Friday, April 24, 2015

Week #3 on Parental Reboot

So we've gone through three weeks of our Kazdin's Positive Parenting Reboot to keep Christopher from throwing a tantrum.  We have learned a couple of important lessons thus far.

1)  We're not done yet.  We've made significant progress.  In fact, I would have been shocked three weeks ago how much better things are now than they were then. But we're still dealing with a hair trigger temper and a quick devolution to 5 year old hell.

2) OH MY GOSH.  If there any indication that positive parenting works and punishment focused parenting does not, it was our own N=1 design last Friday. For some reason, Christopher started off on the wrong foot stealing Bridget's bagel at breakfast.  I told him he would only have one opportunity to earn points that day instead of two.  He screeched and screamed and I took the second opportunity away too.  ((This is a good example of how I had been parenting before))  I realized I had just experienced a brain fart and gave him one opportunity back.  That afternoon, he demanded two opportunities and I said No.  That night, he got mad at us and would only sleep on the ottoman at the end of the bed.  I should have ignored him ((MORE LATER ON THIS)) and instead I tried to engage him.  He gently (but  it still happened) slapped me on the face.  I grabbed his arm and forcefully told him not to ever do that again.  He screamed that I could never be a mother with that tone of voice.  He then became hysterical, screaming and kicking and throwing and sobbing.


I'm giving you that example to show What Not To Do and What We Have Been Dealing with.

He and Dave went to bed elsewhere and I slept with Conor and Bridget.  About an hour later, I couldn't stand it and switched places with Dave.  ((It's a commune around here on weekends))  In the middle of the night, Christopher and I woke up and kissed and made up.  In the morning, he told me that he had been very, very sad the night before.  I had re-read Kardin's book and realized that my approach to take away his opportunity to be good was probably not going to win me mother of the year.  Not doing that again.

3.  Who the heck knew IGNORING was so freaking effective?!?!?!?!?!  He was doing his "No, I'm Not!!!" where he basically refuses to do anything we ask the other night.  So we all left the room.  He was refusing to go to bed and Bridget, Conor, and I just left.  Dave came in about 15 minutes later and told him it was time to brush his teeth and go to bed, and he hopped up and did it.  I SHIT YOU NOT!!!    Right?????  Afterwards, Dave and I just looked at each other and went, "How positively reinforcing is THAT?!"  For us, yes!!  Ignoring is a good thing.  Christopher told me "No, I'm Not!!!" the other day and then immediately backed down.  I will freaking take it.

4.  Three weeks in, we're already starting to taper out the points and rewards system.  He received his fancy new Lego set for being good for 2 1/2 weeks and earning enough points.  Since then, we've run out of treats for the goody bag and we're just sort of doing the practice and points as we need to.  I need to read up what is next.  I don't know, but he's not All Done yet.

So, yeah.  Big steps forward here.  We haven't changed any underlying cognitive processes here. I am suspecting that Christopher is extremely sensitive and instead of directing his pain inward, he directs it outward. I think it means that for most of our parenting, we're going to have to focus on helping him do right instead of punishing him for doing wrong.  That doesn't mean punishments are out.  But it means focusing more on rewarding what we want to do than relying on threats of punishments to stop what we don't  like.

I'd love to hear how you all are doing on your parenting challenges.

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Parenting Intervention(s)

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.