My child doesn’t listen… What should I do?

Counselors commonly get requests from parents to assist with behavior concerns. Unfortunately, these request typically come when parents are at their wits end, and rely on counseling as a last resort. A proactive approach is more effective, but that’s another article for a different time. For now, here are a few basic principles, and resources to help with behavior management.

First, assess your parenting approach before placing your child at the center of the problem. Be specific, and chart your interactions with your child. Are you perceiving more problems than actually exist? Your own mood could be clouding your judgment concerning the significance of the problem. Perceiving your child’s behavior to be worse than it actually is could be increasing the likelihood that problems exist (Barkley, 2013). By charting your interactions, you can evaluate the disparities between positive and negative interactions. Start focusing on the positives, such as giving praise and encouragement to prevent giving life to a cycle that reinforces the behaviors you wish would change.

To change behaviors, think about how to reinforce behaviors you wish to keep or see more often, and extinguish behaviors you want to go away. Start simple, and provide immediate positive feedback for behaviors you wish to reinforce. For example, pay attention while your child plays with his or her sibling. If you happen to notice a positive action, such sharing, immediately praise the child for sharing with his or her sibling. Similarly, the opposite can occur if you notice an unacceptable behavior, such as taking a toy away from his or her sibling. An immediate consequence, calmly explaining to the child that it is not acceptable to take toys away from his or her sibling, and returning the toy will result in fewer occurrences of the unwanted behaviors. Changing behaviors requires repeated actions, so don’t be upset if the behavior doesn’t change after one exchange. It is also important to consider the incentive for change. Depending on the behavior, you may need to provide a greater reward, or a more powerful consequence. Rewards and consequences should match the behavior. Would you want to stay at a job where you were significantly underpaid? Not likely! Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, be consistent with the message, but variable with the rewards and consequences. That is, what follows the behaviors can change, but it should always send the same message.

Don’t decide what reward or consequences to dish out after a behavior occurs. Plan ahead, and follow through. It will be extremely difficult to think out a response to a situation on the spot. Using behavior charts, and a system for dealing with behaviors is often most effective. In some cases, you may face an outlier behavior, in which case you should address it, but let the child know that you will be taking additional time to determine the appropriate consequence. It is also a great idea to suggest to the child that he or she think up possible consequences, then discuss them at a later time, always within the same day.

Miscommunication is often at fault for children’s misbehavior. Adults don’t remember what it’s like to be a kid, and tend to talk to children like adults. Many adults are incapable of organizing their thoughts, yet parents still expect their kids to remember everything they were told. So, to ensure your child is receiving the message appropriately, try to get on the child’s level, and provide short, direct commands. Don’t expect your child to recall a complicated list of directions, or to not complete a tasks in the way that you expected. For example, if you want your child to clean his or her room, do not instruct the child to clean his or her room. Rather, instruct the child to pick up and put away toys on the floor. When that task is done, instruct the child to vacuum. More tasks equal more opportunities for reinforcement, as well as, less confusion on what your definition is of a clean room versus your child’s opinion.

Behavior management sounds simple, but in reality, it’s a complicated process. It’s easy to accidentally reinforce the wrong actions, and continuously wonder why you’re not being effective. I highly suggest meeting with a Board Certified Behavior Analyst to assess and create a behavior management system that is effective, and makes your life easier. Behavior analyst’s are experts in behavior management, and often work in your home or at school to correct behavior issues. Unfortunately, the service is not commonly covered by insurance for behavior problems. In which case, seeking assistance from a licensed counselor may be an option, but counselors tend to provide guidance on behavior management, leaving you to apply the skills at home on your own.

     If you would like additional information on behavior management, or having your child evaluated for a behavior disorder, please contact Lift Professional Counseling at 405-342-0714.
Barkley, R. A. (2013). Taking charge of ADHD: The complete authoritative guide for parents. New York, NY: The Guilford Press.


Dustin Choate, LPC
Lift Professional Counseling Co.

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