Methods for Changing Behavior
If your child is exhibiting behavior that doesn't fit in with your household rules, you need to learn to redirect and change that behavior. If your child acts out because of fear, anger, or other negative impacts of his earlier disruptions, stop tiptoeing around him, waiting for the next outburst. You should be setting the tone in your home — that's not your child's role. Don't make the mistake of taking responsibility for your child's pain. You can't; you can only redirect your child's behavior and reinforce the fact that he's safe with you.
If your child's behavior begins to spiral out of control, try to disrupt the meltdown before it escalates. This technique requires you to be nearby and aware. Distract him with a gentle touch and comment: “Let's read the Bunny book.” Offer a snack or a drink of water. Say something slightly odd or humorous to get his attention. Use your imagination to shift his attention to something less emotionally laden, activating the use of a different section of his brain where troubling memories and intense emotions aren't stored.
If things have progressed too quickly and are beyond your ability to distract, give a “time in,” where you restrict your son to his mad place, such as a chair in the kitchen while you work nearby, or the family room couch. When your child is calm, help him practice breathing techniques that he can use when he feels anger or fear coming on. Demonstrate that rapid, shallow breathing and tensed muscles will make him more upset, and that he can slow down his breathing and take control of his feelings. Lead him through taking slow, deep breaths and holding them for a count of five; work your way up to ten.
High-structure parenting means that you set boundaries and apply consequences when those boundaries are broken or pushed too far. Your consequences, however, must not be anything that brings up fear of abandonment.
You will be challenged to devise immediate and appropriate consequences for unacceptable behavior, but as you set up the structure, keep in mind the underlying causes of certain behaviors. A child who is afraid will run, bite, kick, and scream. You must help him feel safe before he can let go of his fear and the behavior it prompts.
Next, use logical consequences and “time in” rather than “time out.”Keep your child near you as you show him how to clean up the mess he made or figure out a better way of reacting to a mean remark than kicking somebody. See Chapters 13, 16, and 18 for more information.