Are my child’s behavioral problems my fault?
This is a question I have to answer almost every day when I am counseling parents. All too often, they conclude (wrongly) that their child’s problems are indeed their fault, that they’re just not doing a good enough job. They often compare themselves to their neighbor’s kids who seem to be relatively problem-free (upon closer inspection, however, usually not the case).
If your child has been diagnosed with ADHD, Oppositional Defiant Disorder or a Learning Disability, their problems are primarily neurological (brain-based) in nature. You can make them better or worse depending upon your parenting practices, but you did not cause them and don’t let anyone (teachers, in-laws, etc.) try to convince you otherwise. It’s easy for others to make judgement from afar but they’re not living with the problem. You are.
So what are you supposed to do? You know your child’s behavior is running the household. You’re tired of constantly having to repeat yourself, hate the yelling, making idle threats, sending them to their rooms. You know punishment only goes so far but what else can you do?
First of all, stop doing what you’re doing. If those interventions worked you would not be reading this blog.
Second, in all likelihood, your child is what I call a “WHIFM” kid—What’s In It For ME? Now you probably don’t like the sound of that, but if you’ll stop and think about it for a minute you might begin to see how true this might be. You would like to think that your child would do the right thing just because it’s the right thing to do or because you said so. This may have been the case for you growing up but most likely not your child.
Third, keep it simple. Rather than take things away (computer time, TV time, Lego time) from your child for their bad behavior, reverse it and reward them with these activities for their compliant behavior. If they earn it they get it. All they have to do is comply with what you ask them to do, the first time you ask, without an attitude and they earn whatever it is that motivates them.
One more thing. If you try this, be reasonable about how quickly you want them to comply. Many children with behavioral challenges have a tendency to react impulsively and negatively. Give them a little time before they lose out on the chance to earn something they really want. Set a timer for 30 seconds or so, after which they would lose the opportunity so they don’t get penalized for their impulsivity.
Lastly, whatever reward you choose, make sure that your child has no access to it except when earned. No more using electronics as their babysitter!
So stop the yelling, no more threats. Try some positive reinforcement. It’s also easier on the vocal chords.
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