Are You Relying On Airwaves To Discipline Your Child?

Parenting- reflective listening

Written by Dr. John Carosso

How do you discipline your child?

Most parents rely on raising their voice, pestering, threatening, loss of privilege, and time-out, in that order (with the last two being used interchangeably). We have to ask ourselves, as parents, is this effective (especially the first two options)? If you’re taking the time to read this post, probably not.

Do the first two options work?

Does raising our voice and pestering work? I think we all know the answer; for neurotypical kids these approaches work only sometimes, but enough to keep us doing it. It’s similar to playing a slot machine; we get a positive outcome on a variable-ratio schedule (random and unpredictable) that, by the way, is the most powerful form of outcome to keep us trying the same approach, even if not entirely effective.

What about kiddo’s with ADHD, Anxiety, or Autism?

As we examine outcomes, we see that raising our voice and pestering is even less effective with children who struggle with attention problems, distractibility, and preoccupation. We pester, raise our voice, and carry-on to no avail and it’s frustrating for everyone involved. In fact, a common complaint from parents is that they find themselves “yelling all the time” and the situation is quite unpleasant.

So, what’s the problem?

The problem is that we are usually standing far across the room and relying on ephemeral sound waves, transmitted from our vocal cords, floating through the air, vibrating the inner ear of our child, and hopefully being processed by our child’s brain and acted-upon. That’s a tall order to promote compliance, especially for a child who has ADHD or autism and is not always paying attention and is easily distracted along the way to carrying out the directive. If we think about it that way, we can see how silly we are, thinking that we can impact physical behavior by relying on intangible sound waves from far across the room.

What to do instead

Think of the difference between relying on our voice (sound waves) from across the room, to instead using the ‘softer and closer approach’ (see my earlier post) that entails getting physically close to your child, using a soft tone to get your child’s attention, and guiding your child through each step of the task.

I shouldn’t have to do that? 

Who says you should not have to do that? I try not to use the word “should”; it just causes frustration.  If your child needs some extra attention at this point in their life, or on any given day or time, so be it. I suggest accepting this reality, which will greatly reduce frustration. Remember, frustration is based on expectations. Change your expectations, and you’ll be far less frustrated and so will your child.

It’s not good to lower my expectations! In fact, I want to raise expectations.

Yes, you do want to raise expectations, while being realistic. If your child needs some extra guidance, give it. You can provide close supervision, get your child started on the task, then work on progressively backing-off while continuing to watch, praise, and prompt from nearby. This is a form of backward chaining and it works quite well.

Someday you’ll miss this

A sure-fire way to avoid feeling frustrated is, first, to change your expectations. Next remind yourself that someday, when they’re older, you’ll greatly miss these close times with your child. Also, there is no better bonding experience than the softer and closer approach.

Takeaway

Discipline-based in the use of air-waves is often counter-productive and ill-advised, especially if your child needs some extra attention. So, go have a great day getting softer and closer with your child.

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Dr. John Carosso

Dr. Carosso has more than 30 years of experience as a licensed Child Clinical Psychologist and Certified School Psychologist working in private, inpatient, outpatient, residential, school, and home settings. He is Clinical Director of Community Psychiatric Centers (cpcwecare.com), a licensed Behavioral Health Outpatient Clinic, and operates both the Autism Center of Pittsburgh (autismcenterofpittsburgh.com) and the Dyslexia Diagnostic and Treatment Center (dyslexiatreaters.com).