Why traditional parenting strategies don’t work for PDAersOct 24, 2021
Why traditional parenting strategies don’t work for PDAers...
If you and the PDAer in your life are struggling with challenging behaviours, there’s one thing that will almost certainly happen. It might be a relative, a childcare professional or a friend but someone, somewhere, will suggest a parenting technique. They will make it sound so simple - just give a reward or punishment and everything will be sorted!
Well intentioned as this advice is, it’s also incredibly frustrating. You know that your PDAer doesn’t respond well to those things, you’ve probably already tried them more than once.
Perhaps you even feel like you’ve failed, as you struggle to explain that confiscating all of his/her favourite toys is not going to lead to a peaceful household.
You have not failed!
It’s not that you weren’t consistent enough, you don’t need to be firmer. The techniques that many parenting experts recommend are simply inappropriate especially for PDAers.
I’m going to explain the challenges with a couple of techniques, why they don’t work and suggestions that may work. So next time you find yourself facing a parenting course, or a confused grandparent, you’ll know exactly what to say.
Did you know that the ‘time out’ technique was originally developed about 70 years ago, so it’s not surprising if it’s due for an update! It could involve anything from sending a child to their bedroom to having them sit on a “naughty step”, perhaps with a timer.
The thinking is that if the child is removed from a fun, social environment and made to spend time alone with nothing to do they will learn not to repeat the behaviour. Sometimes children are also told to “think about what you’ve done” in the hope that they will decide to do differently next time.
The chances are they don’t feel what they have done is ‘Wrong’, so how can they reflect on their behaviour?
The other issue is, all behaviour is communication.
Whatever your PDAer is doing, they are trying to tell you something, to let you know that something isn’t right. When you send them away, you haven't “heard” them, and in their eyes, you’ve not solved the underlying problem.
Imagine you are on your way to a very important job interview. You are already feeling anxious;
💥 wearing uncomfortable shoes,
💥unsure where to go, you worry that you haven’t prepared,
💥that you might have forgotten something,
💥all the things you feel in a high pressure situation.
Then something goes wrong………..
The sat nav crashes, or you hit a traffic jam, or spill coffee down your white shirt.
It’s the final straw, your calm brain is no longer in control and you find yourself reacting in a way you wouldn’t normally.
Maybe you lash out, maybe you cry, maybe you go home and eat a whole tub of ice cream. Whatever it is, it’s an extreme emotional reaction to the “problem” of a traffic jam.
Now imagine that your friend or spouse is there and instead of giving you a hug, or helping you find a solution, they say, “this behaviour is unacceptable, go and sit by yourself until you can calm down.”
Would that help?
Of course not, in fact it would make it worse! What you need in that moment is empathy, connection, help to regulate your emotions. Maybe help fixing the sat nav too. It’s all about feeling heard, understood and safe.
Removing connection does not make people feel less anxious.
A possible alternative is known as a “time-in”, where you sit with a child, hug them if that’s what they want, and give them emotional support. You can remove both them and yourself from the overwhelming environment or situation and give them what they need to calm down and start thinking rationally again.
Then, when everyone is calm, you can problem solve together.
We've looked at a punishment, now let's consider a popular reward.
The good old sticker chart with it’s list of tasks and stars for every day of the week. There are hundreds of these on the market, and variations like marbles in a jar. The theory is that you choose a few things you want to encourage, like tooth brushing and homework, then every time they do that thing, they earn a sticker. Get enough stickers and they win a prize. It all sounds lovely and positive!
The problem is, that chart might have five tasks every day for a week.
That’s 35 empty spaces laid out and laden with DEMANDS!
Let’s be honest who likes 35 tasks to do ?
Anyone can feel anxious and overwhelmed with 35 challenging tasks presented to them, let alone activities your PDAer already is finding hard to do.
Let’s think how often we focus on the negative situations as well as what’s not been achieved, instead of the Achievements. Then thinking about the one star they didn’t get, or even worse a star removed when things went wrong later in the day.
??? Do you get your reward if you earn 34 out of 35 stars?
??? Do you get the “no fighting” star if you have one disagreement ten minutes before bedtime after a peaceful day?
Are these expectations requiring unrealistic levels of perfection. Are they yet another source of anxiety? No wonder so many kids get discouraged, especially as it is spread over days so no wonder they give up.
To avoid overwhelm if you can use very short time frames, a day or two rather than a week. Ensuring rewards are immediate, ensuring it’s something the PDAer wants and will be motivated by. A snack of their choice after reading a page may well be more effective than pizza night if they read every day for a week.
A good alternative approach is to first connect and have a calmer moment, then, or at another time ask the young person what they think appropriate consequences would be. My own son can be surprisingly strict and give himself a harsher consequence than I would have! But the main difference is that now he has bought into the consequence, he understands why it has happened and how to avoid it in future.
Depending on the age of your PDAer you may decide to work together on a solution rather than using any type of punishment. You might need to find a way to replace something that has been broken, or think of how you can do things differently next time.
Always, no matter which approach you use, the aim is to connect and work together. Instead of pushing them away or fighting against them, you can stand beside your PDAer.
Support is what they need, so they can navigate the challenges they face in life!