So many of the adults we see at Community Neuropsychology are faced with parenting concerns, so we asked Dr. Cassie Green, one of our pediatric colleagues across the street at Kirk Neurobehavioral Health, to contribute this week’s guest blog. For more about Cassie Green, Psy.D., go to http://kirknbh.com/aboutcassie.html.
As a pediatric neuropsychologist, my primary job is to assess the thinking skills, emotional functioning, and behavior of children and adolescents. As a part of this process, I often find that parents are seeking advice about how to manage difficult behaviors at home, whether that be reducing oppositional behaviors, managing tension in the parent-child relationship related to academic work, or helping to maximize attention and focus. Parenting is a challenging and complex job, and it might feel like you’ve tried everything you can and nothing works. There are a number of behavioral strategies and tips that research has shown are generally beneficial and useful to implement.
Here are some tips to consider as a starting point:
- Consistency is key. Expectations should remain the same (or as close as possible) across time, caregivers, households, or school/home.
- Keep requests brief and specific. Children and adolescents need to clearly understand what is expected of them, and even if it seems like a child “should know” the rules, many times our requests as adults can be broad and unclear. Instead of instructing your child to “Behave in the store,” more effective commands would be to let your child know he/she should stay beside you, keep his/her hands to himself, speak using an inside voice, etc.
- Follow through on stated consequences and rewards. If you promise a positive activity for completing a particular task, not giving the reward can decrease compliance in the future. On the other hand, if you informed your child that you will be removing electronics in the event of an undesired behavior and do not do so, your child may anticipate that your requests are negotiable down the road.
- Deliver instruction in an emotionally neutral manner for selected inappropriate behaviors. This can be particularly hard to do in practice, especially if you are feeling angry, overwhelmed, or frustrated! Remember to take care of yourself and your feelings/coping as a priority – this is something parents usually let fall by the wayside in the busyness of daily life.
- Target specific positive behaviors to be increased through the use of rewards. Rewarding positive behaviors (even just with praise and acknowledgement) always improves general behavior more effectively than relying on punishments. You want to catch your child being good and let them know that you see and appreciate that.
- Spend uninterrupted quality time with your child with your full attention, even if only for a brief period of time and if behavior has been difficult for the day. This sends the message that you love your child and value your time together, while it is simply specific behaviors that are undesirable.
Every child and parent is different, and not all techniques work equally the same for everyone. It is often helpful to consult with a psychologist who is well-versed in working with children and adolescents to “fine tune” these strategies, troubleshoot road blocks, and adjust rewards and consequences over time. It is important to note that when you commit to trying a new behavior plan, many times you will see an initial increase in undesirable behaviors. This is normal, as a child may be getting used to the different structure and will test the limits to see if you will really follow through with this new approach. Lastly, have patience with yourself – you are doing tough work and the best you can! Many of these skills take practice to ultimately find the best fit for your family.
— Cassie Green, Psy.D.