By Eric R. Shuey, M.S, BCBA, LBA
As a parent myself I have made many mistakes raising my two daughters. No one is perfect and no one has all the answers. Anyone who tells you they do, are ignorant or oblivious to their surroundings. The fortunate thing is most mistakes we make are small and easily corrected. My education combined with the last twenty years of experience working with children with disabilities has taught and enabled me to see many different parenting strategies. Some strategies work well and others do not.
One of the most significant mistakes we as parents is to not follow through on our directives or statements. To see if you do this, listen to the things you say to your children or ask a significant other or even your child. At times it is difficult to see and take note of your own behavior and words. Sometimes you have to trust others in your life to give you this important feedback. Parents often attempt to give their child the benefit of the doubt, giving them way too many opportunities to comply with the directive. Often directions are repeated over and over and when a child does not follow, generally there are no consequences.
Here is an example to help illustrate this point. A friend of the family was visiting with her preschool age child. She wanted her child to take medication. Of course her child refused. The mother attempted reasoning with the child. As adults we often see our kids as miniature adults. This is, in my own opinion, the second biggest mistake that parents make. After reasoning did not work, this parent used the promise of a reward should she take her medication. Again, this attempt did not work. She then turned to threats of punishment in hopes of getting her to take her medicine. In this case the parent repeatedly told her daughter that if she did not take her medication she would be packing up her clothes and they would head back home. Well as you might think this did not work either.
The reason why this did not work is because of follow-through. This parent had no intention of leaving and it became an empty threat. I’m betting that the child knew her mom was not really going to take her home. The child was not consciously thinking to herself my mom is not going to follow through, but I would have imagined in the past her mother has threatened this and had not followed through. Therefore, she was not worried that she had to leave the house even though she was screaming and throwing a tantrum on the floor. I did offer assistance which was quickly dismissed. I took my leave to another room away from all the commotion where my oldest daughter and I had a little conversation about follow through. I am not exactly sure how the situation ended, but it took about another hour and a half before she took her medication.
The moral of the story is do not threaten things that you are not going to follow through on. The mistake in this situation was the person should have never threatened going home to start. There are many other effective ways to motivate a child to take their medication. Due to the child’s past experience she knew and realized her mother did not mean what she said. So if you are in a store with a child who is having a meltdown and ask the child to stop crying or we’re leaving and the child continues to cry, then you need to leave the store. Often, it helps to think of situations where your child has trouble and use different strategies and statements that are effective that you can follow through on. Many times I have to follow through on these just so the child learns in the future that you mean what you say. Generally, this will not happen after the first attempt and in most cases takes many of these opportunities of follow through before you gain compliance. Children with special needs often take more time than typically developing children in learning this.