Troubleshoot Your Program (continued)
Inconsistent or Diminishing Follow-through
The second most likely source of decline of effectiveness is in your own inconsistent or decreasing follow through on the basics of the program. Just as children sometimes fail to follow through, so sometimes do their parents, and it can be an uncomfortable issue to confront by parents who are already burdened with too much to do. The following questions are designed to help you determine what may be contributing to declining performance:
1. Are you remembering to ignore inappropriate behaviors? It is very natural to operate on the “squeaky-wheel principle,” readily attending to intrusive inappropriate behaviors while taking for granted and ignoring ongoing success behaviors. Children treated that way quickly learn the value of “squeaking” to meet their needs. Add the stresses of everyday life and a touch of impatience, and things can pretty rapidly deteriorate. If you have allowed yourself to return to old practices of reacting to your child’s inappropriate behavior, you can expect the program to lose effectiveness. A child who finds it easier to meet important needs by misbehaving will misbehave more. To correct this pattern, work consistently to withhold your attention from inappropriate behavior.
2. Are you remembering to reinforce your child “on the spot” for successful behaviors? Over time it is appropriate to respond less frequently and less flamboyantly to your child’s successes. Still it is important from time to time to praise your child’s successes on the spot. For example, when you see your child returning to the house with a just-emptied trash can, you might say:
Thank you, Juan. It is so good to see you take responsibility for getting the trash out on time. Your good work sure makes things neater and more pleasant for the whole family.
You might toss in a warm hug to further enhance the impact. And, by the way, allowing your child to overhear you praising your child to other adults can have a powerful impact.
3. Are you continuing to meet daily to review the entire program and to show the child your continuing commitment to the program? It is easy for busy parents to let routines slip. Allowing that to happen with the daily review, however, can directly undermine your entire home program. You may find it difficult to meet as planned every single day, and an occasional unavoidable omission need not destroy the program. Still, if you get away with one skip and it encourages you to put it off more and more, you may well find the program begins to lose its potency.
Your child may conclude that hard work and success aren’t really as important as you first indicated and that maybe the child isn’t so important either. Many children, long before starting on a home program, will have learned that one way to be important to parents is to misbehave, and they may resort to that old misbehavior if their constructive actions no longer meet their needs. Solidly building the daily review into your family’s daily routine will help avoid this deterioration. The result could be among the most pleasant minutes of the day for your family.
4. Are you making sure the child is able to trade in earned credits as agreed? Busy parents have to balance a whole lot of demands for their time and attention. Faced with more to do than time will allow, they must choose which things are less critical and can be put off. At a tense time, providing earned rewards to a child might seem less critical, particularly for a child doing well overall. But to a child working hard for a desired reward, delay may seem like a serious breach of contract.
Children will naturally experience any delays beyond those in the contract as unfair. Think how you, as an adult, would feel if your boss were to say on pay day, “We’ve been too busy this week to print your paycheck.” And imagine asking when to expect it and being told “We’ll see. . .” If you have reason to think you have been delaying rewards too long, resolve to make the necessary changes and follow through.
5. Are you getting reinforced for your own efforts to teach your child responsible behavior? The Principle of Positive Reinforcement, the basis for this entire approach, applies to all of us. That means you are much more likely to complete your responsibilities for your child’s program if you are reinforced as well.
I hope your child’s successes are in themselves rewarding to you. Be aware, though, that over time you may take gains for granted and miss the good feelings you deserve. Regular comparisons of your current status with your status when you started may be helpful. You can also find ways to reward yourself – and your parenting partner, if you have one – for successes with the program.
Asking yourself these five questions likely will identify aspects of a sagging program that can be tweaked to revitalize it. If the answer to any of these questions is “no,” rethink your efforts and refocus on how to make the program work. This is a powerful and efficient tool when used appropriately, but, as is true with most things in life that pay dividends, your program requires ongoing attention to the elements that make it that way.