Make It Positive
Often times when I’m meeting with parents for the first time to discuss therapy for their child, parents feel desperate for help and change as soon as possible, yet they understand that even with therapy it will take time before they notice any changes. Parents often ask me, “Is there anything I can do in the meantime to help my child at home?” That can be a difficult question to answer because I haven’t met the child yet, and from my experience I know not all children are the same and therefore we have to find what works for that specific child. However, one thing that I tell parents they can try in the meantime is to rephrase their commands to the positive. What I mean by that is telling them what they can do more than telling them what not to do. Often times when a child is doing an undesirable behavior, an adult will quickly say, “stop,” or “don’t hit your brother!” And saying those things is not “wrong.” However, feeling angry or upset is a natural emotion and it is okay to express your emotions, but if hitting isn’t the best way to show anger then what is? When we say things like, “don’t hit!” the child is hearing what not to do, but they are still left with their angry feelings and feel lost as to what to do with them. You can try saying something like, “it looks like you are feeling angry, in our house it’s okay to show your anger by _______ (i.e. hitting a pillow in your room, taking a walk around the yard, having alone time in your room, taking breath breaths, talking to mom about it when you’re calm, etc.” One reason this is more helpful is because the message that they will hear over and over is how they can help themselves, how they can manage their emotions, and hopefully over time that message will pop into their mind before acting out the undesirable behavior. Whereas, only hearing “stop,” over and over leaves them confused and helpless. Therapy and changing behavior can be a long process and requires a lot of patience, but hopefully this is a strategy that can be helpful during the process.