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Heidi LPC
Heidi LPC, Psychotherapist
Category: Parenting
Satisfied Customers: 235
Experience:  Licensed Professional Counselor
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HI, Im not sure what to do with my 4 year old.

Customer Question

HI, I'm not sure what to do with my 4 year old. He has developed the habit of doing precisely the opposite of what he is asked. E.g., when I was coaching him to brush his teeth I said not to spit toothpaste on the faucet. He then very deliberately spit all the toothpaste he possible could on the faucet. Tonight at supper he had a fork full before the family had prayed together. My wife asked him to put it down so we could pray before eating. He immediately put it in his mouth, chewed and swallowed. This happens all the time. All the parenting resources in our house talk about how to deal with defiance by assuming the child says, "No." Our little guy doesn't say, "no." He just does the precise opposite of what he's asked very deliberately. I am very consistent about sending him to his room when these things happen, but that is totally ineffective and I have no idea what else to do. Help?

(Sorry, we didn't realize how long this would take.  It is very late here.  We need to go to bed now, so we'll respond to your answer in the morning.  I hope you'll still be there.)

Submitted: 1 year ago.
Category: Parenting
Expert:  Heidi LPC replied 1 year ago.

Heidi LPC :

Hi there!! I am Heidi, and I hope to be of some assistance to you today! Your question is quite common, and I believe that I may have some suggestions for you.

Heidi LPC :

The motto I use in my work with children as well as in my parenting has always been this: "What we give the most attention to is what we see more of." Kids want power, and attention. When we see this type of behavior and react powerfully to it, the child gets attention. What we want to do is to flip the concept and give lots of attention and praise when the child MEETS expectations, and very little when they don't. By positively reinforcing the desired behavior, the child gets attention. By not responding when you are being "baited" into it with misbehavior, the child gets less attention and the behavior will slowly be extinguished. This takes time and practice, and by only speaking about what you want the child to do, not what you don't want them to do. For instance, using positive expectations and rewards is helpful, as are choices whenever possible: We will be going upstairs to brush our teeth in 5 minutes. Do you want to use the red toothbrush or the green one? Ok, green... great choice! And do you want to put the toothpaste on or should I? Ok... and on and on. This gives the child power. Asking them to remind you of the expectations is good: when we spit the toothpaste out, do we spit it in a cup or in the sink? And then always complimenting children when they meet expectations will reinforce the desired behavior... "great choice on the color! Nice work putting the toothpaste on!", etc... and very little attention paid to any attempt made to do the opposite. If toothpaste gets on the faucet on purpose, simply say "That is not a choice. Now we must clean it." Hand the child a rag and help them to wipe it off, saying nothing. Then just walk away.

Heidi LPC :

What you focus attention on is what kids will do more of. They will test you, always, and it usually persists until they are sure that you are not going to buy into it: if it is a pattern that you are trying to break, it will get worse before it gets better... but stay the course. Kids want strong, secure leadership and boundaries... and they want your attention and praise. So, focus on the positive praise and they won't have to misbehave to feel powerful.

Heidi LPC :

I hope this was helpful to you; I will check back to see if you need any further assistance or clarification! Thank you for using the site, and I wish you all the very best!

Expert:  Heidi LPC replied 1 year ago.
Our chat has ended, but you can still continue to ask me questions here until you are satisfied with your answer. Come back to this page to view our conversation and any other new information.

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Customer: replied 1 year ago.

Hi Heidi,


Thank you for your answer. I understand the basic point you are making, but I am having real difficulty figuring out how I could apply it in certain situations. You gave examples where it seemed very easy to employ the method you suggest. Perhaps it is just me, but I can't see how to apply such a method in these two scenarios that have recently plagued me:


