So, last Friday we started our first "Parenting Intervention" with one of the children. Specifically, Christopher, aka Kit (mainly because that's a boatload easier to type, write and text). So our little moose, Christopher/Kit, is a very sensitive boy. And he experiences pretty big feelings: high highs and lowwwww lows.
And when he gets angry (frequently because I tell him no, he can't have a homemade yogurt "milkshake" and instead he can have a banana), he turns into a holy terror. He screams, he hits, he spits, he bites, he says he hates us, he says we hate him, he goes right up to but does not cross the line of destroying important toys/plates/knick knacks.
We have been using time outs as punishment. And really, it's also been a strategy for him to get ahold of himself when he is truly losing it. Here's the thing though: as the time outs become more frequent and longer, at some point you have to note that the behavior is not changing. Our parenting strategy is not working. ((And for spanking/hitting advocates, the results would likely be the same with just more anger on his part and then more force on ours. Not a road we're going to travel down))
So I wish we had been the ones to recognize that more times outs, longer timeouts, or more/longer/extreme timeouts (or any punishment) without a change in behavior means that the parenting strategy is becoming less effective. But we did not. Instead this was an observation in the first chapter of our new parenting guru, Dr. Alan Kazdin, developmental psychologist, Yale professor, and author of The Kazdin method for Parenting the Defiant Child.
I have to be honest with you. While I appreciate pediatrician's parenting advice, as a psychologist, I sometimes think they should stay in their own lane. So when I find a psychologist who offers applied advice based on 30 years of published, peer reviewed research, who was also APA president (less impressive to me, but there it is), I'm going to listen.
Also, WHOOPSIE DAISY!!! Although I spend a good portion of my reinforcement theory lectures talking about how punishment only stops a behavior and only positive reinforcement CHANGES a behavior...I FORGOT!!! Yeah, we professors do that sometimes.
So, what have we been doing? We have focused on the Positive Opposite of the tantrums ("To ask nicely and to remain calm no matter the answer"). We have ENTHUSIASTICALLY!!!!!!!!! praised every positive practice and every actual "asking" episode. We have immediately given check marks on his scorecard. We have provided goodies and rewards for both low level points (one good episode and he gets to go to the regular goody bag) and higher level accumulated points (2 1/2 days of good episodes and delaying reward lets him go to the BIG goody bag). We have provided goodies for the other kids to get when he does well, which allows him to be the family hero.
In 5 days, he's moved from frequent goat to frequent goody. He still gets mad and he's still making poor choices. But he is SO MUCH BETTER. When he gets ready to lose it, he can handle himself a little better. When he loses a point or I tell him he only gets to earn 2 points instead of 4 for the day, he agrees with it.
We're only 1 week into this and it apparently takes about 2 months to get the new behavior to become a habit and phase out the rewards, but we are really happy. It's truly a family intervention. We are all trying hard to help Kit do well. And he loves the attention he is getting for doing well. Positive reinforcement is SO MUCH MORE POWERFUL than punishment.
It's exciting to see this in action. And it's exciting that this is based on both strong theory and a great deal of good research. This is one of those blog posts I hope can help others make effective changes in their child's behavior. Leave a message or email if you have more questions. We'll be updating more about this as we go through the 8 weeks of intervention.