Sunday, March 16, 2014

What’s in a Child’s Mind?

I think it’s time to put ourselves in our children’s shoes, see the world through their eyes. Instead of demanding them to adjust to us, I submit to you that we’ll be better if we adjust to them. After all, we are the adults, right?  

So, today I’ll be your translator. It might be a good idea to write an “Adults-Children” dictionary.  

First, kids live in the present. “Now” is their entire lives. And this is more relevant when trying to understand kids with special needs. When you say “No more TV” they hear “No more TV forever.” If they have a tummy ache, they are hungry, tired, cold, hot, BORED, it is for the rest of their lives.

Second, they play, that’s what they do. Their goal in life is to have fun, to seek pleasant sensations, to enjoy, to do what they like ALL THE TIME. When you tell them it’s time to get dressed to go to school, or leave the computer because they have to brush their teeth, what they hear is “It’s time to leave paradise to go to hell.” Imagine how you would feel if you have to leave the comfort of your home to go to work at a job you either don’t like or you hate. By the way, you have to do it for free, no salary or any compensation whatsoever.
Children learn by imitation rather than following directions. If there is screaming at home, they’ll scream. If they see violence on TV or video games, they’ll like violence. If we adults throw a tantrum when we get frustrated, they’ll incorporate tantrums to their behavior repertoires. If you say “No” to them a thousand times per day, they learn to say “No” when you need their compliance.   

And children cannot wait, they didn’t grasp yet the understanding of “Not Now”, or “I’m on the phone” or “Mommy is busy.” Kids’ basic principle of conduct is “Instant Gratification.” What they know since birth is “I cried and mommy runs to feed or comfort me.” Selfishness rather than patience is their language.  
Last but not least, kids don’t play by the rules. They can scream and cry as if they are being tortured. They hit, bite, throw things, etc. It is “guerilla” fight.

So, now we understand them, at least in part. What do we do with this information?
We change our behaviors in order to change our kids’ behaviors.

If you know they live in the present instead of telling them “No more TV”, you can say something like “It’s time to do homework. If you finish your homework, you can watch TV after dinner.” “We can’t go outside right now, but we can go to the park tomorrow.” Grant wishes in the future. Do not leave them with a plain “No.”

And wait until the show (or game) is over, do not interrupt favorite activities to ask them to perform non-preferred tasks.

Easy so far? Ok, let’s keep going.

Feed them before they are hungry; provide them with fun activities (an enriched, stimulating environment) BEFORE they get bored. Find them healthy recreational activities (sports, arts & crafts, music, etc.). Planned play-dates.  A weekend with no plans is a recipe for disaster. 
Transform non-preferred activities in preferred ones by pairing them with rewards. For example, instead of “No more computer, it’s time to brush your teeth,” try “When you finish brushing your teeth you can play on the computer. Come on, hurry up!” You would  be more than willing to leave the comfort of your home if you are going to a Spa, or a well-paid job that you enjoy, right? The same applies to your kids. Another example could be “It is bed time. If follow directions I’ll give you 25 cents each night you can use to buy a toy.”

Because they learn by imitation, teach by example. Show them how you control yourself in times of frustration and how to appropriately interact with others. Model polite manners. Monitor what they watch on TV and what they play on the computer.

If you know children don’t play by the rules, do not engage in power struggles with them. They will throw a tantrum at the grocery store and you’ll have to give in to their demands, thus reinforcing problematic behaviors. Motivate rather than force. Prevent rather than react. Be ready, always have a Plan B. Do not throw yourself into troubled waters hoping things will be OK. Very likely they won’t.

Do as much as possible when they are at school, asleep or when daddy is home. Satiate them with attention before talking on the phone or washing dishes.

Follow these simple strategies and you won’t believe how your life will change. Learn to manipulate your kids. After all, they manipulate us, right? 

Daniel Adatto, BCBA                                                                                  

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