Monday, November 26, 2012

The Five Most Common Parenting Mistakes

Making positive behavioral changes can help every parent avoid these common parenting mistakes:
  1. Giving attention to bad behaviors
  2. Ignoring good behavior
  3. Placating the whining or crying request
  4. Saying No when you can say Yes
  5. Using time-out as a punishment
1. We parents devote far too much time attention when our children misbehave. In a child’s mind, negative attention is better than no attention so by eliciting a negative reaction (yelling, punishing etc.); the child has in essence won the battle. By rewarding the bad behavior with attention, you are teaching your child that bad behavior (crying, hitting, non-compliance etc.) is the way to get your attention and you are perpetuating the bad behavior.

2. This brings us to common mistake no. 2. We punish the bad behaviors, but do we take notice of the good ones? Reverse your negative patterns by catching your child doing something good and reward the desired behavior. Is your child playing nicely? Don’t turn away to make a phone call. Commend that behavior first, reward your child with a positive interaction and you will increase good behaviors while reducing the undesired ones.

3. Placate now – pay later. And pay dearly you will! We parents are so irritated by the crying or whining child that we so often give into the request just to make it stop. Children are very clever. They know that this works.  But ask yourself, is the price worth it? By giving into the request, we are teaching the child to cry or whine to get whatever he wants. I can not stress this enough - Never ever give in to a crying, whining or tantrum request! If your child requests something while crying, you must request that he stop crying and ask nicely before you give him whatever he wants. If you are consistent, the crying and whining will decrease over time.

4. We say no 100 times a day and I can almost guarantee that 75% of those NO’s could be YES’s. If we rephrase our response to a more positive alternative and redirect the child instead of just saying no, we can reduce the child’s frustration in being told NO.

·       Instead of saying just NO, what he CAN’T do, tell the child what he CAN do. “Can I have a cookie mom?” Instead of immediately saying no, you can say “Yes, you can have a cookie when you finish your dinner”.

·       Do not forget to give at least two YES’s for each NO. “I want to play outside” Try “It’s too cold right now but we CAN play blocks or dance inside”.             
By the way, when you say “NO” to your child, you are teaching him/her to say
“NO” to you when you place a request on him/her. So, save the NO’s for when it is
necessary. If you child is running to the street or playing with a knife, that’s a NO.

5. A Time-Out should be used to remove a child from an environment where he is being rewarded for a bad behavior, such as getting attention, and place him in an environment where he receives NO reward for the behavior. If you are in the grocery store and your child throws a tantrum, be ready to leave the cart full of groceries and remove your child from that environment where he is getting a lot of attention from you and the rest of the customers, and take him to the car, where you are able to ignore the crying and screaming, thus placing the behavior on extinction: no attention. Be sure that the tantrum is your child’s way to get attention. If your child is over stimulated by the environment, in pain, scared, hungry or tired, do not use time-out, do not ignore the behavior. Your child needs your help.   

Learn how to behave so your child will too.


Daniel Adatto, BCBA

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Social Skills and Autism

Going to the movies, hanging out with friends, chatting on the phone – these are simple rituals most individuals take for granted. For a person with autism, these experiences are few and far between. A lack of social skills and the inability to relate to people, are two seminal characteristics of autism. But the mistake most people make is to assume that someone with autism does not want to have social interactions.  In reality, it isn’t that they don’t want to interact socially, it’s that they can’t.

An inability to anticipate how people think and feel in social situations is a hallmark feature of autism.  Individuals with autism might want to enter a conversation, but they don’t know how. As a child gets older, this can be devastating and cause the individual to further withdraw.

The problem is compounded when children with mild autism are mainstreamed in school with typical developing kids and forced into an environment where they feel different. The same thing happens when attending a birthday party or a family gathering. This often causes families to isolate in order to avoid meltdowns in public.

Therefore, a big chunk of our efforts should be devoted to teaching social skills. Social interaction is a must in a child’s environment since this is a skill they will need throughout life. A child’s struggle with social skills can neither be concealed nor overcompensated by any other skill. Most children learn social skills through imitation but children who have a harder time learning these skills need to be taught. Children who do not develop appropriate social skills will suffer loneliness and isolation. This can create difficulties with communication and result in behavior problems.

To help your child be successful in social situations and learn the social skills fundamental to his or her development, it is necessary to prepare your child for the social situation and prepare the social situation for your child. Here is a list of recommendations that will help children thrive in social situations:

  • Prepare your child before entering a social situation by giving precise instructions and expectations.
  • Make sure the social situation is appropriate for your child.
  • Have a “Plan B” in case things go wrong when planning to attend a social event.
  • Teach your child through role-playing games using dolls and toys, reading stories, singing songs etc.
  • Teach them to share, take turns, and follow rules.
  • Make use of natural situations to teach them: set examples of desired social behaviors in your everyday life; comment on what you see in videos and TV shows.
  • Reward positive social behavior.
  • Use photos and videos to introduce your child to different people.
  • Help build your child’s self-esteem by assigning them leadership roles within the family.
  • Encourage your child to help and take part in daily household chores.
  • Use mistakes as opportunities to teach appropriate social behavior instead of punishing them.
  • Encourage and increase opportunities for successful social experiences and offer praise.
  • Avoid and minimize social failure as much as possible.
And include your child in every family interaction possible, as long as it is child appropriate. Talk about emotions so you child learns the words to express what he is feeling.

It is a battle worth to fight.


Daniel Adatto, BCBA


Friday, November 2, 2012

Behaviors and the Environment

One of the core principles of Applied Behavior Analysis is that behaviors are related to the environment in which they occur. And no, we are not talking about global warming nor are we going to tell you to “go green”. When we talk about the environment, we are referring to (a) the physical setting in which a behavior occurs and (b) the behaviors of the people who interact with the child.

a.     Physical Setting: This means the places where he/she spends the most time, home, school etc.  Lack or abundance of sensory stimuli such as lighting, temperature, noises, clutter, activities, curriculum, demanding routines (or lack thereof) are some examples.

b.     But behaviors are also affected by other factors in the environment such as the people and how they behave. “You change child behaviors by changing the behaviors of the adults who deal with that child. Pure and simple” (Cipani and Schock- 2011)

When attempting to change a behavior, a behaviorist’s first step is to assess environmental factors that trigger behaviors. Something either IS in the environment or IS NOT in the environment, which is causing the occurrence of the behavior.  One example (discussed in a previous blog, “Tantrums in Public”) of this is meltdowns that commonly occur at large retail stores like Target or supermarkets.

Another example is when parents tell us that their child behaves well at school but not at home or vice versa. When analyzing the situation one easily concludes that since the child is capable of handling himself at school, there must be something in the environment or something missing from the environment at home (or vice versa) that is causing the problematic behaviors. 

If you are experiencing problems with your child’s behaviors, take a look at some of the environmental factors that could be contributing to the problem. A few examples include:

-        Lack of structure and consistency, or too demanding routines, which can increase anxiety and/or boredom, some of the top causes of acting out in children.

-        Physical environments that don’t fit the child’s sensory needs (like the one described at Target).

-        Lack of opportunities to release energy appropriately, such as when a child is expected to sit still for too long at the dinner table or restaurant.

-        Unrealistic expectations: too many “No’s” and “Must Do’s”.

-        Lack of following through with instructions, giving in to challenging behaviors.

-        Others’ undesired behaviors that the child imitates.

-        Adults’ stress.  

If parents pay attention to the environmental factors and become aware of the cues that a meltdown is about to occur, it can go a long way in prevention.


Daniel Adatto, Board Certified Behavior Analyst