Child Behaviour Strategies: Focus on What You Want

When parents come to me for help with a child, they naturally start by telling me what is wrong with their child and what behaviours or emotional responses they would like to get rid of or change.  That is totally understandable.

If a child is frequently acting in a way that is inappropriate, unacceptable, annoying, or worrying, it is reasonable that the parents would focus on those bad behaviours and reactions in an attempt to stop or modify them; especially if the parents have got to the stage of seeking help from a psychologist. By that time they are usually tearing their hair out with frustration and losing sleep.

When I observe these parents and children together, I notice that the concerned parents often spend a great deal of time and energy giving negative attention to the children’s unwanted behaviours in an attempt to stop them. Again, this is totally natural and understandable.

Attention Encourages Behaviour

The problem is that every time the parents focus their attention on unwanted behaviours, they inadvertently encourage those behaviours, particularly if the child is hungry for attention. Some children need an enormous amount of attention, and they can unconsciously develop a taste for bad attention if that becomes their main source.

A powerful strategy when you are dealing with an attention seeking child, is to pay more attention to the behaviours and reactions that you want, and less attention to the behaviours and reactions that you don’t want.

Focus on What You Want

If you focus on desirable behaviours and give them your love and positive attention, you will nurture and encourage those positive behaviours. It’s a bit like watering, fertilising and protecting flowers in a garden, and allowing the weeds to wilt and be trampled in a natural way.

It is sometimes difficult to see the positive in a child who has driven you crazy with their disobedience, or laziness, or inability to listen and follow instructions , or silly behaviour, or rudeness, or dangerous antics, or anxiety, or aggression, or temper tantrums.  Many parents of challenging children find it very hard to find anything they feel worthy of positive attention.

Start with Small Seeds

But remember, beautiful flowers grow from small seeds. You have to make a conscious effort to turn your habitual attention giving around, so that you notice and acknowledge positive behaviours, even if only tiny things.

Try to notice and acknowledge when your attention seeking child plays quietly by himself for even a minute. Smile and give a thumbs up when your argumentative children agree over which TV program to watch. Praise your dreamy child when she manages to follow  a small instruction. High five your angry child when he gets through a short shopping expedition without a tantrum.

Gradually Expect More

Make sure the praise and attention suit the age, personality and maturity of the child. As your child gets better at taking these small steps, you can reduce the frequency of your praise and raise the bar slowly, and as they mature acknowledge this with the expectation that things will keep improving. ‘You are getting better and better at staying calm as you get older. Well done.”

Want More Help?

If you are interested in other parenting tips, get a copy of my free twelve part e-book, ‘12 Super Child Training Secrets’. Or, if you are after a much more comprehensive and intensive training that you could do at home in your own time and pace, check out my parent training package, ‘How to Manage Your 3 to 10 Year Old Child’.  The links to both are on www.Psychology ThroughTheInternet.com, on the right hand side of the page.

Happy parenting.

Lorri Craig

Disappearing with Dementia

My mother has dementia: Alzheimer’s we’re told. She’s 79, fit as a fiddle physically, and still coordinates her wardrobe with some of her old style most of the time, but it’s hard for her to maintain a train of thought for long.

Mum’s working memory has gradually diminished to the point where it lasts about twenty seconds. Occasionally she can hold a thought to the end of a sentence, and she can sometimes even manage to participate sensibly in a brief conversation, but before long her thoughts inevitably get lost and scrambled, and she makes no sense.

I remember having a conversation with her a couple of years ago, when her working memory was about two minutes long. She acknowledged the difficulty of organising her ideas with a deteriorating memory. She agreed that thought needs some memory to hold and manipulate its parts. True thinking cannot be done successfully without a working memory, so dementia takes away the ability to think.

Difficult Conversations

Some of Mum’s intelligence is still in there, within the chaos. She still thinks in complex concepts, but struggles to find the words to express them.  She was always a keen conversationalist, and she certainly hasn’t let her dementia stop her talking, but it is sometimes a struggle to understand what she means.

