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What’s Up With That? Top Tips for Changing Behavior

There are hundreds of strategies for changing behaviors and what strategies and methods you choose is dependent on your child’s needs, abilities, and also your time and means to achieving a behavior goal. Underlying reasons of why a behavior is occurring needs to be considered when choosing an approach; however, these list of tips  - no matter the child’s level of functioning or underlying reasons why - apply to implementing your chosen approach.

Pick one specific behavior you want to change. You can’t change it all, and you can’t change it all right now. Pick the one thing that would make a difference in your daily sanity and forget the rest. For now.

Work at it for at least two weeks. Once you decide on a new strategy, and explain it to your child so they understand the expectations (you’d be surprised at how many people forget this part), stick with it for a couple of weeks. It may not seem like it’s working at first because behavior will typically get worse before it gets better, so you must stick with it, at least for a bit. If after a fair go at it and things are not improving, it is time to move on to the next strategy.

Follow through. You absolutely cannot waiver on your consequence (or reward for that matter). If you are so tired you think your head may roll off, and your child does ‘the behavior,’ you must, must, must drag your lead body to follow through on the consequence. Every. single. time. I kid you not, this will be the game changer.

If you are going to consequence, you must reward. You can’t keep taking things away and/or just talking about the bad stuff. You need to give your child a reason to want to behave, as, unfortunately, behaving for the sake of man kind just isn’t intrinsic. Yet.

Catch your child being good. Although you may be targeting behavior X, it is important to acknowledge the other good behaviors no matter how small, “I like how you combed your hair, great job!”; “You put your shoes on really fast! Wow!”; “I really appreciate how you cleaned up your dishes, you sure are getting good at that!”

Be specific. The examples listed tell your child exactly what it is they did good. No more “good job” or “way to go.” You need to tell them exactly what it is they did a good job doing if you want to see it again.

Don’t power struggle. Also a game changer. When you have given your instruction to do something (or stop) and arguing/whining/tantrums begin, don’t engage. I’m telling you, your child will win every time. The only way to not engage in a power struggle is to ignore anything but the desired behavior. Ignore the arguing/whining/tantrum. Walk away or lock yourself in the bathroom if you have to but do not open your mouth except to repeat your direction.

Ignoring. If you are using ignoring as a strategy, ignore the behavior, not your child. Your child is separate from their negative behavior. They are just a little person trying to figure out this world and deserve to be respected and loved no matter their behavior. Although, sometimes separating the two is the hardest thing to do.

Behavior is communication. Kids don’t behave badly for the sake of it. They don’t wake up in the morning and scheme how to make your life more difficult that day. Behavior is no different than talking; it’s just harder to understand sometimes if we don’t speak that language. Learn your child’s language, and if you are struggling to learn it, then ask for help.

Lindsay holds a Child and Youth Care Degree and Diploma in Disability Studies. She is a supervisor of a Behavioural
and Developmental Aide Program at McMan Youth Family and Community Services in Calgary.

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