Pay Attention to Your Attention:

Turn the Volume Down on Negative Behavior to Minimize Behavioral Problems

Most Parents are usually unaware of the significant elements of their communication style that influence their child’s response. Automatic patterns of communication are developed and used, without thought to their ongoing effectiveness. Think about your rapid, often frustrated, first response to your child’s display of negative, disruptive or disobedient behavior.

Do you:  Shout or yell? React with a high level of emotion. Get right in their face? Repeat the same thing over and over again? Lose control of yourself and ‘fly off the handle?’

What is it that causes us to shout and keep shouting? Yell and keep Yelling?

For some parents, shouting was the style their parents used when they were upset – so they use it when they are upset, even if it’s not effective. However, for most parents, shouting is used because it is effective in getting a child to respond – when first shouted at. At first, shouting is effective because it is new and gets the child’s attention. Hopefully it is different from the vast majority of the parent’s other spoken messages.

Here is the usual sequence of events leading to yelling and shouting when the child misbehaves and the parent notices it:

  1. The parent, at first, responds in an average tone of voice.
  2. The child ignores the familiar voice level.
  3. The parent becomes frustrated, and the voice is ‘naturally raised.’
  4. The child responds because of the attention-grabbing nature of the newly raised voice.
  5. The parent’s yelling is strengthened as a response, because the child responds, and a habit of yelling is developed.

What happens after this initial cycle is significant. Parents continue to raise their voices when they are displeased. However, because a raised voice is no longer a new event, it is less stimulating – and the child begins to ignore it. The parent continues to use a loud voice, or even a louder voice, because the habit of yelling was effective in the past. A cycle of escalation then occurs with parents getting more frustrated and more angry and raising their voices even higher. The child may even enjoy the loss of the parent’s control and the ineffectiveness of the parent’s actions because they can continue to do whatever they want.  Thus, their negative behavior actually becomes a stronger habit and blossoms into behavioral problems, stress, depression and anxiety and other mental health stressors.

Giving Power and Control Back to the Parents

Here is the usual sequence of events leading up to an effective, controlled response by a parent when a child misbehaves and a parent notices it:

  1. The parent uses a low-key, almost bored, non-rewarding tone of voice.
  2. The child ignores this voice level.
  3. The parent stays in control and moves closer to the child.
  4. The parent repeats the first statement with the same, or lower, tone of voice.
  5. The parent continues to give a non-rewarding controlled message to stop or change the misbehavior.
  6. The child complies with the request because the parent remains in control and the child is not receiving any benefit from the misbehavior.

Turn down the volume, and turn up your effectiveness in controlling your child’s behavioral problems, temper tantrums, and physical outbursts

When giving attention to behavior you do not wish to encourage, use a bored, distant, non-rewarding or approving style of communication:

  1. Limit eye contact.
  2. Limit physical contact.
  3. Use a low, boring tone of voice.
  4. Use few words, repeated only one or two times.
  5. Respond slowly and in control.
  6. Give yourself time to respond with an age appropriate, effective consequence which can be followed through.

Time Out: A Menu for Growth With Behavioral Problems

A child’s growth and development is a product of the child’s biology as it reacts to the world. Effective parents make meals that are healthy, nutritious and full of good foods to eat, to help a child’s body grow strong. Parents can also ‘set a table’ of ‘nutritious experiences that include an environment enriched with opportunities to learn new skills and rewards that promote healthy social, academic and emotional growth.

Parents of young children frequently refer to this ‘table of nutritious experience’ when they talk about ‘time out.’  When this strategy is used by parents, they are actually referring to limiting the child’s access to the ‘table’ of things they enjoy in their world.  Its hoped that the discomfort resulting from this removal will cause the child to change a negative behavior that occurs just before the removal.

Time In: Use the 5 to 1 Rule to Eliminate Behavioral Problems

A better way to improve the child’s behavior is to add more positives to the child’s table. A table set with more nurturing experiences will give a child more opportunity and more desire to learn positive behaviors that lead to comfort and pleasure – not stress and anxiety. Another way of saying this is, to increase ‘time-in’ for the child to situations that are healthy and viewed by the child and parent as nurturing.

Pay greater attention to positive behavior than to negative behavior. Use the 5 to 1 Rule – giving 5 times the amount of attention to good behavior – behavior that you value and want to reinforce –  vs the one time with negative behavior. Most children obey their parents between 50 percent and 70 percent of the time. You can increase this level of compliance by becoming aware of the amount and type of attention you give your child for his or her behavior. Using the 5 to 1 Rule will help you minimize behavioral problems while maximizing and reinforcing good behavior.

Behavioral Problems Benefit From Playtime

We need to set aside a minimum of five minutes in our day to play with the young child.  Play is time in which a parent can follow a child’s fantasy and not make demands for performance.  Play gives you a break to enjoy your child and to step back from the stress, anxiety and irritability which can grow when parenting a difficult and challenging child. Play helps us to remember that we like and love our children and will help our children to like and love us.

Rules of Play:

  1. Imitate appropriate play.
  2. Praise behaviors you value.
  3. Enjoy the closeness.
  4. Act like a sportscaster and use words to describe action: “John is moving the truck.”
  5. Reflect words and feelings: Child says, “I built a house;” parent says, “Mary built a house!”

Encourage behavior that cannot happen when the negative, behavioral problems occur. A child cannot talk in a strong voice, while at the same time whining. Reward and attend to a strong voice and it will grow. Ignore the whining, and it will weaken in strength. With young, verbal children, alternative behavior can be encouraged by the use of a pretend games. You can pretend the child is a ‘wizard’ who speaks in a strong voice. Praise the ‘wizard’ for speaking strongly.

Most Bad Habits and Behavioral Problems are Copied

Be a model of the behavior you value in your child. Research has shown that children learn a great deal of their behavior by observing what happens around them. Consider your own behavior. Most bad habits and behavioral problems are copied.

Ask yourself, “Is my child copying my poor behavior?”

When you behave in a positive manner, you give your child the gift of a positive model to imitate. This is a great way to develop habits that you find valuable.  Also, a child who acts like a parent is more likely to be liked by that parent.

– by Frank Doberman, PhD

Dr. Frank Doberman is Co-Founder of Karner Psychological Associates (KPA) and is a leader in the fields of clinical psychology, is a Licensed Psychologist, Certified in School Psychology, Educational Administration and is a regular contributor to News 10 WTEN.

Copyright © 2011 Karner Psychological Associates | All Rights Reserved.