Because her memory is so damaged, Mum repeats herself in endless loops. She might ask about the weather, or where I live, or our plans for Christmas ten times in as many minutes.  If she was a quieter person, we might not be so aware of the extent of her intellectual disorder.

A Former Life

I have been living in the UK, and recently returned to Australia to be near my mother; to spend time with her before she disappears completely. She is not the mother she once was, but in some ways she still is. I can still catch glimpses of that former person; that incredibly stylish and smart, intuitive, and emotionally intelligent woman who, together with my father, created a family and a successful business, built houses, and travelled the world.

Mum came from a large family, and was historically the person her brothers and sisters turned to when someone needed to be listened to, or hospitalised, or put in care, or buried. She was a middle child, not the eldest, but we were the first sub-family to emigrate from Scotland to Australia, so Mum helped to organise and house each of her siblings and their families as they arrived. I think this, along with her sound organisation skills, big heart, and generosity with her time and energy, was the reason she maintained the big sister role in her family until her mental deterioration.

Put a Gun to My Head

Some of my mother’s siblings developed dementia long before her, and their father also died of the disease. Mum used to say, “Put a gun to the back of my head and shoot me if that ever happens to me.”

But nature is both cruel and kind. As her brain cells died, her mind refused to accept that she had any problem beyond the normal declining memory of people her age. Even now, when she is locked away in a secure unit within a nursing home, unable to leave without a chaperone, she has no idea that she has dementia.

Happily Confused

The good news is that she is very happy and appreciative of everything and everyone. She enjoys living in the nursing home, surrounded by confused people who share the same condition.  It can be touching and amusing to see Mum trying to be her usual helpful self with another resident who insists that the clothes he found in his room are not his. Confusion begets confusion.

Mum sees these people as her friends, and enjoys talking with them and her wonderful carers all day, but she could not identify a single name if asked.

I try to learn their names on my visits. I often wonder, as I watch them being fed and dressed and steered in the right direction, who were these confused shells of people before they started to disappear with dementia? Were any of the other residents as vibrant, intelligent, competent and caring as my mother? What were their lives like? What were their achievements? Who and what exists because of them?

When to Grieve?

It must be painful for their families, as it is painful for me and my family, for we cannot grieve in a normal way. Our loved ones are not yet gone, but they are definitely going.

It will be years before we bury my wonderful mother, but the mother I had and knew is fading quickly before my eyes, being replaced with a sweet, loving, and more and more confused little old lady.

Should I cry? Should I sigh and accept the inevitable downward slide with a stiff upper lip? Or should I be happy and grateful that I get to spend time with this gorgeous, happy, loving, gentle person as she continues to change? And should I be happy for her that she continues to live and enjoy life?

Ask me in a few years. Ask me when her language totally goes; when she can no longer feed herself; when she needs to wear a nappy. Ask me when these factors cloud the memory of the amazing women that she was.

Mum still recognises and remembers me, most of the time, but she cannot do that forever. Perhaps that will be the most difficult transition for me. When she disappears to the point of no longer realising that I’m Lorri, her little girl.

Lorri Craig

Free Help for Parents

For all their lovability, children can be extremely frustrating and worrying people; especially from the perspective of their parents.

As a practicing psychologist, I have worked with literally thousands of frustrated and anxious parents struggling to manage the behavioural and emotional responses of their children. Coincidentally the children’s presenting problems usually fell into one or both of two categories: frustrated and anxious.

SIMPLE STRATEGIES THAT WORK

Over the years I often found myself saying the same stuff repeatedly to parents. Simple stuff like: give more attention to the behaviours and responses you want, and less attention to the behaviours and responses you don’t want. Or, reward your child for good behaviour by playing with them in a fun way, because this encourages good behaviour AND improves your relationship with them. Or, be conscious of modelling good behaviour and appropriate emotional responses to your children, because they are likely to copy you.  Simple but crucial stuff.

12 SUPER CHILD TRAINING SECRETS

So, working within my philosophy of helping more people by providing more affordable, accessible psychology services across the globe via the Internet, I have put my top twelve strategies together into a twelve part ebook. And I have decided to GIVE IT AWAY FOR FREE to anyone who wants it.

