Sunday, August 30, 2009

Behavior Management

I was talking to a friend today on the phone and came to the realization that the way we manage behavior is a little different from most parents (once again thanks to my School Psychology background). She was really interested in how we had been managing Jessica's behavior and how I thought that might look in the next several years so I thought I would write a post about how we currently manage Jessica's behavior and what we plan to do in the future.

Our First House Rule
Until Jessica was almost a year old, we just redirected her or kept whatever it was out of her reach. "No" was not a word she heard often because it was not necessary. Beginning around her first birthday, we introduced the first house rule, "Stay out of the fireplace." Beginning with that first rule, we tried to make sure the rules were positively stated so we were telling her what to do instead of what not to do. For example, if the rule is "We sit in chairs," the child cannot very well stand in a chair if he is sitting. However, if the rule was "Don't stand on chairs," then the child could conceivably do a headstand in the chair!

Our Version of Time-Out
We also introduced time-out at this point in time, and apparently we do time-out differently from most people I know, thanks to my School Psychology background. Let me give you an example of a school-aged child first, and then I will explain it a little further. If John throws a pencil at me, then I will say, "John, you are in time-out for throwing a pencil at me." Typically I will place him in a chair away from other students, toys, etc. Then I will either stand near him and completely ignore him or I will do something else. As soon as his hands, feet, and mouth are quiet, I will say "John, your hands, feet, and mouth are quiet. You are out of time-out. John, hand me the pencil." If John hands me the pencil then the incident is over. If he chooses not to hand me the pencil or if he throws the pencil at me, then he goes right back to time-out and we repeat the process until he hands me the pencil.

How Time-Out Looks in Our House

This is the same process we use with Jessica. If Jessica tries to crawl into the fireplace then we say "Jessica, you are in time-out for getting in the fireplace." Then we place her in her pack-n-play and walk away. (She hates being confined, and it keeps her bed from being a place she associates with getting in trouble. Eventually we will switch from the pack-n-play to a mat that can be folded up in my purse.) As soon as her hands, feet, and mouth are quiet then she can get out. The first time we used time-out, I had to get her out when she went to take a big breath before the next scream and tell her how glad I was her hands, feet, and mouth were quiet! Once she was out, if she went back to the fireplace then we started the process all over again.

This has worked very well for her. She realizes that she is not going to get the things she wants (playing with toys, attention from us, etc) if she tries to get in the fireplace. She also has an opportunity to calm down so we usually don't experience too many tantrums outside of time-out. It also helps us keep from feeling overwhelmed with trying to teach our child how to behave because we only use time-out when she breaks a house rule! Overall, it makes the entire experience very non-emotional. One thing that can trip you up is if you don't provide enough positive attention when the child is following the rules. It can be difficult to remember to do that when they are playing nicely, but it helps create a stark contrast between time-out and time-in (when they are following the rules). Overall, the key is to be consistent!

The Evolution of House Rules

In order to help us be as consistent as possible and to keep us from feeling like we have to teach our child how to behave perfectly all at once, we try to limit ourselves to 3 (or less) house rules. Some day we might have as many as 5, but I don't think I (much less a small child) could remember more than 5! We currently have 3 house rules: Stay out of the fireplace, We sit in chairs, and We leave the furniture assembled. Right now, the rules are more a reminder for me to remember what constitutes her going to time-out, but eventually we will review the house rules at least once every day so that she will remember them as well. By that time, the rules will probably be something more like: Do it the first time, Keep hands, feet, and objects to yourself, etc. I always try to make sure the rules are positive, specific, and easily understood.

In the Future
In the future, I have thought about switching Jessica over to a token economy, whether it is stickers, pennies, TV time, etc. where she can earn a lot of positives during the day but also have those positives taken away if she breaks a house rule. I have also considered switching her to job card grounding. With that if you break a house rule, you draw a job card. You can do the job whenever you like, but you do not get to do anything that you want to do until that job is done. It is like time-out for older kids.

Outside of Our Home
Currently when we are not at home, we simply redirect Jessica. We encourage her to say please and thank you, but we don't push it. I also give her choices. For example, she can choose to hold my hand, or I can carry her. Eventually, we will have to come up with some other strategies, but we still have a few months. I am still a little undecided about what that will actually look like.

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