Positive changes at home
So often, when raising a child with ADHD or autism, parents worry more about their child’s behavior and performance at school than at home. There’s good reason for that — we’re taught that school success is paramount to life success in our culture. We think, “As long as Ricochet can keep it together for school and stay out of trouble, I can handle behavior at home. That’s good enough.” Yet, it’s not good enough. In thinking that way, we are sacrificing our own relationship with our child and our family’s joy. That’s simply not okay. You can improve life at home, too.
More than medication
Often, the reason parents “give up” on controlling symptoms at home is because medication has worn off by afternoon. The child doesn’t have any pharmaceutical help in controlling symptoms, so we let go of expectations of calm and sanity. However, controlling behavior is about a lot more than medication.
- Parents must remain calm.
- A positive parenting approach should be implemented.
- Developmentally appropriate expectations must be set.
- Family life must also offer structure and routine.
- Kids need to be offered lots of opportunities for success.
- Behavior modification strategies can affect positive changes over time.
Implementing behavior modification at home
People often think behavior modification has to be done by a therapist or counselor. However, that’s just not true. Anyone can implement behavior modification strategies. Heck, when we go on a diet, we’re implementing behavior modification for ourselves (or, at least trying to).
There are two parts to successfully implementing behavior modification strategies for your child with ADHD and/or autism. One is setting a goal and maintaining positive feedback. The second piece is the consistent approach you take every time the goal is not met. The best way to teach you this process is to outline an example. Following is the behavior modification plan we implemented with Ricochet when he was hitting his peers several times a week in second grade.
Set a goal
First, we talked with him about how hitting others is not an appropriate way to show others that you are angry with them or disappointed by their actions. We outlined appropriate reactions to these emotions for him and created a goal chart to motivate him to work on this goal.
The goal: “[Ricochet] will treat others with kindness and use words or tell an adult when he’s feeling angry with someone.” Each day he met the goal, he got a sticker. Each day he didn’t meet the goal, he got nothing. Not a sad face of an X in that spot, just blank (very important). The goal must be phrased positively, stating what you expect them to do, not what you want them not to do. Don’t use “don’t.”
Now, many people are against sticker charts. And I concur, for the most part. However, kids with ADHD and autism need a visual to track progress, and sticker charts work well for that. They must be accompanied by praise and positive reinforcement though, or they’re pretty useless. An alternative to the sticker chart would be a thermometer chart — maybe you color in one section each day they meet their goal, praising all the way, and rewarding when they reach the goal on the thermometer, at the top.
Have a reframing conversation
The second step (they are really co-occurring steps), is the conversation you will have with your child each time their behavior does not meet this goal. In my example, that’s every time Ricochet hit someone. Our conversations went something like this:
ME: What made you hit that student today at school?
HIM: I got mad at them because they _______(cut in front of my classmate in line, were using someone’s yellow crayon without asking, or were talking when the teacher asked them not to)!
ME: Is it OK to hit someone when you’re mad at them?
ME: What are some ways to show that you are mad and deal with your anger that are ok, since hitting is not?
HIM: I can tell the teacher.
ME: Right! What else?
HIM: I can use my words?
ME: Yes! You can also walk away, right? Because it’s not your job to enforce the rules.
ME: Was “hitting the person” on that list of acceptable reactions we just talked about?
ME: So is it OK to hit someone when you’re angry with them?
ME: So, next time someone ____________, what are you going to do?
HIM: Tell the teacher, use my words, or walk away.
There are a couple crucial things to note about these reframing conversations.
- It’s important to have your child come up with the more appropriate alternatives. That not only teaches them to think it through and problem solve, but it also helps them remember those better alternatives when needed. If they are struggling to come up with alternatives, you can guide them, but don’t just list them for your child.
- Behavior modification takes time and consistency — lots of it. You will feel like a broken record. Your child may resist having the same conversation again and again. Don’t let those things deter you. Have this conversation every single time, and right when the unwanted behavior you’re working on happens.
These are deal-breakers — without them, behavior modification won’t be successful.
It took many months of being very consistent with this system, but Ricochet stopped hitting his classmates eventually (6-9 months probably). He was approaching his eight birthday when that behavior stopped — he’s now thirteen, and it hasn’t happened since.
You can do this.
Author: Penny Williams
Penny Williams guides and mentors parents raising kids with ADHD and/or autism. She’s the parent of a son with ADHD and autism, and the author of three award-winning books on parenting kids with ADHD: Boy Without Instructions, What to Expect When Parenting Children with ADHD, and The Insider’s Guide to ADHD Penny is the current editor of ParentingADHDandAutism.com, Founder and Instructor for The Parenting ADHD & Autism Academy, and a frequent contributor on parenting and children with ADHD for ADDitude Magazine and other parenting and special needs publications.