The free ebook is called 12 SUPER CHILD TRAINING SECRETS. It comes in 12 parts, and the first part is now up for grabs.  You can get hold of your free copy through here at www.PsychologyThroughTheInternet.com Simply leave your email in the box, and I’ll send you a link to your copy.

HOW TO MANAGE YOUR 3 TO 10 YEAR OLD CHILD

If you are after a more comprehensive package, with 3 hours of interactive video training packed full of ideas and strategies, you might like to check out my new Parent Training DVD Course called HOW TO MANAGE YOUR 3 TO 10 YEAR OLD CHILD.  This package has even more stuff than the ebook and, because the main part is in MP4 format, it is all instantly available and downloadable and easy to digest. The package includes workbooks [so you can practice applying the strategies to your children], along with loads of other goodies.

Although this Parent Training DVD Package is not absolutely free, I have managed to keep the price ridiculously low, so that most parents can afford it.   Which means it’s a fraction of the cost of even one therapy session with me, and far more affordable than most group parent training programs. It’s also much more convenient than going to see a psychologist or attending a parent training group program, because you can do it at your own pace, any time of day or night, in the comfort of your own home or office.  And for most busy parents, that’s a big plus.

If you are really quick you might catch HOW TO MANAGE YOUR 3 TO 10 YEAR OLD CHILD at a ridiculously low sale price. Check it out at www.ParentTrainingCourses.com.

I look forward to sharing my thoughts with you.

Happy parenting,

Lorri Craig

How to Feel Happier

Feeling depressed and unhappy can really bring you down.  Rates of depression in our population are increasing radically. In the USA rates are ten times higher than they were in the great depression of last century, and people are getting depressed much earlier in their lifetimes.

We have an abundance of technology that should help us have easier, happier lives, but our artificial lifestyles seem to stress us out, bring us down, and reduce our happiness. It’s fair to say we are having a bit of a depression epidemic.

Many people believe that it is impossible to lift their mood, to climb out of depression, and to be happy, without medication. But, to the contrary, research has shown that it is possible to improve our baseline happiness by actively and consciously taking steps to turn our mood around. This is the science of positive psychology.

WHY WOULD YOU WANT TO FEEL HAPPIER?

Well, apart from the obvious, when we are happier, we perform better and tend to become more successful.

Children who were encouraged to recall a happy experience before doing a task outperformed their peers by fifty percent. Similarly, adults who are primed to be positive and happier before completing an intelligence test, or thinking task, perform significantly better than their un-primed peers.

Research has shown that happy people are healthier and live longer than unhappy people too. This makes sense, as mood is known to affect our immune systems.

HOW TO FEEL HAPPY

According to Shawn Anchor from Harvard University, we can increase our general state of happiness by doing some really simple stuff.

  • Write down five things you are grateful for every morning. If you do this for 21 days your baseline happiness levels should improve for the next 6 months.
  • Write about a positive experience every day for 30 days. This has been shown to boost immune system and increase your sociability.
  • Do one thing at a time, rather than trying to multitask. Multitask increases stress and we know that stress affects us physically and emotionally.
  • Work out what you are good at and use these strengths in your everyday life. This will increase your self esteem and productivity, and so positively affect your well being.
  • Exercise. This reduces stress levels and improves mood, and is much better for you than anti-depressants.
  • Meditate. This has been shown to affect brain waves, reduce stress reactions, and increase happiness.
  • Smile. The more we smile on the outside, the happier we feel internally.

When my depressed clients to do this simple stuff,  it makes a significant difference to their general mood.

CHANGE THE DIRECTION OF YOUR ENERGY

On top of these homework strategies, I often show clients how to control the energy in their bodies to create a more positive mood.

Think for a minute about how you feel when you are low or depressed. People usually feel a heavy feeling moving down through the lower half of their bodies.

Now think of a happy or exciting experience. Where do you feel the energy? What direction is it going?  Usually up and out from the heart.

So now go back to feeling sad and low. Feel that heavy, sinking energy.

