11.2 PU Problems & Using the UB to Redirect
3. This is an accident or a medical condition is influencing the child’s self-control.
If misbehavior is an accident, involve children in cleaning or fixing the results of the accident. Teach positive attitudes about mistakes and accidents. Don’t shame or blame children; focus on solutions.
If children suddenly behave in uncommon ways, they might be getting sick, but haven’t shown any symptoms yet. This is most common when children are tired or hungry.
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A Personal Story. When Amber was young and ran low on energy, her personality completely changed. She couldn’t make a decision, cried over little things, picked arguments, and snapped at us. (Of course, I know adults who act the same way if they have to wait too long in a restaurant when they’re hungry!) I easily recognized that she needed to eat or sleep, but if I said, “You’re just tired” or “You are hungry” she’d yell, “No I’m not!” If I forced the issue, we’d get into a power struggle and she’d fall apart even more. I had to find a way to help her be more aware of her body’s needs.
One night at bedtime, I explained how her body was like a car and that food and sleep are like the gasoline that gives a car the energy to go. When cars run out of energy, they stop moving until they get more gas. I described what bodies do when they run out of energy, naming the symptoms she often shows. I suggested that whenever she did those things, her body was telling her it needed more energy and she could choose what kind of energy she wanted to give her body. The fact that we discussed this when there was no problem made a big difference; she understood.
From then on, we tried preventing the problem by adding an after-school snack to her daily routine. She had to eat something before going outside to play. On the few occasions when she started falling apart, I now said, “Is your body telling you it needs some food or sleep?” Because I wasn’t trying to force the issue and asked her to listen to her own body, she was more willing to consider the idea. If she resisted, I’d offer a choice, “Do you want a snack or to rest?” She’d usually eat a snack or do something quiet to recharge her energy. By age eight, she automatically got herself a snack when she was hungry and voluntarily took a nap.
Illness, mental retardation, autism, food allergies, or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) are examples of medical conditions that influence children’s behavior. These children might truly have a limit to how much they can control their behavior when these factors are present. We can still use all the tools we’ve learned, but need to have realistic expectations about how long it might take to see progress. (Remember, a deeper problem is one of the five reasons the tools might not immediately work.) These tools will, at the least, not make matters worse and usually help speed progress. Read as much as you can about the disorder and specific strategies to use. Most are compatible tools to add to the Universal Blueprint (file them in the PU Toolset). If there are recommendations that go against some of the basic principles of The Parent’s Toolshop, discuss your concerns with a trained professional who can explain whether there is a valid reason for using that approach. While we can’t discuss all medical conditions in this book, it is important to focus on one—Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Many children are labeled ADHD without proper diagnosis and quickly put on medication to “fix” them.
True ADHD is a biological condition and there is no single method that accurately diagnoses it. ADHD children are not lazy, defiant, or bad. They often understand what they are told, but have difficulty controlling their impulses to do what they know they should do. Other medical problems (e.g., food allergies, auditory processing problems, or learning difficulties) can cause behavior that looks like ADD or ADHD. Similar behavior can also result when children haven’t learned self-control, decision-making or listening skills. All these factors must be ruled out, before diagnosing a child with ADHD, so concerned parents want to involve a team of people from four critical areas:
- Parents are a good source of diagnostic information since they are with the child the most.
- Teachers can make observations of the child’s behavior in large groups. Children can have a “learning disability” and not be ADHD. Some children have learning difficulties because their ADHD is untreated. Often, there are environmental factors (such as too much noise) that make it difficult for children to concentrate at home or at school, but they don’t have a physical problem.
- Medical doctors can rule out food allergies and hearing/visual problems, which have symptoms that mimic ADHD.
