Tag Archives: children

Help Children Deal with Frustration and Become more Persistent

Carolyn Webster-Stratton from the University of Washington has developed an incredible evidence based approach designed to “promote children’s social competence, emotional regulation and problem solving skills and reduce their behavior problems.” This approach is titled “The Incredible Years.” More information is at the website:  http://www.incredibleyears.com/About/about.asp

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Below is a short excerpt from our “How to Talk so Parents will Listen” book that focuses on one small dimension of Dr. Webster-Stratton’s program. Our book is at: http://www.amazon.com/How-Listen-Parents-Will-Talk/dp/1118012968/ref=sr_1_5?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1342904983&sr=1-5&keywords=how+to+listen+so+parents+will+talk+and+talk+so+parents+will+listen

Persistence Coaching

A part of the “Incredible Years” parent training curriculum includes a unit on what Webster-Stratton (2007) refers to as persistence coaching. Persistence coaching is especially designed for children with attention difficulties and provides an excellent example of intense and passionate social reinforcement. Webster-Stratton (2007) describes the procedure:

During persistence coaching, the parent is commenting on the child’s attention to the task. A parent might say to his child who is working with blocks, “You are really concentrating on building that tower; you are really staying patient; you are trying again and are really focusing on getting it as high as you can; you are staying so calm; you are focused; there, you did it all by yourself.” With this persistence coaching, the child begins to be aware of his internal state when he or she is calm, focused, and persisting with an activity. (pp. 317–318; italics in original)

This example by Webster-Stratton not only illustrates focused and passionate attention as a behavioral reinforcer, it also includes components of mirroring, solution-focused strategies, and character feedback. After getting intensive attention and specific feedback for persisting on a tower-building task, children are more likely to overcome negative beliefs about themselves and to begin seeing themselves as persistent and capable.

Some parents will say their child hates positive comments and prematurely conclude that these approaches are destined to backfire and be ineffective, perhaps even detrimental. This will be most likely when children display oppositional tendencies and/or have very negative internal beliefs about themselves. As if it were constantly Opposite Day, it will seem to parents as if praise is punishment and punishment is praise when they’re trying to work with their children. Webster-Stratton (2007) comments on this phenomenon:

Children with conduct problems usually get less praise and encouragement from adults than other children. When they do get praise, they are likely to reject it because of their oppositional responses. For some children, this oppositional response to praise and encouragement is actually a bid to get more attention and to keep the adult focusing on them longer. Parents can help these children by giving the praise frequently and then ignoring the protests that follow. Over time with consistent encouragement, the children will become more comfortable with this positive view of themselves. (p. 312) 

Our general policy is to closely watch for backward behavior modification and to counter it by teaching parents how to pay attention to positive behavior, ignore negative behavior, and administer passionate and surprise rewards and boring consequences. We’re sometimes surprised (and rewarded) by how quickly parents see that they’re inadvertently and destructively celebrating Opposite Day, when a regular day would suffice. (See Parent Homework Assignment 9-1.)

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Parenting Advice: Don’t Say it More than Three Times

A Visit to the Mall

Here’s what a parent of a 5-year-old and a 2-year-old explained when she came in for a consultation:

Parent: My friend invited me and my two kids to meet her and her two-year-old at Bellevue Square for dinner and shopping. I knew better. This friend makes me feel insecure. We met for dinner at this nice café and there’s nothing there my kids will eat. After a while, they start running around the café. I settle them down and we walk around to shop and my five-year-old son is running way ahead and I keep trying to get him to get back with us and he won’t listen. We eventually get to a pet store and my two-year-old is climbing on stuff and my five-year-old is knocking on the pet-cage glass right where it says “Don’t knock on the glass” and he won’t stop. Finally, I drag them both to a bench and make them sit there and I yell at them and they start crying and I’m humiliated and have to carry them both outside to the car and yell at them some more. I was one of those parents you see who has out-of-control children and then goes berserk.

Consultant: So, eventually your kids started listening to you? [Focusing on how the negative behavior sequence finally stops can be revealing.]

Parent: Yes. Because they knew it was over.

Consultant: When you tell that story it reminds me of how kids can sometimes almost read our minds and know when something is really important to us and know when they can take advantage of us by not listening. But then when we somehow make it clear that the fun and games are over, suddenly they get it and cooperate.

Parent: I felt so uncomfortable with my friend and her potty-trained little girl and I couldn’t even come close to controlling my kids. And later that night, when I was talking about it to my 5-year-old, I apologized for yelling and losing my mind and I asked him why he didn’t listen to me and he said, “I listened, I just didn’t do what you said.” I couldn’t believe it!

Consultant: That’s amazing. So, he really did know what was going on.

Parent: He did and he still didn’t cooperate.

Consultant: Can I share some ideas with you?

Parent: Yes. I’d love some ideas!

Consultant: We used to have a parent educator here who taught a class called, “They only listen when I yell . . . and other parenting myths.” The point of the class was exactly what you’ve been talking about. It’s not that our kids only pay attention when we yell, it’s that they only comply when they know we’re completely serious. Tell me, how many times did you have to ask your five-year-old to cooperate before he finally did?

Parent: It had to be twenty times. I was trying to get him to sit down at the café, to come back to us when we were shopping, to stop knocking on the glass at the pet shop, and he would sometimes partly respond and sometimes not at all, until the end, when he sat on the bench and started crying.

Consultant: Here’s what I’m thinking. You already said you set yourself up with this dinner with this friend and her practically perfect two-year-old. I’ll bet somewhere inside you were really wanting to avoid a confrontation with your kids and the embarrassment that goes with it. And they sensed you were a little bit afraid to confront them and afraid to give out firm consequences and so they just chose not to listen or cooperate.

