Step 1: Specify Your Expectations to Your Child (continued)
Write Well-worded Success Statements (continued)
Deal with Potential Complications (continued)
Assure a constructive interaction
Once you have conveyed this message, avoid further discussion. If your child continues to fuss, as many will, there are several ways you can terminate the interaction:
1. Leave the room yourself.
Some children will follow parents anywhere they go to keep the argument going but for others leaving the room can be quite effective in ending a heated interchange between parent and child.
2. Remove the child from where you are.
Sending or taking a child to an area away from you can also be effective if this can be managed constructively.
But what if your child continues to argue with you and circumstance make it impractical for you to either move away from your child or move the child away from you?
3. “Tune out” the child until the fussing stops.
Stop for a moment as you read this and notice all that is going on in your immediate environment. What do you hear? What do you smell? What does it feel like to sit as you are? How much had you noticed these things before? To pay attention to your reading, you had to ignore everything except this page, e.g., television sights and sounds, barking dogs, honking horns, and fussing children.
Your capacity to tune out fussing and other annoying behaviors provides the basis for a simple but effective technique to disengage when your child continues to argue or whine after you have explained your decision. The technique provides a means of carefully controlling your response to the child even in the face of persistent fussing.
To get a feel for how it can work, imagine transforming yourself into a robot, with all your own characteristics but without feeling annoyed about your child’s inappropriate behavior. Without that emotion, there would be no reason to react to your child’s fussing. As a robot, you would be free to go about whatever you have to do without interacting with the child.
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Conscience is less an inner voice than the memory of a mother’s glance.
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To be effective, “tuning out” your child must be done calmly and continued long enough for the child to recognize that there is nothing to gain by persisting and that it is better just to go on to more interesting things. If the fussing continues and finally you react, your reaction will reinforce the persistence, and you can expect your child to fuss even longer the next time.
A woman with two very young children and a baby reported that her children seemed constantly to be clamoring at her knees, particularly while she hurried to prepare dinner. She felt she could not remove the children from her nor could she leave them in the kitchen. Taught that she could tune out the fussing, she reported she was able to withhold her reaction and soon her children drifted off to other activities, freeing her to complete her work. As a bonus, she found her efficiency in the kitchen increased enough to give her more time to attend directly to the children.
Some children will react to being tuned out rather sharply and may even insist their parents don’t love them. It is important not to get pulled into such comments because doing so will prolong the confrontation with no positive outcome. Tuning out, when done calmly and impassively, is not about rejecting your child, but rather is a means to convey by your actions – which indeed do speak louder than words – that the interaction is over, far more loving than participating in a never-ending argument with your child.
One additional note: children, particularly very young ones, watch faces to see how others are reacting, even running completely around a parent turning away from them. You can use that observation to enhance the effect of tuning out your child by simply turning your face away. If circumstances prevent you from doing that, at least keep your face blank – or robot-like.
It is also important to reinforce the desired behavior, the second component of our overall strategy. A few minutes after things have calmed down, go to your child and reestablish contact. However tempted you may be to do so, this is not a time to lecture about cooperation or to otherwise comment on the previous interaction. Rather it is a time to show the child that your love and concern remain strong even though you did not give in to the haggling. The contact at this point should be warm and should demonstrate that the previous hassles are over. A brief comment about something the child is doing, a pat on the head, or any other simple and warm gesture will be enough.
The goal of all this is to teach your child to focus on successfully completing the assigned task rather than on attempts to manipulate you. In the process it also teaches the child how good it can feel to complete tasks responsibly while at the same time reducing the fear of being too much in control of adults.
One word of caution: do not attempt to use this approach unless you are confident that you will be able to persist and stick with your decision to withhold responding to the child. If the child succeeds in wearing you down and can keep the haggling going, the lesson learned is likely to be: If a little fussing is not enough, then more might work. Over time such interactions will lead to major family conflict.
To summarize, well-constructed target behaviors use the format “ , you are successful when. . .” and include realistically reachable expectations which are put in positive terms with the criteria of success clearly defined.