What do you do when your child won't listen? If you don't want to bully, coerce, or capitulate, your next best option is to get organized. A behavior plan is an agreement between you and your child that lays out specific expectations to support changes in behavior. Here are a few tips to homebrew your own behavior plan.
1. Come Prepared: Before you sit down with your family, make sure that you have a clear idea of what your needs and wants are, and be able to tell the difference. Your wants are your hopes for where the conversation will go and what the end results look like, while your needs are the aspects of the discussion that you are prepared to stand firm on. You are creating the behavior plan because you need certain changes, and you are the adult. Don't be afraid to draw some lines in the sand.
2. Co-create: Once your priorities are clear, come to the table with an authentic commitment to hear and learn from your child's perspective and reflect it in the behavior plan. Develop some incentives and consequences together that you both agree are fair.
3. Observable/Measurable: Together, come up with 1-3 goals and objectives for behavioral change. Keep the language positive. A goal is something broad i.e. "Drew will learn constructive ways to express his anger." An objective is a specific, and measurable step toward the goal i.e. "Drew will go to his room on his own to calm down when he gets upset."
4. Be Consistent: A behavior plan is a contract that should be signed by both you, your child, and your family therapist if you have one. Follow through consistently with all of the incentives and consequences that you developed during step 2.
5. Use Visuals: There should be some sort of visual reminder of your agreement, and a way to celebrate achievements. A copy of the signed plan should be posted in your child's room and in a shared space like on the refrigerator. You can also have some sort of a chart to track specific goals like days with a clean room or days without yelling etc.
6. Forgive Your Child/Forgive Yourself: This is a process. When you backslide, forgive your child and offer another chance to be successful. If you lose your patience, or don't follow through on a consequence, take a deep breath and give yourself another chance. Take the opportunity to modern resiliency.
A Word on Rewards: When developing rewards and consequences, be sure to keep incentives and consequences as "natural" as possible. A natural consequence or reward is one that is logically attached to the behavior. Natural consequences create behavioral change that is more likely to be internalized, and they are more humane.
Aaron Weintraub, MS runs child-centered social skills groups with a focus on children and teenagers with Pervasive Developmental Disorder,Asperger Syndrome, High Functioning Autism, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, and Shyness. Strengths-based approach in a community based setting. Groups available in Tolland, Mansfield, Willimantic, Hartford, Vernon and Coventry Connecticut.