I came across a book entitled, "Transforming the Difficult Child- The Nurtured Heart Approach" by Howard Glasser. For obvious reasons the title stood out to me, difficult child......yes, we have one of those! Glasser describes the difficult child as one that has a hard time conforming to traditional parenting, one that is "high intensity", or that has signs of ADHD. He is coming from the premise that these particular children are in a pattern of negativity, which fuels their behavior. For example, when you have a child that has a hard time using energy in constructive or positive ways, what usually results is misbehavior. Or if you have a child that demands a lot of attention, they usually find they get the most attention when they are misbehaving. So, Glasser's approach is to make a big deal out of successes and less on negative behavior. Of course, my gut reaction was unease...this is the complete opposite of what we have implementing with Jesse. But, I knew that what we were doing was not working, so I thought I would give it a fair read. What I found was that there are some very legit points.
One of the first things that struck me was the realization that the very discipline techniques that we were using were actually making Jesse's behavior worse. For example, we do a lot of dialogue about misbehavior after we discipline, we talk about why the discipline occurred, what it means in the context of our relationship and his relationship to God, etc. Glasser pointed out that by excessive talking about the misbehavior you are actually drawing more attention to it and giving the child your time and energy in the context of the misbehavior- so, they will engage in that behavior more.
Another aspect of our parenting was spanking, not a fly off the handle in the heat of the moment thing but in the context of the model laid out in the book, Shepherding a Child's Heart- in a more controlled way. One of the things I was beginning to notice lately was that Jesse had begun grinding his teeth right after the spanking, while I was talking to him. This threw up red flag for me. Also, because o my unstable emotional state lately, I didn't trust myself to spank in a controlled way- so, I had cut back on it, which means that I wasn't really disciplining at all- which was probably contributing to the problem. But, this would be another example of giving attention to negative behaviors, this especially because there is the physical aspect of it. Another way I found I was giving attention to negative behaviors was by my tone of voice- annoyed, frustrated, raised.
The plan that Glasser laid out for getting out of the cycle of negativity is two-fold. First, catch the child doing something right and verbally notice it. Then after awhile start implementing a point system (we use tickets) for expected behavior, following the rules and chores. The points add up to earn privileges (watching TV, playing Wii, an extra treat, a sleepover, etc). For example, they earn five tickets every time they behave in a positive way, follow a rule or do a chore. They can then redeem the tickets for watching a half hour of TV for 10 tickets. Something bigger, like a sleepover, would be 100 points. So there is an aspect of learning to save and wait for things. There are no toys or material items involved, just privileges, anything other than eating, sleeping and being fed!!
The second aspect dealt with consequences for misbehavior, wrong attitudes or disobeying, the first itme (no arguing, giving multiple chances, etc). Glasser suggested that a time out works best because it gives the child a time to control himself. Picking a spot that is not remote from the family but is not in the middle of everything and having them be short but silent. If we have to physically take Jesse to time out we charge him an "escort" fee of 10 tickets. If he still resists, we are to do a safe hold, which is explained in the book.
Within a day or two of implementing the plan, we saw great results. To our surprise, Jesse cooperated with the time outs, we only had to take him twice, now he goes without a fight at all. It really does help im calm himself down, something he needed to learn how to do. He has also brightened under the positive feedback. I will admit it was hard for me to give out the tickets at first- I wrestled with whether we should be rewarding him for things he should be doing anyway. But, the reward (or ticket) system is also helpful for me- it helps me to think more positively and holds me accountable to noticing it. Jesse's teeth grinding has stopped completely and some of his anxiety has too- he has even gone into the basement by himself a few times- something he wouldn't do before. I feel like the cloud of negativity has lifted from the household as well.
We have still been wrestling with the theological aspects- we want to make sure that even though this may work, that it is still biblical- we have come to some conclusions about that but that is a whole other post! What we do know is that we have a child that wasn't responding to traditional discipline techniques and may have some special considerations to take into account (anxiety, possible ADHD). We really needed to listen and pay attention to the needs of our child. We still implement some of the heart probing aspects of Shepherding a Child's Heart and use it's basic premise as the backbone.
So, you can give me some feedback, let me know what you think. I'll keep you updated with how things go!