Saturday, February 14, 2015


Dear Olive,


When we lived together our senior year of college, you'll remember that one of my jobs was working in the Autism Unit.  Since being in practice, I realize that you can use a few classic behavioral formulas to apply to just about any situation of conflict.  Now, as a parent, I'm starting to figure out how to interpret the same perspective into my parenting.  Here are the tricks I've learned so far:

Give attention first

When I'm walking in the door from work and have a million things to do (dinner, a home repair, phone calls), I have a tendency to want to start at least one or two of those things right away and eschew playing with the kids until I have a few household accomplishments under my belt.  What I've found is that if I give attention first, the other things can be accomplished without much conflict.  Sitting down immediately to play, give attention, and make the kids the primary focus, fills their tanks so that I can eventually excuse myself to change clothes or start a meal.  If, on the other hand, I wait to play, I am rarely productive due to interruptions from the littles.

Use a "circuit" schedule

Although we're not an official Montessori family, I love the idea of discovery trays.  Often, when we have the whole day to ourselves, I'll make four or five trays with which the kids can do some independent play.  Giving them the autonomy to explore at their pace promotes self-determination and confidence.  It also reduces peer conflict because everyone is engaged in their own activity.

Give choices

We tend to be pretty strict with the kids, favoring a high love high demand mentality.  Still, I try to rarely say, "no" outright.  "Mom, can I have chocolate?"  Of course, you can have chocolate tomorrow, do you want to earn a piece after lunch or after dinner?  Or, "It's time to leave the playground now, do you want to have a happy goodbye now or in 2 minutes?"  Giving a child a sense that their request is being confirmed, while also setting limits is indicated at every stage of development.

Recite, relate, acknowledge

This is a big one.  I am amazed at how well it works with adults too.  When someone in my family has a conflict or temper flare up, this is what I try to remember: recite by verbalizing the problem, empathize with the person about the situation, and finally acknowledge that they have a right to be upset.  So, it might look something like this: Recite:"Gabriel, I can see that you are upset because I turned off the movie." Relate: "You must feel disappointed because it is time for bed.  You want to stay up and finish the show."  Acknowledge: "I can understand how you feel that way, your movie was so interesting and you expected to be able to watch the whole thing."  That's it.  You don't necessarily need to explain solutions every time, just the process promotes engagement and mitigates the conflict.

Hand over hand

Sometimes if one of my kids is learning something new, I use prompting techniques in a series of four:  (1) Full physical prompt: model the behavior hand over hand.  So if Ella is learning to tie shoes, I do it with her hands under mine first.  (2) Faded physical prompt: guide her hands with gestures, but not for every step, and (3) Verbal prompt: explain with words how to do it.  And (4) Visual prompt: give her a picture card of what I want her to do.  Dependent on the difficulty of the task I start with the most restrictive (1) and fade to (4) over time.

Caught doing good

Regular behavior-contingent reinforcers (surprise rewards for good behavior) are key in shaping positive behavior.  We try to give "positive attention for positive behavior," which doesn't mean that we ignore negative behavior, we just don't give a lot of repeated verbal cues when a kid does something wrong.  We may have some time to think, but if the offense is a typical one, we don't process it every time.  Instead, we award extra stars, experiences or praise when a child has made an especially good choice.

Pro-social modeling

Sometimes if a kid is having a tough time sharing or keeping their hands to themselves, we do a "reteach" by having them model what they are supposed to be doing.  Sometimes they do this on camera and then when we are having the same problem throughout the day, I cue them to watch the clip each time the problem happens.  For example, Ella hits her brother when he is in her way, I model and video her saying, "Excuse me," and walking around him.  Then each time she hits, I nonverbally guide her to the computer and have her watch the clip.  This way, she is not getting my verbal attention, but is cued and provided a model for what I want her to do.

Promote predictability and Autonomy

Most days we use our fridge calendar to talk about weather, the day's schedule and who we will see that day.  We started doing this when Gabe was about a year and a half old.  It's amazing how much structure, routine, and giving options can do for developing brains.  We would see decreased anxiety and increased comprehension of the schedule even at that young age.

I always wished there was a guidebook for parenting.  It took me way too long to realize just how much my neuro-developmental vocational experience related to parenting my typical children.  Sometimes when I watch you and Violet, I am amazed at your patience and coordination.  I hope that others looking from the outside in sometimes observe that in my parenting as well.  Bystanders must think parenting looks easy, but it just takes so much to get there!

No comments:

Post a Comment