Now take that feeling, and imagine it moving up your body. Imagine it coming up through the earth, through your feet, up your legs, through your belly, into your heart, where it’s transformed into positive energy. You might be able to feel the energy as light, glowing or tingling stuff.

Then feel that positive energy expand in your heart. Imagine it expanding to fill your whole chest in a warm, yummy way. Now imagine it continuing up your spine, up through the back of your neck, through the back of your head, and up and out the top of your head.  YES! YES! YES!!!!

THINK POSITIVELY

Another really important strategy for increasing happiness and productivity is to think positive thoughts. Become aware of your internal dialogue: the things you say to yourself about a situation or experience, or your life. Identify the negative or pessimistic ones, then simply change your head.  Let go the negative thoughts and replace them with positive thoughts. Simple.

GET OUT IN THE SUN

Sunlight is known to increase happiness and health. Scientists believe this is, at least in part due to Vitamin D. Vitamin D is produced in our skin in the sun. It’s known to play a significant role in switching our genes on and off, so is vital for health and well being. People who are deprived of enough sunshine can fall victim to low mood caused by SADs, or seasonal affective disorder. This is why so many of us suffer depression and low mood in the winter.  So, whatever the weather, make sure you get out in the daytime at least once a day. Failing that, or if it’s too cold to expose much skin, take vitamin D supplements.

BEGIN NOW

I realise it is often very difficult to motivate yourself to make changes and try new things when you are feeling low or depressed. But if you force yourself to apply all, or even some, of these strategies for a few days, starting today, you will be on your way to being happier, healthier and more productive.

So stop what you’re doing, get out a pen and paper, and write down five things you’re grateful for. It could be anything from a beautiful sky to a loved one, or the crunchy apple you had for lunch. Next, spend five minutes writing about a positive experience that you have had. Then go for a walk with a smile on your face. Do that every day, and you should start to feel a difference very quickly. Simply suck it and see.

Have fun.

Can a Difficult Birth Create Psychological Problems Later?

It is well known that psychological trauma of any sort can have a lasting, damaging effect on human beings. The earlier the trauma, the more profound the effect, so the impact of a difficult birth on the infant as he develops  into a child and adult can be especially significant.

The Birth Experience

Imagine being a fetus. Imagine floating comfortably in the warm, soft, dark, fluid space of your mother’s womb, drifting in and out of sleep, surrounded by muffled sounds and heartbeats.

Then imagine the sudden shock of being awakened, and pushed and squeezed into the harsh, stark, and noisy outside world, amid your mother’s pained shrieks, racing heart, and adrenalin charged system.

Add to that the strain of an unusually long labour, painful forced delivery, or a life threatening situation, such as being strangled by the umbilical cord, and you have a major traumatic event. Then add the inevitable distress of the mother, to whom the baby is psychologically and energetically linked, and you have a super trauma.

And try to imagine, on top of all that, the added distress on the newborn infant of being removed from the mother for emergency treatment: the infant’s or hers.

What an incredibly cruel, loveless, unpredictable and scary place the world would seem to the distressed newborn.

That is the experience and sensation that is imprinted onto the traumatised neonate’s untainted mind.  A newborn’s immature nervous system is purely unconscious mind, combined with life or death driven emotion, so it does not have the cognitive capacity to be able to sort experiences and make sense of the world in a logical, conscious way. Its mind is like a blank sheet on which is printed the first experiences. And this imprint becomes the blueprint on which the child’s life and future experiences are fashioned.

Long Term Psychological Effects

Children who have had traumatic births are more likely to be anxious or aggressive than their easy-birth counterparts. Of course genetics and many other factors come into the equation too, but, if all else was equal, the child who was traumatised at birth would be more vulnerable to psychological problems.

Separation from the mother at birth, as well as the mother’s own post-trauma stress response, can affect the early bonding between the mother and child, which is another major factor in the child’s psychological development.

As a clinician, whenever I am presented with a highly anxious, angry, or oppositional child, I always ask the parents about the child’s trauma history, including their birth experience.  Actually I do this with my adult clients too. And very often the links are obvious.

