Is your household in turmoil? Do you feel overwhelmed by your child's temper tantrums? Parenting consultant and author, Dr. Michele Borba, reveals the best solutions for common parenting dilemmas and for the chaos affecting you and your marriage.
Tantrums. Backtalk. Meltdowns. Defiance. Disrespect. Yelling. Refusing to stay in Time Out. Won't go to bed. Chaos! Those were the behaviors I faced when I went on a house call for the day to a family's home for Dr. Phil last week.
Background About the Family
The parents of four young kids sent a "HELP" call to Dr. Phil asking for guidance. "Chaos!" was their description of day to day family life. Mom was overwhelmed (so overwhelmed she'd left home). The kids were defiant. The three-year-old was in constant meltdown. Family harmony was nonexistent. No one would sit for the kids.
Dr. Phil sent me with a film crew to spend the day with the mom and dad and four kids. My role: watch for the hot button issues causing the friction and meltdowns, analyze how the parents were responding and then teach mom and dad a few new parenting responses that would reduce yelling and restore a little family harmony. I then met Dr. Phil and the parents in the Dr. Phil studio.My Dr. Phil House Call and 5 Strategies To Turn Family Chaos Into Calm
Whenever I work with a family I first talk to the parents about their concerns and then I watch the family dynamics. Since I only had a day to work with the family I was really doing triage and giving the fastest strategies that would restore their harmony and reduce the negativity. I zeroed in on five strategies and taught them to the parents. Within two hours yelling had ceased and the kids were smiling (and behaved). The real secret is for the parents to consistently use those same strategies until they become a habit. Remember, behavior is learned so it can be unlearned. Solid behavior strategies used consistently along with a respectful relationship with the child are key to positive change. Here are the strategies I used to turn family chaos into calm:
1. Target one or two troublesome behaviors at a time
I watched a four hour clip of the family and heard nothing but negativity, reprimands, or threats for time out. The result: the parents had fallen into the Negative Trap of only focusing on the "bad" behaviors. My first suggestion was to convince the parents to tune into just one or two troublesome behaviors instead of focusing on so many.
The parents discussed all their behavior concerns (whining, defiance, shouting, yelling, hitting, not going to bed, etc. etc. etc). and zeroed in on their "Red Flag Issues" - those kid behaviors that could not be ignored. We targeted any aggressive behavior (hitting, biting, kicking) and overt defiance/noncompliance. I explained to the parents that if you zero into the real hot button issues you'll get faster results. The kids will know you're serious and won't tolerate hitting or defiance. All your energy is reinforcing two specific behaviors. Once those behaviors start to get in check you can work on the next more troublesome behaviors. I then worked with the parents on these two points so the children understood the new expectations:
• Create new rules. Those red flag behaviors were made into new Family Rules ("We are respectful and do not hit or bite." "We are cooperative and do what Mommy and Daddy ask"). The parent explained the rules to the children. (For older kids you might post them).
• Set clear consequences. The parents described the consequence of disobeying the rules. The kids understood that any infraction would mean an immediate Time Out.
2. Use "respectful ignoring"
I watched the family and recognized Mom and Dad had fallen into a Negativity Trap. Almost ninety percent of the time they focused on their kids' negative behaviors. That trap is easy to get into when you have defiant kids. So a big trick to rebuilding family harmony is reducing the negativity.
I told the parents to ignore any behaviors that don't warrant a Code Red Intervention. If their child pouts, whines, screams or yells, the parents were to pretend they were deaf. I also warned that ignoring bad behaviors is tough to do. After all, we know they're inappropriate. But their kids were using annoying behaviors to get their way and it worked! The new plan: as soon as the child started the whine, I'd cue the parent to turn and ignore the behavior ("Pretend she's invisible.") Then as soon as the child stopped the annoying behavior, the parent was to turn and give her positive attention if she's not using that behavior and simply say, "Now I can listen. What do you need?" The simple switch produced amazing results.
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