Standard Criteria for Diagnosing ADHD1*
A. Either (1) or (2):
a. often fails to give close attention to details or makes careless mistakes in schoolwork, work, or other activities
b. often has difficulty sustaining attention in tasks or play activities
c. often does not seem to listen when spoken to directly
d. often does not follow through on instructions and fails to finish schoolwork, chores, or duties in the workplace (not due to oppositional behavior or failure to understand instructions)
e. often has difficulty organizing tasks and activities
f. often avoids, dislikes, or is reluctant to engage in tasks that require sustained mental effort (such as schoolwork or homework.
g. often loses things necessary for tasks or activities (e.g., toys, school assignments, pencils, books, or tools)is often easily distracted by extraneous stimuli
h. is often forgetful in daily activities
a. often fidgets with hands or feet or squirms in seat
b. often leaves seat in classroom or in other situations in which remaining seated is expected
c. often runs about or climbs excessively in situations in which it is inappropriate (in adolescents or adults, may be limited to feelings of restlessness)
d. often has difficulty playing or engaging in leisure activities quietly
e. is often “on the go” or often acts as if “driven by a motor”
f. often talks excessively
C. Some impairment from the symptoms is present in two or more settings (e.g., at school [or work] and at home).
D. There must be clear evidence of clinically significant impairment in social, academic, or occupational functioning.
E. The symptoms do not occur exclusively during the course of . . . [another mental or physical disorder.] (Author’s paraphrasing.)
*Diagnostic criteria is reprinted with permission from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th ed. copyright 1994, American Psychiatric Association.
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There are actually three types of attention deficits: (1) Inattentive (ADD), (2) Hyperactive/Impulsive, and (3) Combined type (ADHD). ADHD can also appear in children who have other neurological (brain and nervous system), psychological, and learning disorders, so a thorough diagnosis process is vital.
No one approach can “cure” ADHD and treatment must be long-term. Therefore, effective treatment plans should address all the possible factors that influence ADHD. The best treatment plan uses the first four interventions at the same time and may or may not include the last (medication).
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- 2 at each step of the learning process, but each person is stronger in some areas than others
a. Words (written or spoken), songs.
b. Numbers, patterns, and other logical strategies.
c. Music, sound, rhythm.
d. Pictures, visualizing, building structures, drawing, doodling.
e. Physical movement, sports, dance, repetitive movements.
f. Socializing with others, reading body language.
g. Internalizing, imagination, self-discipline.
h. Nature, plants, animals, and outdoors.
- ADHD children often participate in special programs, such as tutoring and reading groups, that take place during school hours away from the classroom. While they learn important skills in these programs, they also lose the extra time they need to complete schoolwork, absorb and process information, or simply get a mental break. They may get farther behind in their work and have difficulty adjusting to the transitions.
|D.||Psychological Treatment. Locate a psychologist, psychiatrist, or therapist who is knowledgeable and experienced in treating ADHD. They can address the following special issues of ADHD:
“NORMAL” ISN’T AN EXCUSE
Some behaviors are considered “normal” for children of a particular age or who have a diagnosed medical condition. “Normal” doesn’t mean parents excuse unacceptable behavior. We need to teach children the skills they need to move beyond their current limitations and develop the maturity and skills they need later in life.
4. The child does lack the information to know better.
Sometimes children simply don’t know or remember how they are supposed to behave. Rules at home might be different from the school’s or a neighbor’s rules. “Knowing better” involves a logical understanding and an ability to consistently control the behavior. If we teach skills (Independence Toolset) and give information (Clear Communication Toolset) this type of misbehavior often stops or lessens, but this process can take time and practice.
Age alone does not determine if misbehavior is PU or PO. Children can be old enough that we assume they “should know better,” but haven’t learned or mastered the necessary behavior skills. For example, teens reared in violent homes or communities have learned violence. While we can expect other teens to resolve conflicts peacefully, these teens have not learned these skills. In these cases, our focus is to teach skills, as in PU behavior.
5. The child has not consistently shown he or she has mastered the skills to behave properly in this situation.
This last deciding factor usually accounts for the previous four. Children often haven’t mastered skills because:
The key to accurately answering “true” or “false” to this statement lies in understanding the words of this definition. “Consistent” means repeatedly or many times. “Shown” means we have seen the child act appropriately. Still, just because we have “told” children how to behave and maybe even seen them behave this way does not mean children have mastered the behavior. “Mastered” skills are behaviors children use very well and are almost a habit.
