I recently attended a wonderful lecture at the Rankin Institute, the outreach component of The Fletcher School where I teach. Granted it was a school night and had the importance of attendance not been impressed upon the faculty, I may have passed. But five minutes into Behavioral Consultant Sharon Weiss‘s presentation on her book, Chaos to Calm: Structuring for Success at Home, I found myself wishing I’d had access to such advice in the middle of the terrible two’s with our twin boys many years ago.
While Ms. Weiss’s message was geared towards parents of children with learning disabilities and/or ADHD, she leveled the playing field with this golden nugget of advice for all parents. “If you treat the ADHD child as if he does not have ADHD, it can be a disaster. If you treat the child who does not have ADHD as if he had ADHD, it can be nothing but beneficial.”
With that said, she went on to emphasize the obvious, but perhaps not the easiest points for parents to absorb or accept
- behavior in a child starts with you (the parent)
- focus on the here and now, realizing that progress is an incremental process
- if your child truly does have a disability, keep a disability perspective, recognizing that the behavior is often part of the disability
- be proactive: teach to a behavior before you need it
- provide increased structure and predictability
Concerning structure and predictability, Ms. Weiss advised parents (or teachers) to ask themselves three important questions: 1)what do I want the child to do instead of what he’s doing 2) how can I put it in a visual format so he doesn’t rely on my telling him what to do, and 3) what will make it worth his while? I loved the practical application of checklists, schedules, timers, calendars, clocks, and charts. She gave wonderful examples of students, most likely the older ones, learning how to negotiate “earned” minutes towards a reward, a favorite being time with anything that has a screen these days. To be most effective, the child should have input on the designated reinforcer and it should not be available at any other time or for any other reason than to reinforce the behavior.
Whether we are parents or teachers of children with or without learning disabilities, we’ve probably all obstructed a child’s transformation at one time or another by taking on the child’s responsibility, setting unrealistic expectations, being inconsistent, or relying on punishment or too many rules. These pitfalls lead to power struggles, and power struggles are no-win situations.
As a teacher and a parent, I know that success at home usually leads to success at school and a healthy and happy child. I strongly recommend this book to any parent or teacher who is experiencing more chaos than calm in his or her current setting.