Parent: I know. I know. I don’t even take my two-year-old grocery shopping any more because it’s too much. And obviously they knew I didn’t really want to follow through with any consequences. But what can I do?

Consultant: I have two ideas and the first one will sound really weird.

Parent: Just tell me.

Consultant: This is crazy, but you need to start looking forward to when your children have tantrums or misbehave.

Parent: That is weird.

Consultant: I know, but unless you look forward to it, with confidence that you can handle whatever they do, they’ll sense your dread and fear and they’ll be the ones who are confident they can do whatever they want—like run ahead in the mall and knock on the pet store glass cages—because they sense you’re afraid to stop them.

Parent: Okay. I get it. But I don’t know how I can look forward to a meltdown in the mall.

Consultant: And that’s exactly why we need to develop a nice and clear and practical plan for the next time this sort of thing happens. You need a very simple plan for limit-setting with your children. Because if you have to ask them to cooperate twenty times, they know they don’t have to pay any attention or respect to you—until the twentieth time when you’re yelling and screaming. The plan should have one or two warnings and then a small consequence. For example, in the mall situation, it might have been embarrassing, but the first time your kids didn’t respond to your requests to sit down or walk with you, you could have given a clear warning, something like, “Okay, if you don’t walk with me, then we’ll go outside and spend some time on the bench until you’re ready to come back in.” Then, the second time one of them didn’t cooperate, you’d calmly collect them and take a brief timeout on the bench or in your car. Then, if it happened a third time, you could turn to your friend and say, “I’m sorry, but it looks like my kids aren’t cooperating right now and so I need to take them home.” I know that might have felt embarrassing and awkward, but it would communicate very clearly to your children that you are a serious mom who’s confident in her limits and decisions.

Parent: It wouldn’t have been half as embarrassing as the way things turned out.

In this case, we developed a very simple limit-setting system. It involved three steps:

1.  The first time the children misbehave, give a clear warning.

2.  The second time the children misbehave, take them into a brief and boring timeout from the fun.

3.  The third time the children misbehave, the fun activity ends.

In addition to these three steps, we discussed managing the children’s physical needs by checking if they were hungry, tired, sick, or hurting and planning in advance for outings. We also discussed how she could review with her children, in advance of the outing, exactly what she expected and exactly what would happen (brief public timeout, followed by a disappointing trip back home) if misbehavior occurred. Finally, we suggested that she set up some practice outings where she could quickly and effectively implement the consequences without the pressure of a friend looking on. The purpose of these outings was to practice the plan and demonstrate to her children exactly what would happen if and when public misbehavior occurred.

Overall, this procedure is consistent with what we know from the science of behavioral psychology. As Kazdin (2008) states: “Here’s a rough rule of thumb to go by: if you say it twice (the initial instruction plus one reminder), that’s reminding; if you say it three or more times, you’re nagging and nagging can undermine [your credibility and power]” (p. 172). In addition to Kazdin’s good advice, we like to emphasize to parents that most children are amazingly intuitive—like dogs, they can sense their parents’ fear.

A Guide to Limit-Setting with Your Kids: Montana Parenting Homework Part 3:

A Practical Guide to Setting Limits

This guide is adapted from: How to Listen so Parents will Talk and Talk so Parents will Listen (Wiley, 2011)

Unfortunately, children are not born knowing how to deal with frustration, anger, and disappointment. This means it’s our job to teach them how to deal with these difficult and sometimes unpleasant emotions.

One way to teach your child about how to handle frustration and other difficult emotions is through limit-setting. If you let your child do whatever she wants anytime she wants to, she’ll have trouble learning how to cope with frustration. This can happen if you always give your children whatever they want.

Many parents mistakenly think that when they set limits, they need to be mean or especially tough. Don’t make that mistake. Good limit-setters are firm, but kind and compassionate. Try to be the kind of boss you’d like to have yourself.

An effective limit-setting strategy includes the following:

1. Set a clear limit or clear expectation.

2. If your child appears upset or resistant, show empathy for your child’s frustration, disappointment, or anger.

3. Repeat the limit in clear language (you could also have your child repeat the limit or plan back to you).

4. Give your child a reasonable choice or timeline (this is especially important with strong-willed children; see the following for examples).

5. Show more empathy by joining in with your child’s unhappiness (this might include telling a story, if there’s time).

6. Enforce the limit on time and with a logical consequence.

7. Stay positive and encouraging.

A Limit-Setting Example

1. Set a clear limit: “Dinner will be ready in five minutes, so it’s time to turn off your computer game.”

2. Show empathy by using feeling words: “I know it’s hard to stop doing something fun and you’re feeling very upset.”

3. Repeat the limit: “But you know it’s time to stop playing computer games.”

4. Give a choice and a timeline: “Either you can stop playing in the next two minutes, or I’ll unplug the computer.”

5. Show more empathy by joining in with your child’s unhappiness: “I hate it when I have to stop doing something I love.”

6. Enforce the limit on time and with a logical consequence. (Say what you’ll do and then do what you said: If you said it will be two minutes, wait two minutes and enforce the limit; don’t wait three minutes or one minute).

7. Stay positive and encouraging: “Even though I had to turn off your computer in the middle of your game tonight, I’m sure you’ll be able to plan for this and turn it off yourself tomorrow.”

Remember, although it’s your job to teach your child how to become more responsible and how to cope with the frustrations of life, you won’t be able to do this perfectly; no one does this perfectly. Just keep the principles in this homework assignment in mind and practice them when you can.

[The book can be found at: http://www.amazon.com/How-Listen-Parents-Will-Talk/dp/1118012968/ref=sr_1_9?ie=UTF8&qid=1341756323&sr=8-9&keywords=How+to+Listen+so+parents+will%5DImage