A positive and constructive approach is often the best way to guide your child’s behavior. This means giving your child attention when he behaves well, rather than just applying consequences when he does something you don’t like.
Here are some practical tips for putting this positive approach into action.
1. Be a role model
Use your own behavior to guide your child. Your child watches you to get clues on how to behave – and what you do is often much more important than what you say. For example, if you want your child to say ‘please’, say it yourself. If you don’t want your child to raise her voice, speak quietly and gently yourself.
2. Catch your child being ‘good’
When your child is behaving in a way you like, give her some positive feedback. For example, ‘Wow, you’re playing so nicely. I really like the way you’re keeping all the blocks on the table’. This works better than waiting for the blocks to come crashing to the floor before you take notice and say, ‘Hey, stop that’.
This positive feedback is sometimes called descriptive praise because it tells children specifically what they’re doing well. Try to make six positive comments for every negative comment. And remember that if children have a choice between no attention or negative attention, they’ll often seek out negative attention.
The power of praise
“This morning, I needed to remind myself about the power of praise, so I'm sharing with you in case you need it too. This was a trick I learned to help teachers increase their praise rate during class: wear a bunch of elastics (or something else that you have that you can keep on yourself) and move them to the other wrist every time you positively acknowledge or give a praise statement to your child/children for the good things they are doing. It can be a little thing they do, and in fact, if you start with really little or minor things, you'll see bigger things happen. My goal for today: trying to move all elastics to the other wrist each hour. If you try it, let me know if you find it helpful. I'll report back at the end of today.”
3. Get down to your child’s level
When you get close to your child, you can tune in to what he might be feeling or thinking. Being close also helps him focus on what you’re saying about his behavior. If you’re close to your child and have his attention, you don’t need to make him look at you.
4. Listen actively
To listen actively, you can nod as your child talks, and repeat back what you think your child is feeling. For example, ‘It sounds like you feel really sad that your blocks fell down’. When you do this, it can help young children cope with tension and big emotions like frustration, which sometimes lead to unwanted behavior. It also makes them feel respected and comforted. It can even diffuse potential temper tantrums.
5. Keep promises
When you follow through on your promises, good or bad, your child learns to trust and respect you. She learns that you won’t let her down when you’ve promised something nice, and she also learns not to try to change your mind when you’ve explained a consequence. So when you promise to go for a walk after your child picks up her toys, make sure you have your walking shoes handy. When you say you’ll leave the library if your child doesn’t stop running around, be prepared to leave straight away.
6. Create an environment for good behavior
The environment around your child can influence his behavior, so you can shape the environment to help your child behave well. This can be as simple as making sure your child’s space has plenty of safe, stimulating things for him to play with. Make sure that your child can’t reach things he could break or that might hurt him. Your glasses look like so much fun to play with – it’s hard for children to remember not to touch. Reduce the chance of problems by keeping breakables and valuables out of sight.
7. Choose your battles
Before you get involved in anything your child is doing – especially to say ‘no’ or ‘stop’ – ask yourself if it really matters. By keeping instructions, requests and negative feedback to a minimum, you create less opportunity for conflict and bad feelings. Rules are important, but use them only when it’s really important.
8. Be firm about whining
If you give in when your child is whining for something, you can accidentally train her to whine more. ‘No’ means ‘no’, not maybe, so don’t say it unless you mean it.
9. Keep things simple and positive
If you give clear instructions in simple terms, your child will know what’s expected of him – for example, ‘Please hold my hand when we cross the road’. And positive rules are usually better than negative ones, because they guide your child’s behavior in a positive way. For example, ‘Please shut the gate’ is better than ‘Don’t leave the gate open’.
10. Give children responsibility – and consequences
As your child gets older, you can give her more responsibility for her own behavior. You can also give her the chance to experience the natural consequences of that behavior. You don’t have to be the bad guy all the time. For example, if it’s your child’s responsibility to pack for a sleepover and she forgets her favorite pillow, she’ll have to manage without it for the night.
At other times you might need to provide consequences for unacceptable or dangerous behavior. For these times, it’s best to ensure that you’ve explained the consequences and that your child has agreed to them in advance.
11. Say it once and move on
If you tell your child what to do – or what not to do – too often, he might end up just tuning out. If you want to give him one last chance to cooperate, remind him of the consequences for not cooperating. Then start counting to three.
12. Make your child feel important
Give your child some simple chores or things that she can do to help the family. This will make her feel important. If you can give your child lots of practice doing a chore, she’ll get better at it, feel good about doing it, and want to keep doing it. And if you give her some praise for her behavior and effort, it’ll help to build her self-esteem.
13. Prepare for challenging situations
There are times when looking after your child and doing things you need to do will be tricky. If you think about these challenging situations in advance, you can plan around your child’s needs. Give him a five-minute warning before you need him to change activities. Talk to him about why you need his cooperation. Then he’s prepared for what you expect.
14. Maintain a sense of humor
It often helps to keep daily life with children light. You can do this by using songs, humor and fun. For example, you can pretend to be the menacing tickle monster who needs the toys picked up off the floor. Humor that has you both laughing is great, but humor at your child’s expense won’t help. Young children are easily hurt by parental ‘teasing’.
Teach time management by using timers.
Set expectations and give rewards for good behavior.
Give the child a sense of control with choices.
Redirect bad behavior by changing their focus.
When dealing with any child, it is important to keep a leveled head and to be patient. Caring for an autistic child may present several obstacles but the same rules apply. Here are four easy-to-implement behavior strategies for children with autism.
1. Time Management
Children with autism may have a difficult time with understanding how long it takes to complete an activity. An example of this would be allowing ten minutes for playtime until the next activity begins. If the child is unaware of exactly how much time they have left, playtime may end quite abruptly and cause them to react negatively. Using a sand timer or a visual clock timer will help you to easily communicate how much time is left for playing.
2. Reward Good Behavior
Behavioral expectations must be made clear to the child. It is also important to inform the child if they have done well. It is the caregiver’s responsibility to follow through with any promises that are made. If the caregiver promises to give the child extra play time or some kind of treat for behaving while in the grocery store, the caregiver must be consistent with whatever they commit to. If no bargains are made with the child, be sure to thank them for behaving well and letting them know that you are proud of their good behavior.
3. Let Them Choose
It is important for the child to have a sense of control. By giving the child simple choices to make, it allows them to feel included and empowered. Be sure to give very specific choices as children with autism may be overwhelmed by too many options. Asking them if they’d prefer orange juice over grape juice or if they’d like to play a game over watching a movie. If the child has difficulties with language, be sure to have visuals of the options so that they can select them by themselves.
4. Distract Bad Behavior
If the child is behaving poorly, telling them to stop wouldn’t be the most effective solution. Showing them how to properly behave and making it a competition would be more effective. If the child is running around in a mall or grocery store, get their attention and show them how to walk properly and offer a reward if they can maintain that good behavior. Giving them a goal to meet will give them more incentive to behave properly rather than simply being told to stop doing whatever they’re doing.
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