Sunday, September 5, 2010

Challenging Behavior #7

Adjusting the family routines can prevent some challenging behaviors. Here is an example:

Sara is the youngest child in our imaginary family. She has just started preschool and goes half days in the afternoon. She is developing some unhealthy eating habits. It’s cookies or chips or nothing for supper. Her parents think it may be the influence of the other children in school. She was never like this as a three year old! When the family sits down to eat together, she misbehaves, whines, and eventually makes a mess and is sent away from the table. However, when everyone is having a snack while watching TV, Sara is right there eating her fair share. She is also hungry right away after school and helps herself to the cookie jar a number of times even before supper is cooking.

After trying all the things that don’t work (sending her away from the table, fight with her about trying a bite of supper, scolding her for her misbehavior), her parents notice the snacking that is going on the hour prior to supper. They change their own behavior. The cookie jar disappears and when Sara gets home, some apple slices and milk are on the table for her. The first few days, her behavior is worse and Sara has no snack. She still doesn’t eat supper. On day three her mother changes her own behavior again. She sits down with the apples and milk and invites Sara to join her. “I’m thinking about what to cook for supper. Sara, do you have any ideas?” Together they eat the apples, talk about Sara’s day at school and mom gives Sara a task to do to help prepare the potatoes for supper. That night Sara seems to forget to misbehave, chatting away about her role in helping prepare the potatoes.

This approach to preventing a challenging behavior is one of the seven principles of good discipline. Change the environment, not the child. The environment in Sara’s home was changed by the removal of the very accessible cookie jar. The apples and the milk on the table replaced the cookies and Sara’s parents took a proactive approach by sitting with her after school as she ate a ‘controlled’ portion snack and they enlisted her help in cooking supper.

Did they change her behavior? No, they changed their own behavior and the outcome was a change in Sara’s behavior.

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