Responding to your child’s behaviors, on the other hand, means that you take a moment to think before you act, thus keeping your actions under your control. It takes more time and effort because it involves making a conscious and rational decision about what you want from the situation. And what you want is to teach something, to build behavioral repertoires. You want to “respond” as a teacher and not “react” as a police officer enforcing the law. The time that you take (it could be 10 seconds, five minutes or even more) between your child’s misbehavior and you responding to the problem is vital to the relationship between you and your child.
Here are some tips:
1. Take a few seconds and a deep breath.
2. Consider all the options before you make a decision with the goal of teaching in mind.
3. Be ready ahead of time for situations that happen often. It is very likely that your child will misbehave again.
4. Be consistent and persistent in your responses.
5. Try to understand why your child is behaving in that way, what is the function of the behavior, what need is the child trying to meet. Target your response to the problem, not the child. It is not you and your child against each other, but the two of you together against the problem.
6. Do not threaten your child with a list of consequences you know you won’t implement. For example, “I’ll call the police”, “No TV today”, “I’ll tell your father”, “No more ice-cream”, etc. Try instead “If you listen, you’ll have ice-cream”, or “If you finish your homework, we go to the park.” And follow through.
Be sure that you are responding to your child’s behavior and be sure your “response” is appropriate, not over-blown, out of proportion. You want to teach, not enforce. Your job as a parent is to teach your child how to achieve self-control. If you do, it gets easier, I promised. And, I’ll buy you an ice-cream.
Daniel Adatto, BCBA