When we see PU behavior, we want to figure out the positive skill we want them to use and then ask ourselves, “Have I seen my child regularly use this skill, often enough that I am positive he or she is fully capable of behaving properly?” If not, we need to work more on teaching skills and not assume the child is intentionally misbehaving.
When in Doubt, Assume Misbehavior Is PU
Eliminate the possibility that children don’t know better, before assuming they are deliberately misbehaving. If their behavior is really PU and we react as though it’s PO, the behavior won’t improve. Children still won’t understand and will feel more discouraged, which leads to PO misbehavior.
Give children the benefit of the doubt. Just because their behavior is irritating (such as tapping a foot), it doesn’t mean it is “on purpose.” Only if we’ve taught them the skills, they’ve behaved “better” on a consistent basis in the past, and are behaving negatively in a deliberate way, is the behavior “on purpose.” The key to recognizing PO behavior is intent; PO behavior is deliberate.
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PU Behavior Can Turn into PO Behavior
Our reactions to PU behavior influences whether children use the behavior later as PO behavior. If we give the behavior negative attention, the child receives a payoff. A classic example of this is when children say a swear word, but don’t know what it means. In this situation, their behavior is PU. If children get a big reaction, they may intentionally repeat the behavior later for attention. Then the behavior would be PO. They knew they were not supposed to use the word and normally don’t, but to some children, negative attention is better than no attention at all. If we keep in mind that “children usually repeat any behavior we reward,” we can consciously control our responses to PU behavior and redirect it, instead of accidentally rewarding it.
We can react to PU behavior and turn it into PO … … or we can effectively respond, preventing PO.
USING THE UNIVERSAL BLUEPRINT
When responding to PU problems, we want to follow the universal PASRR formula. Here we will find many helpful tools to prevent or respond to PU problems. Let’s review some of the tools we’ve learned that are especially useful with PU behavior and add a couple more tools.
Step A: Prevent the Behavior (Prevention Toolbox)
We can prevent many PU behaviors or, at the least, influence how quickly children learn appropriate behavior skills. We can use the Prevention Toolbox anytime, to prevent PU behavior or at any time in our response.
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Responding to PU Behavior
When prevention doesn’t work, or we need to immediately respond to PU behavior, taking the next steps of the Universal Blueprint’s PASRR formula.
STEP B: ACKNOWLEDGE FEELINGS (CHILD PROBLEM TOOLBOX)
PU problems are onions; the outer skin is the PU behavior, the inner layers are the child’s feeling or underlying reason for the behavior. PU behaviors are often the result of feelings like frustration, lack of control, or inaccurate beliefs. Here are some specific statements we can use at each step of the F-A-X Listening process, although you may have difficulty using the last two steps (A and X) with very young children.
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Focus on Feelings
Ask Helpful Questions
X-amine Possible Options
STEP C1: SET LIMITS AND EXPRESS CONCERNS
Even if PU behavior is normal, we still need to stay calm and respectfully state our concerns, expectations, and limits.
Keep Your Cool Toolset
Clear Communication Toolset
Usually the first three steps in the Universal Blueprint’s PASRR formula (prevention, listening, and communicating) provide enough resources to resolve PU problems. When the problem continues, we move to the PU Toolset to Redirect behavior.
STEP C2: REDIRECT THE PU BEHAVIOR (PU TOOLSET)
Acknowledging feelings (Step B) and Setting limits (Step C1) are what we say. Redirecting the behavior(Step C2) is usually what we do while we are speaking. We can redirect problem behavior with a verbal statement or by taking action. Here are some extra tools especially helpful in redirecting PU behavior.
Ignore Behavior When Appropriate
This tool is only useful if the behavior is not dangerous. It is particularly helpful for irritating PU behavior, such as whining. By not giving the behavior attention, parents prevent giving a payoff that can turn PU behavior into PO behavior.
