If your child is going to succeed in life, she must ultimately learn to function competently without you. She must learn skills to complete necessary tasks, to understand other points of view, to balance her wants with others’ without sacrificing her integrity. You can teach your special-needs child these things.
1 Use coercion as a last resort.
When you manage your child’s behavior using special incentives and penalties, things will seem fine as long as there is no controversy, and your child keeps earning the rewards you control. But this kind of coercion can be problematic when it’s the primary way to socialize within a family. Focus instead on helping your child see the ultimate reason to cooperate: He will have happier, more fruitful experiences if he is kind and skillful. There is no reason to distract him from this powerful incentive. His social life and esteem will improve when he acquires new skills and cares for others. Nothing is more intoxicating than those outcomes; your child needs no other compensation.
2 Stay calm.
When you model calm behavior, you simply act in the way you want your child to, and he learns by observation. When your child is overreacting, do not escalate the problem. Keep your tone of voice calm and reasonable even as you repeat yourself. As a last resort, stop responding until your child settles. If necessary, create physical space between you and your child to facilitate “quieting down.”
3 Actively address and resolve problems.
Some may think that reducing coercion means letting your child do whatever he wants. Not so. Your child can learn to conform to expectations with a less forceful management style. You might allow some failures to occur that would end more quickly with coercion, but you are not idle; you are methodically developing mature behavior. Reduce pressure tactics to persuade in more subtle ways. Instead of solving problems for your child, try asking him, “How do you want to handle that problem?” or “What are your options (choices, priorities)?”
4 Be patient.
You may have to revisit a problem many times before progress becomes evident. Most people usually need more than one trial to change any behavior; relapse is expected. You can have a productive discussion with your child, and he may still behave in the same old way. Instead of giving up or resorting to coercion, stay on the path of finding a mutually agreeable solution. Maintain the view that, over time, new learning will eventually take hold.
5 Suspend judgment.
Under some circumstances, evaluation can stimulate achievement and be helpful. But your child may relate to you more honestly and show more attentiveness if you suspend judgment and hear him out. You want your child to open up to you, and that will feel easier for him when he feels safe from criticism. You can put him at ease and make it comfortable for him to speak his mind by talking with him in a frank and respectful manner. Impartial statements about observations and facts will make it easier to build a relationship that both of you value and enjoy.
Negative language isn't the answer ->
6 Say it positively.
If you are using a lot of negative language, switching to positive will help your child learn the advantages of acceptable behavior. He will also learn to think positively when the language that he learns and uses is affirming. While it’s important that your child be aware of negative consequences and comply immediately when you tell him not to do something, too much emphasis on the negative can be counterproductive.
7 Treat your child as competent.
Your child will improve more quickly when you treat him as competent. Before assuming he is inept, assess his competency when he is doing tasks that he has practiced or enjoys. Use those activities to gauge what he can do under positive circumstances. Let your child know that he is impressive, and allow him to inform you. This will put him in the driver’s seat, and it will reassure him that he can do well on his own. Value his achievements and contributions, and take notice of his ambition even if it shows only with his hobbies. Your positive responses will help him repeat similar behaviors with other activities.
8 Establish "buy in."
When your child is comfortable with what is happening, he is more likely to cooperate. For this important reason, it’s good practice to obtain “buy in” when you are trying to get him to accommodate. Look at whether he nods his head, smiles, or says a sincere “okay.” When you act with concern about your child’s perspective, you model responses that will benefit him throughout his life. Research shows that when infants and caretakers resolve problematic interactions by adjusting to each other in positive ways, their relationships become stronger. The child develops trust with the caretaker, his self-regulation improves, and psychological problems are less likely.
9 Assert yourself.
You may tell your child what you want him to do, but if he resists or disregards you, his lack of cooperation may keep you stuck. Don’t confuse less coercion with weakness or inactivity. Instead of remaining frustrated, take the reins. Assert yourself, and your child must then deal with the changes you have made. If your child ignores you, rather than repeating the same instruction, you can physically stop him from what he is doing without saying a word. You’ll need to talk with your child about problems more often, beginning with a focus on you and what you are willing and not willing to accept. Let your child know you value his input, but don’t stand still and let him control what happens.
10 Foster independence.
You can enhance your child’s welfare when you help him learn self-reliance. This can be difficult when you are anxious about harmful consequences. Come to your child’s rescue and protect him whenever you sense significant danger. However, you might find that he learns many valuable lessons when you allow “natural consequences” to run their course. Let your child experience the natural results of his actions, if there can be no significant harm. Give your child an opportunity to solve problems on his own before offering assistance. f
Adapted from Parenting Your Child with ADHD, A No-Nonsense Guide for Nurturing Self-Reliance and Cooperation by Craig B. Wiener, EdD.
Read more about Special Needs on NJ Family: