavior

Most parents think their child would never do anything bad enough at school to get sent home, but it happens.  Kids have rough days too.  You may not be overly concerned if it’s a one-time occurrence, but unfortunately, it can snowball fairly quickly.  Why?  Because most kids would rather be at home than at school!  

I don’t want to bash schools – I know their options are fairly limited, but oftentimes sending a child home for negative behavior can turn a small problem into a big one.  Let’s look at what can (not always!) happen when a child is sent home from school for negative behavior.  The child learns that they can go home as long as they do something “bad” enough at school – being sent home is a reward.  So the child will continue acting up so that he/she can be sent home.  Then, once the school starts developing a behavior plan (IEP) in an attempt to try other interventions and prevent the child from being sent home, it’s too late!  Now the child will do whatever it takes to be sent home, even if it means resorting to behaviors more severe than when they first got sent home (this is called extinction burst).

Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of things that parents can do about school behavior and the school’s response.  Parents can use rewards and negative consequence (click here for tips on how to do so).  Parents can also do their part to reduce the likelihood that being sent home is reinforcing for a child.  So what do you need to do in order to make sure going home isn’t like a reward?

  1. Make sure your child doesn’t get a free pass to have fun the rest of the day.  Don’t let them spend the whole day in their room playing with their favorite toys.  Don’t take them on fun errands or to the park.  Make sure that they’re doing something that they don’t necessarily like during the time they’re supposed to be in school.  Let me be clear… I don’t mean stick your kiddo in a corner for 5 hours.  But consider having your child do some chores or do school work (or print out some academic worksheets).
  2. Make sure you’re not giving your child an excessive amount of attention for what happened (remember that bad attention can still be reinforcing).  Sure, you’re probably going to talk to your child about what happened and what a better choice would’ve been.  Here’s what you don’t want to happen… your child gets attention from you as you discuss the situation the entire way home, then more attention when you call his grandparent and tell them what happened, then even more attention while hearing you talk to your spouse when they get home from work, and then they get even more attention when their other parent comes to talk to them about what happened.  Cut that attention down as much as you can if you have a child who thrives on being the center of attention (give them that attention when they do something well instead!).
Posted in Emotion Regulation

Five Different Counting Strategies for Emotion Regulation

One of the more common calming strategies discussed in therapy is counting.  The idea behind many counting strategies is that the brain cannot think about two things at one time.  So if someone is thinking about counting, they cannot be thinking about how angry they are.  It disrupts the thought process, which can make it a lot easier to calm down.

Since the same calming strategies don’t work for everyone, it can be beneficial to try out different strategies to see what works for your child (or you!).  Here are 5 different counting strategies to try:

  1. Regular counting – this is what most people think of when they think of “counting.”  You start with 1 and count up to a specific number.  For younger kiddos, counting to ten might be challenging enough to do the trick, but older kiddos may need to count to a higher number to sufficiently distract themselves and calm down.
  2. Counting backward – start with a specific number and count down to 1 (or 0).  This can require a little more effort and concentration than regular counting.
  3. Counting objects – this combines counting with making lists.  Pick something to list/name as you count.  I’ve had kiddos count and name dinosaur types after each number.  I’ve also had kiddos count Disney princesses, pizza toppings, and types of trains.  This would sound like, “one Cinderella, two Sleeping Beauty, three Snow White, 4 Tiana, etc.).
  4. Counting by a number (3s, 4s, 8s, etc.) – count by multiples of a certain number as high as you can.
  5. Counting in a second language – if your kiddo knows another language, you could have them count in another language.

These are all great counting strategies for kids to know and try.  The more “tools” a child has to calm down, the better!

Posted in Parenting, Resources, Therapy

5 Berenstain Bears Books That Teach Social Skills

Berenstain Bears was one of my favorite book/tv series as a child (you can find out more about the entire series at Home of the Berenstain Bears).  They’re fun reads, but there are also some valuable lessons found in most of the books.  When working with kids, you have to find a way to hold their interest, so if you can find an entertaining book that also teaches social skills?  Jackpot!

Here are 5 Berenstain Bears books that I’ve used (both in individual and group therapy sessions) to discuss social skills:

  • The Berenstain Bears and The Truth – Brother and Sister Bear tell a lie in an attempt to get out of trouble (I’m pretty sure everyone has been there!) and readers get to see how the cubs have to tell more and more lies to cover up their first lie, then deal with the consequences of being dishonest.
  • The Berenstain Bears Forget Their Manners – Mama Bear has to take pretty drastic measures to motivate Papa Bear and the cubs to use some basic manners.
  • The Berenstain Bears Learn About Strangers – Sister Bear is a little too friendly and has to learn about stranger danger.  There’s a neat analogy in the book about how strangers can “look” nice on the outside, but that doesn’t mean they’re always nice people.
  • The Berenstain Bears and the Trouble with Friends – Sister Bear befriends a new neighbor, but they end up fighting and have to learn to take turns and compromise.
  • The Berenstain Bears Learn to Share – the cubs learn that sometimes it’s necessary to share in order to have fun because it can be awful lonely playing by yourself all the time.

