Heidi Whittaker is a Parent Consultant for Utah Parent Center. This is an excerpt from her blogpost, published 3/19/13, shared with her permission.
(Comments in bold print and italicized are enhanced/updated contributions by Jo Mascorro, M.Ed. 2023)
A Note From Heidi Whittaker, Utah Parent Center Consultant:
When I first started typing the notes from this two day conference, I had 14 pages worth and still hadn’t typed up half of the notes Jafra and I both had taken. I decided that it didn’t make sense to type up every single word we had written, but only the most important and poignant information so people would get something out of it without having to read a thesis. So, I started over and hopefully edited only the most important and useful information.
I put topics in categories so you could browse through and look at the titles you’re most interested in OR if you’re reading it straight through, you’ll find the information builds on each other.
Just as a clarification, this workshop WAS geared to parents who have children with disabilities, but wait! You will find that this information absolutely and completely applies to all children, “typical” or no. I found the information to be some of the best I have learned from parenting classes I’ve attended through the years.
I really hope that you get some good strategies to help you in your parenting route! Here goes!
4 Part Blog Series
Part 1: Changing our child vs. changing ourselves
Do you want to "change" your child?
Often we want to “change” our children without having to change ourselves first.
“Consider how hard it is to change yourself and you’ll understand what little chance you have of trying to change others”-Jacob Braude
Our children have control over only ONE thing and that’s their behavior. If our mindset as parents is about controlling our children, that’s going to come back and BITE us. The only person you have control over is yourself! We cannot make another person do anything. What we DO control is our feedback, positive or negative to our child!
Deal with your own anger first.
What do WE do as adults when we’re mad? We most likely do not put ourselves in a stripped down room to “think” about what we did! Our brain focuses on what we think about the most, so if our children are focusing on the bad thing they did, that’s what you most likely will get more of in the future! Having children hyper-focusing on their bad behavior will backfire on the parents!
We want our children to STOP the negative behaviors, but we can’t be modeling negative behaviors ourselves and expect them to do better than we are showing them! So, no yelling at our child to “stop yelling!” Their brains are recording and playing back EVERYTHING constantly. We next have to TEACH our children to do what we want without the control, begging, threatening, challenging or manipulation. If you want your child to stop biting, you can’t just tell them to “STOP biting,” and then tell them to go to their room to ponder more biting! We have to give them more information of what to DO instead.
You cannot measure or “compare” anger. When we are mad, our brain releases chemistry. A child’s can release the same amount of chemistry as an adult in a severe situation!
We all communicate via words, face and body.
So what do adults do to get their “mad” out when they’re angry? Do you take a walk? Exercise? Watch TV? Punch a pillow? It’s important to have a release for that anger.
Next, deal with your child's anger.
First, practice the “Dead Pulse Response.” This is where you stop arguing with your child and breathe deeply and slowly until you can get your pulse to slow down to as close to no pulse as you can! You will self talk while you breathe. You say, “Stop Self! I have skills!” or you may say, “I’m older and smarter than this kid and I’m going to control ME so I can help him.” Our children’s brains are not processing when they’re angry. The brain shuts off the part that listens when it’s angry. Adults function from the frontal lobe which isn’t fully developed in children until age 25-30.
Do the opposite! When our kids are angry, our body has a job to do the opposite of what your child is doing. If your child is talking louder and faster, we slow down our words and speak softer. Get quieter. Use less words. The louder they get, the softer YOU get! The severity of the behavior may be determined not by the demonstration, but rather by how we respond to the demonstration. It’s all about the feedback our child is getting from us.
Do not try to teach anything in the height of anger. If you really want them to listen to you, then wait until their brain is “on,” not switched to “off” mode during anger.
If your house doesn’t scream, “I want you here, I know you can learn, and I’m going to do everything possible to keep you safe,” you need to change that!
Eliminate saying "Right now."
Remove the phrase, “Right now” from your vocabulary. For instance, “I want you to clean your room RIGHT NOW!” Why? Less than 80% of people respond to the first prompting of anything. The human brain does not do well with RIGHT NOW. Brains do not appreciate spontaneity! Think about yourself as an adult. Do you like to be interrupted to do something right now? Most likely, the answer is no! We have to remember that our children’s brains are UNWIRED and UNDEVELOPED. That “reasoning” part of their brains (the frontal lobe) doesn’t develop until later, till age 25-30. Young children function from the amygdala part of their brain, which is the here and now.
What? There are no "miraculous" solutions to my child's problems?
There is no miraculous healing (solution) to any problem! A technique that works the first time might not work again another time. Or it may take us doing that technique for a longer period of time for it to work. Remember that we will not be able to do things perfect with our kids 100% of the time. Do the best you can in the situation you are in, and try to apply new techniques as you go.
We all alter behavior based on where we’re at and who we’re with. So if your child behaves in one place but maybe not another, instead of being upset about it, instead, celebrate! It proves your child does have the capability to control how they behave and recognize when good behavior is especially appropriate.
