The error of punishment often not talked about…

Sometimes the most harm done with punishment is the fact we often punish the wrong behavior.

As we all settled into our seats at the dining room table, we looked out the windows to see the nasty and dark Florida evening storm clouds that had popped up from nowhere. When we were all looking outside, we noticed a car driving by and then a dog leaping out the window.

Did you see that? Did they just throw that dog out?

Continue reading

Setting things up for better behavior…or worse?

Photo by Ray Bouknight via Flickr

Photo by Ray Bouknight via Flickr

“This child just cannot sit still”

It was my first year of graduate school and my first behavior analysis professor asked the class what seemed to be a fairly easy question regarding a student’s behavior. She said,

Johnny cannot sit still in his seat. He is always fidgeting, and moving around. What would you do?

Take a moment and think about what you might have said…

As I remember, the common responses were something like this:

“Reinforce him for sitting calmly in his seat”

“Give him stickers for sitting, and do it a lot at first”

“Praise him when he sits still…tell him how good he is doing”

“When he is wiggling in his seat, tell him how to sit nicely”

There might have even been a response of “just ignore it…”

The professor had a lesson to teach and it is a lesson I would like to share today.

She showed a picture of a seat filled with thumbtacks. Continue reading

What to do when you have tried “everything”

(WTVD Photo/ Lisa Tyndall)

(WTVD Photo/ Lisa Tyndall)

I recently read a news story about a boy who was forced by his mother, as some form of intended punishment, to stand on the roadside with a sign around his neck that read:

“I don’t listen to my teachers. I’m suspended. This is my punishment.”

In the story, the mother commented she had “reached her limit:”

“My 12-year-old son is constantly acting up, getting trouble, and I’m tired of it. This is my last resort. I’ve tried spankings, taking his privileges away, and nothing has worked,” she said.

There are so many things about this story that turn my stomach, but I also understand the reality that many parents also find themselves in this position. Maybe not to the extent they resort to public humiliation as a form of parenting, but to the extent they lose sleep over the fact their child’s behavior is not changing despite their best efforts.

This is when a change of perspective has to take place Continue reading

What happens when one kid sucks all your energy…and what to do


When my wife was pregnant with our second child, we got all the usual comments about the difference between parenting one kid vs. two. I even heard some ridiculous statement about, “you’re really never a parent until your second child.” CRAP. Be quiet.

I’m pretty sure I was a parent when I was changing diapers, cleaning up puke, sticking thermometers in places they really should not go, and doing 4:00 am feedings before leaving for work at 5:00. Don’t even ask my wife…I’m pretty sure she immediately felt like a parent the moment that child crowned…just saying.

With all this said, there are some things that are only experienced when you do have more than one child. Every family with multiple kids I work with experiences the same problems, and we have even experienced it in our own home.

It is the situation when one of the children completely sucks the energy out of the day. Tantrums, demanding, and “NO!” is the answer for everything EXCEPT when you ask, “are you trying to ruin my day?” – you already knew the answer to that. 

It can consume you.

But, what you might not realize is that it is also likely consuming your other child too.

The hard part is not going down with the ship. It is very easy to get wrapped up in the tug-of-war with the kid who is clearly not in control and continue with the back and forth, but it is imperative that you don’t. There is nothing to be gained and a lot to be lost.

Here is what to do when it happens(you’ll feel it as you increasingly react and respond to simple little things and utter that gutteral grunt, “uuuuhhhhhh” for something that is usually easily overlooked):

Concentrate your efforts and energy on the other kid: the one doing what you want (or at least doing whatever she is doing quietly).

When I talk about this to parents, I will say, “control what you can control” or “go with the one who is the most likely to follow you.” Its not giving up on the other kid, it is simply redirecting your attention towards the child who deserves the attention.

Make cookies, play a game, take a walk…do something a little out of the ordinary or something the child really likes. You can even be blatant with it,

“since your sister is having some trouble this morning, I figure you and I can do make those cookies you wanted to make last week. You have been so nice and calm this morning, I think you deserve it. Whaddaya think?”

(Do not say this loudly as to try to affect the child who is behaving poorly…thats ridiculous, mean-spirited and will be ineffective).That is not what this is about. This is about focusing your energy and attention in the right direction.

The reality is you will be exhausted at the end of the day one way or the other.

If you do it right, your energy will be positively spent and you will be exhausted happy rather than exhausted mad.