These are my top 5 favorite books to use for teaching/discussing social skills, but there are many, many more valuable lessons found in the series!

Posted in Behavior, Parenting

Inside Out Behavior Charts

With all the other Inside Out worksheets and all the other behavior charts I’ve done, I cannot believe I haven’t done an Inside Out behavior chart/contract… so here it is!

Behavior Contracts can be a really useful tool for caregivers to use when trying to increase or decrease a behavior.  Some benefits include:

  • Behavior contracts help caregivers and children keep track of the behavior and the reward.
  • Kids can get involved in filling it out as the day goes by – this is motivating for them!
  • You can modify them as time goes on by changing the reward or making it a little harder to earn the reward.
  • Well-written behavior contracts have very specific expectations, so there’s no question as to whether a child earned the reward or not.

I have created three different Inside Out behavior charts for parents to use.  They are fill-in-the-blank so that you can insert your child’s name, specify what the goal behavior is, and specify a reward.

You also get to specify the length of time to complete the chart – so you may decide that your child has 3 opportunities over the course of a day.  Or you may decide they have one opportunity per day, so you’d use the 5-character chart over the course of a work week.  These can also be used as chore charts – you’d just write chores in instead of a behavior.

Some tips:

  • Try to use proactive language.  Instead of “Krista will not swear,” use “Krista will use nice words all day.”  Or instead of “Krista will not run,” use “Krista will walk” or “Krista will use walking feet.”
  • BE AS SPECIFIC AS POSSIBLE
  • Pre-teach the contract to your child to make sure they understand it.

 

3-character Inside Out Behavior Chart (click here to print):

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4-character Inside Out Behavior Chart (click here to print):

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5-character Inside Out Behavior Chart (click here to print):

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Posted in Behavior, Parenting, Therapy

What I Can/Can’t Control Worksheet

It is extremely common to hear children “blame” others for their behavior.  I’ve worked with kiddos who instantly argue with “but he did it first” when they are corrected for misbehavior.  They might be right… maybe a peer did initiate, but that doesn’t mean the child has to do the same (or retaliate).  It can take a lot of discussion to get a kiddo to acknowledge that they only have control of their own bodies and that they can choose to make good choices regardless of what others are doing around them.

The worksheet below is to help kiddos identify things that are within their control and things that are not within their control.  I typed “to help kiddos,” but guess what?  I’ve met my fair share of adults that would benefit from thinking about this as well!

What I Can/Can’t Control Worksheet (click here to print):

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Posted in Parenting

Using a Diagnosis as a Crutch

It is incredibly easy to fall into the habit of making excuses for our children’s behavior (and our own)!  My daughter is only 11 months old and I already find myself doing it. I’ve said, “she’s teething, so she’s a little grumpy,” when she’s whiny at the grocery store.  I’ve said, “she didn’t sleep well last night,” when she has a cry-fest in the church nursery.  When we look at the root of it, I think parents make excuses because they don’t want to be judged for having a not-perfect child.  But guess what?  Nobody is perfect, especially children!

I can’t speak from experience, but I would think that this pressure is increased exponentially if you have a child who has a mental health diagnosis (think Autism Spectrum Disorder, ADHD, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, etc).  These are some of the children who are most likely to “act up,” leaving their parents with ample opportunity to feel judged by others.  So I’m sure it’s easy to throw out “he has Autism” or “she has ADHD” to justify a kiddo’s behavior.  Sometimes, that might be appropriate, so I’m not saying that you shouldn’t ever make excuses for your child.  However, I think it’s a slippery slope and consistently excusing behavior could turn into both parents and their children using a diagnosis as a crutch.

 

Yes, your child’s diagnosis might (depending on what it is) make it more difficult (and sometimes near impossible) for them to do certain things.  I’m not talking about holding a child with ADHD to the exact same standards as every other child in the classroom.  A child with ADHD will have more difficulty staying focused on a task and controlling impulses.  But that doesn’t mean they can’t meet certain expectations.  When you consistently use their diagnosis as an excuse, a few things can happen over time:

  • You might throw all expectations of reasonable behavior out the window and just let your child get away with everything.  This will likely create havoc in your home, the child’s classroom, and possibly your marriage/relationship.  Here’s the thing: I don’t think anyone just wakes up one morning and says to themselves, “I’m just going to have zero expectations and let my child do what they want.”  It happens slowly over time, but (again) it’s a slippery slope when you start excusing behaviors because of a mental health diagnosis.
  • Your child might pick up on what you’re doing and start using their diagnosis as an excuse to justify their own behavior.  They may start to think that they can get away with everything because they can blame it on their mental health.