1. Oscar has a fork full of food before we start praying. Mom says, "Put down your fork." Instead, Oscar eats the food. Now, Mom stated what to do, rather than what not to do. I am not sure how she could have phrased her request as a choice between two options in this case. Furthermore, I have no idea what the appropriate response is once he has disobeyed. There is no mess for him to clean up. Should we punish him somehow at this point? Or does that give him negative power? We are told over and over again how important consistency is, so we are loathe to simply do nothing. What should we do in such a case? I can't see how your method could be applied here. Please help me to understand it.
2. Oscar and his older brother Toby are sent to bed after a story and prayer in the living room. Their little sister is already sleeping in their room. They are sent on "Operation Churchmouse," because they must not wake their sleeping sister. Soon we hear talking. We ask them to be quiet. Then Oscar starts calling for Mom. Mom brings him out of the bedroom and explains that he can't call for her from his room during Operation Churchmouse. It must be silent in the room. If he needs anything he must leave his room as quietly as a mouse and come ask us for it out here. He asks to have the door open a crack. On the way back in, his brother meets him at the door and starts a fight by shutting the door because he doesn't want it open a crack. At this point, my wife and I have no idea what to do. I drag them both into the living room and speak very sternly, even angrily, about how they need to go to their rooms and be quiet. It works largely because I make some vague threats about not knowing what I will do the next time they make noise and handle them rather roughly to indicate that I am serious. Your method looks good on paper, but I honestly have no idea how to apply it in a situation like this. We framed the whole thing as a positive. They were spies sent on a mission. They had power and only positive instructions. If they are so loud that they wake their sister, I can't simply say, "That is not an option," and get them to rock her back to sleep. How do I not "buy into" their testing and search for attention here? I'm afraid I can't see how to apply your advice in this situation.


Please help.


Brett

Customer: replied 1 year ago.

Um, I just got a notice that you need more information, but no indication as to what that information might be? What am I missing?

Customer: replied 1 year ago.

OK, after each of my last two posts I was told I would get an answer within 15 minutes. What gives? I need to go to bed now.

Expert:  Heidi LPC replied 1 year ago.

Good morning, Brett!! I am so sorry--- I didn't receive an e-mail message stating that you had replied. I will address this as soon as I finish here. I hear your questions very often, especially when parents are frustrated and overwhelmed with the needs of multiple little ones. They have you out-numbered!

 

Here is my reply: First thing to keep in mind is to remain calm, no matter how rattled you feel inside. A stern response is absolutely and totally warranted once your instructions are not followed; you want the children to sense their boundaries completely. In the situations that you describe, prior to the operation church mouse game, (which was very creative!) you did well with setting up a few expectations ahead of time. Next time, have them tell YOU the rules, and agree beforehand on what their choices are to do in the room, and what choices are not acceptable. Also, when you are in the "training period" with little ones, we generally agree on some form of positive reinforcement for a reward when they follow through, as well as a negative consequence. So, you might say that the boys will earn a sticker on a chart for each night that they follow the rules of the game, and if they earn 4, they get to choose a special activity to do with just you on Friday. Charts and other reinforcers will only last a week or so, as they lose their effect after the reward and must be changed up. But, with little ones, reinforcing the desired behavior really does help. Also, remember that any show of extreme emotion by parents does 2 things: it makes the kids feel insecure that the adult has lost control, but it also lets them know they have the power to make that happen. So, remain calm although you feel the opposite; sternly re-state the instructions and follow through on the negative consequence that was spoken of earlier. No sticker on the chart, no special activity, etc...

 

The other point about the bite of food is that before you sit down, remind the kids of the rules, and say you will be watching for good table manners. If they aren't followed, maybe they have to clean up after the meal, or something. Yet, there are going to be things that must be overlooked, as they are still young and are learning. It is a fact that in parenting, sometimes we must choose which battles are worth fighting. If I were at the table with them, I would give the early biter a stern glance and say that it is very disrespectful to eat before the prayer is finished. And then simply move on. As parents, we are the first teachers and most times, these lessons must be repetitive... over and over, until lessons are learned and understood. Expecting compliance after one or two reminders will just frustrate even the calmest of parent, so take care to keep reminding yourself that they are only a few years old, and are still learning. You probably know adults who haven't mastered these skills and have terrible manners!

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You are on the right track; know that you are not alone in this. A TV show which showed these principles in action was called "The Supernanny" a few years back; here is a link to a page with some great advice: http://www.supernanny.co.uk/ and also, if you search youtube.com you will find some actual videos in which she works one-on-one with a child to overcome some of these types of issues. An excellent book on parenting and one that I recommend often is "The Power of Positive Parenting" by Glenn Latham. It is fantastic and gives scripts of conversations with kids to help you be able to envision ways to respond when you are challenged by your kids. Hang in there! And please.. let me know if you still have questions... I will work with you until you feel you have received the answers that will help get you feeling more confident in this tough job of parenting! It will all work out!