Effective New Treatment

Modern psychological treatment can help to correct the psychological damage of a traumatic birth. Therapies such as EMDR [Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing], EFT [Emotional Freedom Technique], and AIT [Advanced Integrative Therapy] are particularly powerful.

I mainly use AIT in my practice today, and find that it is incredibly effective for dealing with the effects of early trauma. AIT uses kinesiology, or muscle testing, to help the clinician and the client communicate with the client’s unconscious, to determine which early traumas might be affecting them in the present. I find that traumatic births are indicated quite often.

The really good news is that clearing the birth trauma with AIT is quite simple and straightforward, and once the early traumas and their links to presenting problems are cleared, and the blueprint is recreated with a clear, conscious mind, the client is able to let go of lifelong symptoms, such as excessive anxiety, fear of abandonment, anger and control issues.  This is incredibly exciting stuff.

Lorri Craig practices AIT in her own private practice in Brighton and Hove, UK, and internationally by phone or Skype. To find out more about AIT go to the article on this site: WHAT IS ADVANCED INTEGRATED THERAPY?

Image thanks to arztsamui at freedigitalphotos.net

Child Behavior: Is Too Much Attention Bad for Children?

Parents are often encouraged to give their children attention, but too much of the wrong kind of attention for the wrong kind of behaviour can be bad for children.

Point one: Children love and need attention, and for many reasons, some children need much more attention than others.

Point two: Attention tends to increase the behaviour that it follows.

Point three: If those children who are hungry for attention are not getting enough positive attention, but at the same time are getting a lot of negative attention, then they can develop a taste, or even a craving, for the negative attention.

What this means when it is all added together is that, when you give an attention-seeking child your attention for the behaviours you don’t like, even if that attention is anger, nagging, or lecturing, you are actually training them to increase the frequency and intensity of those unwanted behaviours.

If, for instance, your attention-seeking child refuses to do what s/he’s told, and you get angry in response you are giving them an enormous amount of intense focussed attention, so this is likely to encourage the defiant behaviour.

I’m not saying that the average attention-seeking child consciously enjoys angry attention. To the contrary, most children find it uncomfortable and distressing. But it’s the child’s powerful unconscious mind that is calling the shots, and enjoying the intense attention, as well as the power of having their parents respond predictably, as if on remote control.

Point 4: Parents can get in the habit of giving negative attention to their children for unwanted behaviour; that is, they can get addicted to their own angry, critical reaction.

When a parent is repeatedly frustrated by a child, it is easy to get in the habit of criticising them, not trusting them, and finding many things they do as irritating or deliberately provoking. This habit can develop in any close relationship, be it with a spouse, sibling, parent or child. But in the parent-child relationship the effect can be very destructive.

Children tend to internalise the messages and labels a parent gives them. So if they are frequently being criticised by a parent, they will eventually believe that they are the naughty, difficult person they are told they are.

So what’s the answer?

The solution is simple. To help them get over their craving for negative attention, the attention seeking child must be given copious quantities of positive attention, and simultaneously be starved of negative attention.

So, if you have a child who is frequently disobedient or angry:

  • Minimise the attention you give to them for the unwanted behaviour.
  • Put into place a clear strategy, such as counting followed by time out, to deal with the behaviour, and use this consistently and persistently.
  • Avoid discussion or too much eye contact.
  • Stay calm but strong.
  • Keep mindful that your child is not consciously trying to provoke you, they are just reacting to the situation in a way that their unconscious mind [with the help of your training] has taught them to react.
  • Ignore the small stuff. Only use the discipline strategy with the worst behaviours. You can work on any other annoying behaviours once they master these.
  • And finally, give them plenty of positive attention for the opposite, desirable behaviours. For instance, give them plenty of praise when they obey a command, or play nicely with their sibling, or get ready for school on time. This step is crucial, especially whilst you are weaning them off their addiction to negative attention.
  • As well as verbal praise and touch, you could introduce age appropriate reward systems to encourage them, such as tokens that could be spent on fun activities with you, like playing a card game, or kicking a ball.

Persistently applying these simple strategies should reduce the bad behaviour, increase the good behaviour, improve your child’s self esteem, and improve your relationship with your child.

Good luck and happy parenting.