Thursday, May 19, 2016

The Wrong Idea

Today I would like to help you get rid of one idea, an idea that causes many problems. It is an assumption called “The little grown up”:  The idea is that kids are adults in small containers: they know the difference between what is right and what is wrong, they know how to control themselves, they are selfish and are motivated to follow directions. If your son is bothering her sister, you just need to explain him why it is not OK to bother others and your son will respond by saying “I never thought it that way. Thank you mommy, I’ll never bother my sister again.” Or “Yes, mommy, I’ll clean my room right away.”
No, kids do not respond that way. Somebody once wrote “Childhood is a temporary phase of psychosis.” It is our job as parents and teachers to turn them into reasonable people.  
If you believe in the idea of “little adults” it is very likely that more often than not you get into the “talk-convince-argue-yell” mode. You start talking to your non-compliant child. When that doesn’t work, you attempt to convince her. When that doesn’t work, you start arguing, which easily leads to yelling. When “adult reasoning” doesn’t work, you become frustrated and even angry. You feel that your child woke up that morning determined to make your day miserable.
So here is my suggestion: rather than thinking that your kids are “little adults” think you are a “child trainer, and educator.” Your job is to teach behaviors. And the same way you don’t get frustrated when your child says that 7 + 4 is 10, and instead you go on to explaining and teaching, when your daughter throws a tantrum in the supermarket you have to patiently leave the cart full of groceries aside, escort her outside of the store, help her calm down, and tell her that she’ll get an ice-cream if she helps you with groceries. You are a teacher who has a topic to teach, has a methodology of teaching and will repeat the lesson as many times as needed until the students learn. And if there is a student who has a harder time than others, will seat with him and teach him one-on-one. That’s a good teacher.
In this blogs I share with you methods and tolls to become a great teacher. Let’s cover today two main mistakes parents make when disciplining their kids:
1.      Talking too much
2.      Getting too emotional
In my 20 plus years working with parents I met devoted and patient ones that share two traits: they don’t give long speeches and they are emotionally detached when disciplining their kids. I mentioned above the “talk-convince-argue-yell” mode, which happens when you talk too much. Let’s see the getting too emotional mistake: Kids want to have control over a world that seems to be controlled by adults. And sometimes making you upset is the only way to achieve control, in their perception. Therefore, by getting upset, you are reinforcing the undesired behavior. I asked once a child I worked with why he seemed to enjoy making her mom mad. And his answer was “Because she makes funny faces.”
Talk less, do more. And always, no matter how frustrated you are, poker face. I hope this is helpful.

Daniel Adatto, BCBA

Monday, May 2, 2016

Practical Applications of ABA

In previous blogs I talked about some of the applications of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) and its use with autism. But I also tried to emphasize that ABA is not synonymous with treatment for autism. In fact, ABA can be applied to any situation where a behavior change is desired. And of course, the principles and strategies can be applied in every day parenting. Picky eating is a great example of this.  The same systematic techniques combined with positive reinforcement used to teach any skill can be used to address picky eating. If your child has a severe aversion to a certain food item, start with baby steps by breaking down each task into very small reachable components. For example, you can start by just having the undesired food on the table. Get the child used to having it there next to his other food and seeing other people eat it. Once he accepts the food on the table, you can move on to having him smell it, bringing it closer to his mouth. Remember that every successful step needs to be rewarded with, for example, a bite of a preferred food it (i.e. “First you smell the broccoli, then you can have Gold Fish.”).

Possible next steps can be to have the child lick the broccoli, getting him used to the taste. After that, move on to taking a bite. He may not even chew or swallow the food, just take a bite and spit it out. Remember, we are breaking this down into tiny achievable steps. After the child agrees to take a bite, you can move on to swallowing and so on and so forth until the child agrees to eat the broccoli.

The same principles and strategies can be implemented with problems such as brushing teeth, sleep in own bed, toilet training, etc.  

These baby steps may not be necessary with a typically developing child. Most of the smaller steps can be bypassed and the idea is simply to convey to the child that he at least needs to try the food before saying he doesn’t like it. If the child tries and does not like it, he can have a reward of something else to eat, then slowly move up towards eating more than one bite of the food the child refuses to eat. Eventually, you will be able to say to your child “you can’t have your dessert until you eat dinner” and the child will get the point.  Most children will usually give in to eating something over going hungry.

Always keep in mind that some food aversions can be related to allergies and should be checked with a doctor. Also, even adults have food preferences so if your child really does not like a certain vegetable there is no reason to ever force a food on a child. Be realistic with your expectations and relax.

Good parenting almost always involves offering choices and a loving approach that focuses on “the good” rather than “the bad”.

Love is the most powerful tool of discipline.   

Daniel Adatto, BCBA