What if…

Hopefully, the kid who is on your last nerve will come around and see what fun is being had by all and shape into place. If he does, welcome him in: this is the time when you can either get the ball rolling in the right direction or re-engage the behavior death spiral that started all of this. “

“I’m glad you could join us. Are you O.K.? Are you gonna be cool hanging out with us and being calm?”

If he doesn’t…no big deal. More cookies for you.

Crying: emotional response or behavioral tool? You decide


As parents, we are told to ignore a lot. There are certain things that are no-brainers, but then there are situations that present more difficult choices for parents to make. This is especially true when it seems there is an emotional component to the child’s behavior.

Crying is one of those behaviors.

Trying to figure out when crying is an emotional response vs. a behavioral tool (something your kid uses to get something or to avoid something) can be difficult. We all know our children learn their behaviors can be functional in many ways. It can get them access to things they need, it can get them escape from things they don’t want and it can also communicate a need for nurturing and attention.

This is all very healthy.

But, there are times when you do not want your child to use crying (or other behaviors that will not serve them well in the future) as a do-all tool. Kids crying at the drop of a hat when things don’t go their way. Immediately crying when another kid takes their new Hot Wheels car or doesn’t take turns correctly. We know what these people are like when they grow up and you don’t want your kid to be one.

Try to be aware of the times when your kid is possibly crying as a behavior tool rather than an emotional response to something. Are you teaching them that crying is a functional tool to get something they want? Are you teaching them crying is a way to get out of something they don’t want to do?

Here is a trick: do they stop crying immediately when you do something?

That is a sign the crying was most likely being used as a tool. When was the last time you were able to stop your true emotional crying at the drop of a hat?

True emotional crying takes some recovery time, does it not?

Teach them more functional ways to communicate and respond to when things don’t go their way.

Be compassionate, but be careful. Sometimes the most compassionate thing you can do is make sure the crying (as a behavioral tool) does not work for them.

5 things “normal” kids do – and when to ask questions


Alright, lets face it: every parent wants to know if their kid is “normal.” From percentile of head circumference at the first pediatrician visit to the grading scale in 4th grade and through high school. “Normal” is good for parents.

I hear it a lot… 

Is that normal? 

Here is my list of 5 things “NORMAL” kids do (and when you might want to ask more questions)

1. Kids tantrum 

All kids tantrum. Maybe some are louder, some kick more, some say awful things, and are overall more intense. But, all kids tantrum.I do not have to define it here, because most of you reading this know exactly what I’m talking about. Even really nasty tantrums with really nasty things said towards you are normal.

When you should get someone else to look into it – 

There is not a number or specific behavior I can tell you that should trigger you looking into more help. I wish I could. But, if your kid’s tantrums are starting to take over the day and plans for what you would do on regular occasions, it might be something you should ask your pediatrician  (or me) about.

If you regularly and consistently exhaust yourself tip-toeing around and not doing things you would normally do to avoid situations when your kid might tantrum, you might need some advice. Basically, if it begins to affect your everyday life…ask questions of someone who can specifically talk to you about your kid.

2. Aggression happens – 

Not all kids are aggressive (hitting, kicking, biting, spitting, pushing, etc.), but it is normal. These behaviors occur for a variety of reasons and not all are “aggressive” in nature, but fulfill other more simple needs. I won’t go into all those reasons here and now, but know that this is a normal thing. Pay attention, but dont lose sleep over it.

When you should get someone else to look into it – 

My answer here is very similar to the one above. But, with aggression, you have to be aware and careful about the effect the behavior has on others. Is your kid really hurting other kids regularly and consistently? If so, you might want to sit down and come up with a plan…assess what you think is going on and address it. 

I will be honest, our oldest child had a period of time in preschool when he bit other kids in his class. After the 3rd time or so (he also bit my wife a few times), we sat down and discussed it with each other and the administrator at the school. We suggested some simple changes and it went away quickly (if not immediately).  

If it is not clear and the behavior gets more consistent and grows in intensity, you might want to ask someone about it. Again, I’m assuming a period of time across several weeks or a month, but don’t let this one get away, the effects down the road can be a bit more difficult to manage.

3. They say “NO” – 

I’m not even going to call this “oppositional,” because it is simply part of being a normal kid. “Not listening” and/or “not following directions” is as normal as it gets. Even saying, “NO” with gusto or with the added benefit of arms crossed, lips pooched out, or the ol’ foot stomp on the floor. NORMAL.

When you should get someone else to look into it –

If “no” consistently turns into tantrums and into aggression. Follow the directions above. Otherwise, follow through with some of the suggestions I have given before, sit back and know there are millions of parents in the same exact spot you are.  

