Systems that focus on praise alone will miss the opportunity of teaching a child self discipline and natural consequences. Reflectively, systems that focus on punishing negative behavior or discipline alone miss the chance to build up the child and help him strive for positive behavior. Avoiding punishment is not the same as an internalized locus of control.
Behavior Plan Part 1: Stop the Negative Behavior:
Introducing a Level System
Behavior Plan Part 1, Level 1: Counting Negative Behaviors
This level of time out is designed to take place in the general living space. In many houses, this is the staircase; in others, it is a dining room chair. This time out is NOT for punishment. It is not a time to write sentences or do push-ups. This is a time for your child to shift gears. The rules for time out are basic: there is no talking or playing, and the child must sit until the timer beeps. “I will start the timer when you are ready. I need you to sit on the stairs quietly. You can do this, buddy, it’s three minutes”.
Choosing whether or not your child participates in a two or three-minute time out is based upon what your child can successfully do. Setting a child up to fail will only perpetuate more problems. Knowing what the child is capable of doing is important. If the child sits quietly without playing (wiggling is fine!), the situation is over and you dodged more conflict. If your child is unable to complete the timeout, this moves you to Level Three.
Behavior Plan Level Two: Time Out with the Family
Your son may be sticking out his tongue. You see the behavior and you say, “That’s one”. Then he pushes papers onto the floor and you look at him calmly and say, “That’s two”. And when you have been taught the entire level system, you look at him and say, “That’s two buddy, pull it together so you don’t get to three”. If your child complies and gains self-control and stops the negative behavior, it stops and you may or may not rejoice with “Nice. I’m proud of you for stopping. Good job” or you may remain silently grateful that the cycle ended there.
Let’s say that your child did NOT hold it together and after dumping papers onto the floor, he looked at you and shouted, “Shut up!” Now you reach three. Now you reach the next level. Level Two. Time Out.
Behavior Plan Level Three: Time Out Away From the Family
When a child is placed in his room, the hope is that he has a chance to push re-set and to get unstuck from the negative behavior cycle. This time out is not timed. This time out is rather about teaching a child what calm looks like. “You can come out when you are calm”. Let’s just say your child comes out with an angry tone or kicking things. This is your opportunity as a parent to link what you see with what is unacceptable. Look for specific behaviors that you can point to that make you know that he is not ready. This would not work if a child were still raging. Talking and reasoning generally does not work here. The teaching stage is reserved for the almost ready, but not quite there stage. “Buddy, I saw you just throw out your stuffed animal. I need to see your face and your hands calm first before you can come out. Let me know when you are ready”. Teach him about his tone and body language. This is GREAT information for a child to have. But remember the FEW WORDS rule and only give educational helpful information, not a lecture or speech.
When your child is finally calm, name it and label it so they know what it looks like and what the expectations for calm are. “Your voice sounds so calm and you are treating your animals nicely. You look ready” If she is a little one, making the calm connection to her body may be more simplistic. You may kneel down, pick up her once hitting hand, kiss it and say, “Much better little hands; you are being calm again”. Teach them. Children need your help in making the feelings-body connection. Notice the above examples did not use double negatives. The scenarios did not say, “You stopped hitting, good job” This is NOT the same as naming what you want to see. In this example you are focusing on what you do not want. If you go here, you miss out on the beauty of education. The value of teaching your child what calm is, looks like and how it behaves. Practice looking for you want, not praising the absence of what you do not want.
Let’s say your child is NOT calm, and he has refused to stay in his room. Instead of taking the door off its hinges, maybe try LEVEL FOUR.
Behavior Plan Level Four: Using Restrictions
Follow Through and be Consistent!
When Acting Out Might be Something Bigger
Balance out Your Behavior Plan With Positives
Gabrielle Anderson, lmft is the director and a therapist at the Family Center of Northern Virginia, llc. She is a trained play therapist who sees parents regularly for appointments as well.