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Expert:  Heidi LPC replied 1 year ago.
One more thought: "Consequences must always fit the 'crime'"... so if they wake the little sister, although they can't rock her to sleep, they must feel your disapproval and expect that in the morning, they will lose a privilege. So, if they enjoy cartoon watching in the morning, let them know they have lost that privilege. They will fight you and get angry, but as I say, "tough bananas"! Once they see that you follow through on threats of consequences and never offer empty threats, they will begin to develop a respect for the boundaries. Believe me when I say that I taught Kindergarten for 10 years, and have raised 3 children... oldest is now 23 and youngest is 15... and that there is a constant challenge & balance we seek in managing children's behavior, but once you learn to master the dance, it becomes easier! My best to you both!
Customer: replied 1 year ago.

HI Heidi,


Thanks for this. I will follow up with you when I get a minute. (I have a tonne of work to do today because I am leaving on business tomorrow.) I wanted to let you know that your answer arrived literally a split second after I filled in a survey from JustAnswer. I don't know why they sent me a survey before your response, but it frustrated me and I didn't know if it meant that you were not going to respond any more or not. I don't know if you can get the rating changed based on this, but I thought you should know that the rating was based on the possibility that the survey meant you were not responding any more.
More anon,


Brett

Expert:  Heidi LPC replied 1 year ago.
Thanks for the heads up there, Brett--- the category moderator can hopefully help us with these issues. Thank you for your patience; I am unhappy that I didn't receive a notification of your answer--- hopefully, it is something that can be remedied quickly! We can continue anytime you'd like! Have a lovely trip! :-)
Customer: replied 1 year ago.

Hi Heidi,


I just got a notice asking for a rating. Not sure if its automated or not. Don't worry, I do plan on rating our conversation, but I am extremely busy and traveling right now and I want to be able to read everything over and perhaps ask a follow up that I don't have time for right now. I hope that's OK?
Brett

Expert:  Heidi LPC replied 1 year ago.
Brett--- it is completely automated. No worries and no rush! If I send a reply/answer to a customer as I have to your question, the system automatically assumes that our conversation is over... I thank you for being so considerate and courteous to ask... whenever you're ready to reply, just go right ahead! Have a great night!
Expert:  Heidi LPC replied 1 year ago.

One more idea I'd like to share with you is a program we use in the Child Development Center that I direct, called "1-2-3 Magic". Here is a recent article from their newsletter, and a link to their page: http://www.123magic.com/

 

The two biggest mistakes parents and teachers make in dealing with children
are: Too Much Talking and Too Much Emotion. Talking is bad because it either
doesn't work or takes you through the Talk‐ Persuade‐Argue‐Yell‐Hit
Syndrome.

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Why is too much emotion destructive? When they are little, kids feel inferior
because they ARE inferior. Sure, they can be cute and lovable, but they are also
smaller, less privileged, less intelligent, less skillful, less responsible and
less of just about everything than their parents and the older kids. And this
"lessness" bugs them a lot! They don't like it. They do like to feel they are
powerful and capable of making some mark on the world.

 

Have you ever seen a small child go down to a lake and throw rocks in the
water? Children can do that for hours, partly because the big splashes are a
sign of their impact. They are making things happen.

 

Your
Upset is the "Big Splash"


Key Concept
If you have a child who is doing
something you don't like, get real upset about it on a regular basis and, sure
enough she'll repeat it for you.

What does rock tossing have to do with what happens at home? If your small
child can get big old you all upset, your upset is the big splash for him. It's
not that he has no conscience and is going to grow up to be a criminal. It's
just that having all that power temporarily rewards-or feels good to-the
inferior part of the child. Parents who say, "It drives me absolutely crazy when
she eats her dinner with her fingers. Why does she do that?" may have already
answered their own question. She may do that at least partly BECAUSE IT DRIVES
YOU CRAZY.

 

There are certainly other discipline systems other than 1‐2‐3 Magic, but you
can ruin any of them by talking too much and getting too excited. These two
mistakes, of course, usually go hand in hand, and the emotion is usually
anger.

 

Some parents can turn off the talking and the emotional upset like a faucet,
and others have to work like dogs to get the job done. Even then, they often
have to remind themselves over and over that talking and arguing and yelling and
screaming don't really help. These tactics merely blow off steam for a few
seconds. If parents find that they can't shake these habits, some sort of
outpatient counseling or psychotherapy is indicated.

 

Hope this helps!!!

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