I have a sister with a mental health diagnosis (well, actually, it’s more like 3 or 4 diagnoses) and she uses these diagnoses as a crutch.  It is incredibly frustrating because she uses her mental health as an excuse for many terrible behaviors, like being rude and disrespectful to family members.  Don’t get me wrong, I know that her diagnoses make it more difficult for her to regulate her emotions and more difficult for her to control her impulses, but at this point, it seems as if she has stopped trying and just blames everything on her mental health issues.

I have talked to numerous parents who let their child get away with negative behavior because of a diagnosis they have received.  With my own sister, I’ve seen how difficult it can be to determine where to draw the line… what is she capable of doing and what is she not capable of doing?  Even though it’s hard to know what the limit is, the worst thing would be to just stop trying and use her diagnoses as a crutch.  Sometimes it takes a little bit of trial and error to figure out what the expectations should be.  Sometimes you might need help from an unbiased party (teacher, school psychologist, therapist, pediatrician, etc.) to find out where to draw that line.  Sometimes the process of that trial and error can be incredibly frustrating.  But it’s necessary.  And it’s worth it.

Posted in Emotion Identification

Inside Out Situation/Feeling Matching Worksheets

I know I’ve said it before, but Inside Out is such a great tool for teaching and practicing feelings identification with kiddos.  It’s a great way to get some serious learning done, but the movie characters are fun and make it more bearable for children.  Feelings identification can seem really simple to adults, but lots of children need help in order to be successful identifying how they feel.  Ultimately, the goal is to get them to then be able to regulate those emotions, but we have to start with being able to identify them first.

Below you can find two different worksheets which allow children to match situations to the appropriate feeling(s) that someone would feel in that situation.    Each worksheet has 12 different scenarios.  Some may trigger a few different feelings in children.  For example, there are a few situations which may make a child feel both sad and mad.  Additionally, one child might identify a feeling different from another.  For example, one child might be happy that it’s raining (maybe a kiddo who likes to jump in mud puddles) while another might feel sad that it’s raining.

I encourage any caregivers using these worksheets to be open-minded when going over this with a child.  If a child identifies a feeling that doesn’t seem to make sense to you at first, let them talk about it instead of immediately telling them they’re wrong.  Sometimes I’ve been surprised by a child’s perspective of a situation.  The different situations provide plenty of prompts to talk about feelings.  If a child doesn’t seem to be grasping a situation, it can also be helpful to role-play it and have them try to identify a feeling during the role-play.

Inside Out Matching Worksheet 1 (click link to print):

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Inside Out Matching Worksheet 2 (click link to print):

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Posted in Behavior, Parenting

Moana Behavior Contracts

I finally got around to making some Moana behavior contracts… YOU’RE WELCOME.  Sorry, I couldn’t resist.  🙂

Behavior Contracts can be a really useful tool for caregivers to use when trying to increase or decrease a behavior.  Some benefits include:

  • Behavior contracts help caregivers and children keep track of the behavior and the reward.
  • Kids can get involved in filling it out as the day goes by – this is motivating for them!
  • You can modify them as time goes on by changing the reward or making it a little harder to earn the reward.
  • Well-written behavior contracts have very specific expectations, so there’s no question as to whether a child earned the reward or not.

I have created three different Moana behavior contracts for parents to use.  They are fill-in-the-blank so that you can insert your child’s name, specify what the goal behavior is, and specify a reward.

You also get to specify the length of time to complete the chart – so you may decide that your child has 3 opportunities over the course of a day.  Or you may decide they have one opportunity per day, so you’d use the 5-character chart over the course of a work week.  These can also be used as chore charts – you’d just write chores in instead of a behavior.

Some tips:

  • Try to use proactive language.  Instead of “Krista will not swear,” use “Krista will use nice words all day.”  Or instead of “Krista will not run,” use “Krista will walk” or “Krista will use walking feet.”
  • BE AS SPECIFIC AS POSSIBLE
  • Pre-teach the contract to your child to make sure they understand it.

 

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For a 3-character Moana behavior chart, click here.

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For a 4-character Moana behavior chart, click here.

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For a 5-character Moana behavior chart, click here.