While it’s optimal to work with a family counselor or other professional when addressing behavior issues in a child, the fundamental roots of behavior modification can be self-learned and implemented at home. The following guidance points are based on counseling we do with parents in our clinical settings. The only thing lacking is the professional wisdom and guidance that helps a parent when something veers dramatically off course.
Most importantly, throw out the guilt and think positively. It is a natural inclination for parents to blame their child’s abnormal behavior on themselves. In most cases, this is wrong; it is not your fault! It is a neurological problem that you have absolutely no control over. You could not have seen this coming. The only control you have is to seek out the proper help to fix the problem. When the brain gets in balance, the exaggerated behavior will disappear. Hang in there!
Bad Behavior is Not the Child’s Fault
The majority of professionals assert that a psychological problem is causing the behavior, and it can’t be helped. There is much truth to this – there is an unnatural force causing the behavior – your child’s inability to feel his own body. It’s biology, not psychology.
Children who do not feel their own bodies also do not feel their own boundaries, so they need external boundaries to feel safe and protected. These external structures must be their parents and teachers. It is crucial to carry through on providing structure, no matter how difficult it becomes.
Establish Rules to Rule By
When implementing positive or negative reinforcement at home, keep these following precepts in mind. Remember if your child has left brain deficit, you will implement these ideas by always using positive reinforcement, If your child has a right brain deficiency, you will use negative reinforcement.
- Be a teacher not an enforcer.
- Be patient.
- Be consistent.
Catch Them Being Good!
More often than not, children get recognition for negative behaviors rather than positive ones. This is the reason negative behaviors are so often repeated – they get recognition. When children see that a desired behavior is being recognized more often than an undesired behavior, they will strive to get recognition by performing the more desirable behavior.
Consistency! Consistency! Consistency!
Was there ever a time when your child didn’t stop the undesired behavior and you also didn’t carry through on the consequences? If your child thinks even for a second that you will not carry through on what you threaten to do in response to bad behavior, then there’s no motivation for your child to display good behavior because you won’t carry through on the praise either. By being consistent and following through from the first time you say something, your child over time will see that you really do mean what you say. She will also see that, when it comes to negative behavior, your boundaries are set in stone. So make sure whatever consequence you establish is something you can and will follow through.
Never Take Away a Reward a Child Has Earned
This is an important lesson to learn. If necessary, you can issue a rain check for the reward for another day but do not rescind the reward. When children feel even for a moment that what they have earned is at risk of being taken away, it diminishes their motivation to work at being good on a consistent basis. Children should always be able to feel proud of their rewards so when they do go off course, they understand that negative behavior doesn’t get the same results as positive behavior.
“Hook” Your Child
In order to motivate children, you must first know what “hooks” them. What truly interests your child? Give yourself a week to observe what attracts your child’s attention on her own. Make a list and go over it with your child, and explain that until you feel the negative behaviors are under control, the chosen activities will now be considered privileges and not things she can just do at will. This practice is important because it involves your child in correcting her own behavior.
More tips and how to implement an at-home behavior modification plan can be found in chapter 13 of my book “Disconnected Kids,” including a behavior assessment checklist to determine either a left or right brain deficiency so you can determine the best strategy.