Three Steps to Develop a Custom-Made Home Program
A program of constructive discipline is built on three steps, (1) specifying your expectations to your child, (2) making it good for your child to do as you expect, and (3) building your program into your family life.
Step 1: Specify Your Expectations to Your Child
In order for your child to learn to behave responsibly, your expectations must be very clear. If you sometimes say things differently from what you say other times, or if sometimes you insist on compliance and sometimes you don’t, your children may really simply not understand. Or they may forget or confuse one set of rules with another. Remove all such confusion to assure consistent follow-through and compliance. Both require very clear statements about your expectations.
It is useful to separate your effort to establish your expectations for your child into two parts. First, carefully think about what changes you would like to achieve in your child’s behavior. Second, write down exactly what you expect in terms that will assure compliance.
Identify Behaviors of Concern
To clarify your own expectations, start by considering what about your child’s behavior concerns or bothers you. Parents report concerns about all sorts of behaviors; for example, children whining to get their way, fighting with siblings, leaving messes wherever they play, or failing to complete household chores or homework assignments.
Next, think about whether you have noticed any behaviors that don’t seem to work well for your child or that may interfere with your child’s own comfort or happiness. Since this means trying to see the world as the child does, this may require a bit more thought and even conscious observations over a few days to be sure you fully tune in to the child. Examples could include children with no friends because of bossiness or excessive shyness or children who seem to be angry and argumentative all of the time.
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We worry about what a child will become tomorrow, yet we forget that he is someone today.
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Also consider behavior that doesn’t cause anyone else any obvious distress but which may interfere with your child’s maturation in important areas. Examples could include children spending a lot of time on homework because of difficulty staying focused, children spending so much time watching television that they get no exercise, or children obsessively over-eating to the point of health problems. Also consider any other current challenges in your child’s life that you might be able to help with, things such as learning to ride a bike or to dribble a soccer ball.
Finally, once you have thought through your own observations, consider whether your child may experience significant challenges that are unknown to you. Explain the program briefly and then ask your child for suggestions for other behaviors to include.
An eight-year-old girl who was asked by her parents to suggest challenges with which she wanted help wondered if the program could help her make friends. While her parents were astonished because they had always thought she had lots of friends, they recognized her serious wish and found a way to build an item focused on her concerns into the program. The girl did very well on the program, perhaps in part because her parents agreed to help her meet her own need for more friends.
A worksheet to help you with identifying behaviors to focus on in your program appears in Appendix 1, and the top portion appears here for easy reference during this discussion.
Figure 2. Sample of Identifying Target Behaviors form – before school portion
The worksheet is organized by typical parts of the day. Under each, I have listed some of the associated tasks. The sample here displays the time before school, including items such as getting up and getting dressed because parents often identify problems related to these tasks. The space to the right allows you to write in details about your concerns for your child. In the sample you can see a few behaviors that other parents selected to help their child change.
Feel free to ignore or add tasks to best meet your own needs. For example, for the first task, “Getting up,” if your child typically stays in bed until you’ve yelled half a dozen times and you finally have to resort to dynamite, or the child gets up but has pants but no shirt on, you might indicate that on the form. On the other hand, if your child handles the start of the day fine, just skip over that part and go on until you identify an area of some concern.
For each of your concerns, write a brief description next to the specific task, including when it occurs. For example, for “After school: coming home,” one parent wrote, “Often misses bus.” Another wrote, “Forgets his assignments at least twice a week.” Include each behavior as many places as it applies. One parent wrote, “Teases Bridget,” including it before and after school. Use more paper as needed to be sure you have covered all your concerns.
During later review, some parents report progress on some items but express dissatisfaction because what really bothered them wasn’t on the list. To avoid this, the directions to the worksheet in the appendix urge you to be as thorough as you can be in identifying behaviors of concern. This is not to encourage you to suddenly become overly critical of your child. Rather, the idea here is to be sure that you identify all the possible candidates for items to include in your program so that you don’t miss any. To that end, once you have completed going through the worksheet, there is a simple test (noted on the form as well) to determine whether you have thought of everything that you might want to include in your home program. Simply ask yourself this:
If we can help our child make all the changes we’ve written down, will there still be significant problems?
If in response you find something leaping to mind (for example, “Oliver pulls the cat’s tail whenever he doesn’t get his way”) which doesn’t fit the precise format of the worksheet, then find somewhere to add this new issue to the list – perhaps on the back of the page. Then ask yourself the test question again, repeating the cycle until you think of no more concerns. Reaching that point should not be construed as a promise that you will fix every concern you have identified, but rather as assurance that you now can focus your efforts to address those behaviors that matter most to you. When you find yourself saying “Hurrah” (that is, “if we could change everything on the list, then there would be no more problems”), you can feel confident you have completed the list well and that the next steps will be easier and more effective.