4. They don’t like it when you leave – 

It is completely normal for kids to be a hint clingy when you leave them, especially if it is at a new place or with new people. Consider it normal. Even brief crying or walking to the door at school is normal. Dont worry, it is not a sign that they are being tortured by your absence…its just part of being a kid.

When you should get someone else to look into it – 

With all that said above (that it is normal), it should give you good reason and permission to let go of them and go about your day. Since it is normal, let the process take place. Say goodbye and let them be normal. This one can also get a little tricky to, so read my post on separation anxiety and do those things if you are having problems.

5. Dinner time duals –

Look, kids don’t want to eat broccoli more than you do. You think since you are an adult and all grown-up now with kids that broccoli, spinach, and carrots all of a sudden taste better? Let me take a look at your face when I take you to the new Vietnamese restaurant downtown and put something in front of you that you have never seen before (and looks like its still moving). Most kids are going to buck at the dinner table with new foods or foods that don’t taste or look like chicken nuggets. Dinner time becoming a nightmare? NORMAL.

When you should get someone else to look into it –

I have written a bunch about introducing new foods to your kids and dealing with food selectivity problems (i.e., “our little picky eater”), so check out these posts.

We also have had times at our house when we had to specifically and proactively attack food selectivity problems. It was as much of our problem as it was the kids’ since it is a lot easier to heat up a few meatballs, tear open a few strings of cheese, and open some “Dora yogurt” than it is to systematically work through carrots and rice. But, when we did, our efforts were worth it as those times have passed  (as much as it will for a 4 and 2 year old). If you believe your child’s picky eating is affecting his or her health, ask your doc.

Oh, and if you are still worried about these things…YOU are normal. Stay involved, stay informed, and stay with me here…I’ll help.

Q&A with BBA – 4/18/2012


Here is a recent question sent into the BehaviorBandAid Facebook page and my answer. I hope this helps:

I am struggling with my 6 year old’s behavior. His tantrums have progressed to full fledged destroying property. If we keep him from destroying things, he kicks, screams and hits. We also have a 16 month old who is picking up the habit of throwing everything because he has watched his brother do it. I am at my wit’s end for patience and just exhausted. When we try to talk calmly and explain consequences, he will scream, tell us to shut up and/or plug his ears. We are trying to figure out if this has become learned button pushing because he knows that we will have to restrain him if he attempts to damage things or if it is something more. He has done this in moments of coherence just to get a rise and push our buttons which is making me wonder if it an attempt at getting connection (we hold him/touch him) even though it’s negative. When we attempt positive connection, he resists…so lost and discouraged 😦

My Response

Thanks for asking. I think you are being very wise by understanding that something we would ordinarily think of as negative (restraint, getting a “firm talking to,” etc.) could be part of what is potentially making things worse.  I also wonder if your negative interaction, shock response or reaction to his misbehavior – button pushing- is fueling this further. Sounds like a real possibility.

If you walk away from him during the tantrum, does he follow you or escalate his behavior? If so, the audience factor is part of the deal…he wants you to be there to see it and to react to it. If he stops when you walk away, he likely wanted you to go away. I think, from what you have said, it is the former.

Does he otherwise (other times in the day) soak in the attention and interaction from you? Does that seem to be a powerful thing for him? If so, I would make sure he is getting a bunch of your attention at other times to “fill his cup” so he does not low. Make time to be with him individually (hard to do with a 16 month old) and make your attention undivided. Take him to the store alone, play a game with him during the sibling’s nap time. If he resists, dont force it, tell him “I’d love to ________ with you, so let me know when you are ready.” Dont interact further at this time, but try again a little later.

During the tantrum or even when he is upset is usually not the time to talk about consequences or talk with him about the behavior.  I think a  lot of parents over-talk in these situations. Reasoning with a 6 year old is difficult on a GOOD day, much less during a tantrum.  Dont feel the need to talk about it…apply the consequence you have decided to apply. That is good enough. Dont explain, dont reason, dont try to get anything out of him.  Apply the consequence and move on. Do not let him hijack your attention at this time.

OK, lastly, if you are already in that situation and he starts throwing things, react as minimally as you can and get him to a location where there are limited or no things to throw and where you can interact with him the least until he calms. I want him to be able to calm on his own and not be reliant on others to do it with him. As you said, you run the risk those things might fuel the behavior anyway.  Dont force it here, tell him “I can talk with you when you are calm” and dont get into a dance with him. Hold your emotions at bay as much as possible.

Hope this helps.