Monday, October 26, 2009

How do you teach or modify the behavior of a child to whom consequences have little or no meaning?

Well, this is a tough one but the answer really doesn't vary much by the age. However the consequences vary greatly by the age. The place to start is with "building meaning" Have you ever taken a puppy for a walk using one of those retractable leashes? The more line is given out the more the dog thinks he/she is in control and the wider he/she roams. When parenting there are two basic approaches. Give more leash and then reel in as necessary or keep a tighter leash and lighten up when possible. What parents need to do is know their child and what will work best. Of course always having to hold the leash and keeping it short takes a lot of time and effort but it really is the only way that children learn about consequences.

Now if the child is older and you try to impose greater restrictions then they will fight it more so it is best to start when they are younger and you can see which methods are likely to be needed whith which child. keep in mind that what is equal isn't fair and what is fair might not be equal. Sit children down and let them see the big picture. Help them to chart the course but then you be the one on the wheel and let them take turns learning the controls. As children get into their teens they begin to recognize some of their own problem areas so it is good to have them identify for you what they want to work on and how you can help them.

Keep in mind that the child with the biggest problems is still just a kid first and someone struggling with coping second and not the other way around.


  1. I like this, but it sounds so theoretical... could you provide some examples of working with young children. How can I be sure I'm "keeping control of the wheel" while letting them have a turn at the controls? This is what we try to do, but I'm not sure we're succeeding.

  2. It is easier for me to take an actual situation and show you how to adapt it using this idea. However using something as simple as expected behavior at church as the example. Which of the following is the method that is used by most parents:
    a. The parent with the three year old brings toys, snack foods, and books to church and sits in the middle in the back of the chapel. Outcome - the child can't see the person talking, he or she rarely sits on the chair/pew and spends 90%+ of the time on the floor, the child sees church as playtime at church on the floor and they are isolated from what is happening. If he gets too loud he will not understand what the problem is because from his point of view there is nothing different from other settings.
    b. The family sits on the side of the chapel so the child is faced with a wall on one side and the parent blocking the aisle. This works great for single parents.
    c. The family sits close enough so the child can see the piano, the speakers, and the music leader. The child from the time they are old enough to sit up is expected to sit with the parent, next to or on a lap while prayers are said. During music the parent engages the child by holding them or directing them so they can see the stand. Books, food, toys do not come out until after the sacrament is passed and then the child gets only what the parent gives out and if the child is finished with something it goes back into the bag. Unfortunately what happens is the child had a backback and they empty it at once and they lose interest in everything is a very short period of time.

  3. Profound...I like your examples. I think it is CRITICAL that church/Sacrament meeting not be the bad place where usually-busy children have to be contained. It should be an interesting place with quiet activities. The larger your family grows, the more walking, climbing over, sitting on, laps/bodies were available for our busy children. (no names!) We did the no treats, books, etc until after the Sacrament. Worked for us! (Jane)

  4. Interesting choice of example... this has been on my mind A LOT lately! Even in your examples, though there isn't an "easy" way to deal with it. Church is hard for kids. I've found it very important for me to identify to them what my expectations are. I expect them to sit with their bottoms on the seat. I expect them to whisper if they need to talk. Those are about the only major expectations we're working on. Snacks are out of the questions with my rowdy bunch, but books and The Friend come in handy! I can let them know what I expect, but I still can't "control" the volume of their voice. I can offer consequences, but I'm still trying to figure out which consequences work best for each child... they're all so DIFFERENT!