Help your child avoid overstimulation by eliminating clutter, getting organized and setting up routines. These can help immensely.
Parents have two jobs in life.
We have two jobs in life: To teach our child, and to teach everybody else how to “get” our child. Parents of children with disabilities have the responsibility to teach everyone else around us to honor that child’s differences and strengths. The world will lower expectations of our child if we use "babytalk" with them or dress them too young for their actual age. People do judge. We want people to value our kids and their capabilities so our children can have a better quality of life.
Separate the child from the behavior.
Don’t say, “Harold, you’re mean! You hit your sister!” You’re talking about the “core” of that child’s soul. Is he inherently mean? No! So focus on the behavior of the child, not the child. Say, “Hitting is inappropriate because it is mean” or “rolling your eyes at the person speaking to you is very disrespectful.” This focuses on the behavior, not on the core of who the child is.
Our kids are only kids once. They have their whole life to be an adult. Let them be their age and don’t try to make them an adult all at once.
Avoid SARCASM/JUDGEMENT in comments you make to your child. Brains are constantly recording and imprinting!
Remember to slow down/distract/prevent/disengage.
Don’t make your non-disabled child responsible for the disabled child. Don’t make them the messenger at school or with other adults.
Did you know that our body posturing and language can actually de-escalate an upset child? Try working with children with your palms up instead of down.
Some people say that behaviors get worse as the child gets older. But actually, the behavior may still be the same, it’s just that the child’s behavior is no longer age-appropriate or acceptable.
Sometimes parents resort to electronics to calm a child because it’s EASIER. At some point easier is not going to be your friend anymore.
Use the word "by" to get more results.
Teach your child what you want them to do more clearly by stating the word "by" after a request. For instance, “I need you to pick up your room BY hanging your clothes in the closet.” It explains to the child exactly WHAT it is you want them to do. If your child is in 4th grade or younger, turn tasks to be done into a game. Turn work into a party.
The brain wants to hear, see and do. When a child doesn’t understand, you are going to get a behavioral problem. Use words, visual and actions to facilitate better understanding.
Don’t do for your child what he/she can do for themselves. For instance, if a child has a disability, think about what they need to master in order to be able to be independent. Don’t intervene right away. Expect more.
Our home is full of opportunities. “Positive opportunities” are rewards. “Negative opportunities” are to not watch TV, or play the iPad, or go outside., etc.
Set parameters with your child in threes. “You can’t hit your sister, you can want to hit her, but in this house you can’t hit your sister when you’re mad.” Then teach them what to do!
Our children are getting “imprinted” by the actions of adults because they are not wired right and not developmentally able to understand. Some parents just want to STOP the kid rather than deal with the environment to stop the kid.
Interventions vs. Consequences
An intervention is a replacement behavior the CHILD does. A consequence or “opportunity” is ADULT initiated and is just a positive or negative reinforcer. When you teach the what to do instead – THAT’S an intervention. For instance, a replacement behavior for a child cussing would be teaching the child they can cuss all they want in their head instead of out loud. Many times, too often, adults focus on the consequences, the rewarding or taking away thinking that will “teach” our child to behave. NOT the answer.
If we really want the child to make headway, we need to teach replacement behaviors that become part of their lives. Replacement behaviors are skills we teach them to do for themselves without us. “Consequences” often teach the child not to do it around us, but to still do it around others.
Teach your child how to deal with bullies.
The trick to dealing with bullies is to move the target. Bullies look for targets. Teach your child to stand really still when a bully is talking to them. Teach them to say phrases that can be said to the bully, like, “I’ll ponder that thought” or, “That gives me something to think about.” Then teach your child to walk away.
Did you like this post? Continue on to the next one in this series, "Part 2: Adult Brain vs. Child Brain: Understanding How They Work."
This is the first part of a 4 part blogpost series dedicated to giving parents resources for teaching their neurodiverse children at home. Notes were provided by Utah Parent Center employee, Heidi Whittaker, from a conference where Jo Mascorro, an Education Consultant, presented her ideas. Ms. Mascorro was kind enough to review these notes to make sure all content is up to date.
Jo Mascorro, an Independent Consultant for Education for over 28 years, is best known for her practical approach when teaching alternative methods for responding to individuals who demonstrate extreme behaviors. During her 40 years of experience in the field of Education, Jo has provided training throughout the nation in areas specific to proactive, behavior intervention practices, communication strategies, parenting skills, and programming for individuals who experience from mild/moderate to severe/profound disabilities (birth-adult).
Heidi Whittaker serves as a parent consultant with Utah Parent Center in the Nebo School District. While not a homeschooler, she is a parent, and she is uniquely qualified to help parents as she has raised her own neurodiverse children and works daily with parents of children with extra needs. She lives in the South Utah County Area. If you live in that area and are educating a child with special needs, she is happy to help you in that journey. Email her at email@example.com or call/text at 801-228-8144.