Ignore the behavior, not the child. A parent can acknowledge feelings, “I can tell you really want something” or encourage cooperation, “If you can use words I will know what you want and can get it for you.” We can also say nothing and only respond when the behavior stops or when the child talks or acts in an acceptable way, possibly unrelated to what they were doing. (We learn more about ignoring behavior in the PO Toolset.)
If children are doing something that isn’t okay, tell them what is okay. With younger children, we may need to physically redirect them. This tool is closely related to “offer choices within limits” and “Don’t say ‘Don’t.’” The possibilities for use are nearly endless:
If we have safety concerns about school-aged children riding bikes around the whole neighborhood, we may approve of them only riding around our block several times.
If preteens want to plan a winter indoor boy/girl party, suggest a springtime outdoor party with acceptable coed activities. Avoid lectures about romantic possibilities that would express distrust.
When teens resist a visit to relatives, suggest bringing a friend, an activity to do, or make a deal that they don’t have to go somewhere else if they go there.
Most parents are familiar with the effectiveness of distracting young children, especially those under four years. Because young children are so focused on the present moment, it is easier to change their focus.
A Favorite Story. Many years ago, I read a story in “Welcome Home3 ,” a national publication for stay-at-home mothers. As I remember the story, a mother and daughter were at the playground close to their apartment. The toddler resisted leaving. The mother saw a pretty butterfly and suggested they follow it. This got them out of the playground. But the mother didn’t stop there. She saw some flowers ahead and they went to look at them more closely. By following the various interesting sites along the way home, she arrived at their front door. Finally, she suggested they go visit their dog and see what he was up to. By using distraction, this mother avoided an argument that could have ended with her carrying the daughter, kicking and screaming, from the playground. Neither would have learned anything constructive and their fun time at the play-ground would have been spoiled by the way it ended.
Once children are older than four, distraction takes a different form. With older children, we can try several other techniques:
Parents often fear that unless they control children, the children will take control. When we control a situation, we avoid controlling children with orders that lead to power struggles (PO problem). The most well known form of changing the environment is “child proofing.” By removing dangerous objects or restricting dangerous areas, young children can explore more freely. There are more ways, however, to control the environment that are useful with children of all ages:
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Identify PU Behaviors and Their Triggers, Then Make a Plan
Changing PU behavior usually takes longer than other behaviors, because the child’s maturity and skill development take time to improve. With more severe or disruptive behaviors, we may need to develop a more comprehensive plan.
1. Identify the PU behavior you want to work on. Decide what you want children to do.
2. Observe when the behavior occurs and doesn’t occur.
When the behavior occurs, ask yourself, “What is the child doing when it happens? What am I doing? What else is going on? What triggers it? What is the child getting from it?”
When the behavior does not occur, ask yourself, “What was different? Could this factor prevent the behavior? When is it okay to behave this way? What is the child getting from the behavior?”
3. Control triggering events. “Triggering” events cause or influence the behavior to occur. Reduce the factors that trigger the PU behavior and strengthen the factors that encourage appropriate behavior.
4. Break the response chain. Disruptive behavior can be a habit. One step leads to the next step, which leads to the problem. What is the typical pattern? To eliminate PU behavior, we must help the child learn new skills to replace the old habitual behavior.
5. Give encouragement. Acknowledge effort toward the positive behavior and any improvements children make. Focus on internal motivators and rewards. “(Friend’s name) appreciated it when you (describe appropriate behavior).” If there are external rewards, wean children off of them quickly.
6. Track the progress. Notice steps toward the goal and any improvements. Recognize barriers and develop a plan for removing them.
The PU Formula Using the PASRR Formula with PU Behavior Here are a few examples: Chapter 11: PU Toolset (Unintentional misbehavior) 307
Step A: Prevent the problem. “When people want _____, they (teach skills).”
Step C1: Set limits and express concerns. “. . . but (explain concerns).”
Step C2: Redirect behavior. “You can (offer an acceptable alternative) instead.”
Using the PASRR Formula with PU Behavior
Here are a few examples:
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