This past year has been the hardest parenting year to date. I have what some would call a difficult child. The psychologist diagnosed him with ODD, Oppositional Defiant Disorder. Whatever you want to call it, it’s been an uphill battle for change. I found myself in the middle of the night Googling things like, how to manage a difficult child and how to change your child’s attitude and how to discipline your child before we finally found help. The problem is no amount of searching was going to improve our son’s behavior without help. As parents, we had to change ourselves first.
When you are in the day to day of difficult behavior it can feel like things have always been this way. But the truth is, it has only been in the last two years our son’s behavior started taking a negative turn. I mean, he was never quite an easy-going kid, but he was also not a destructive or vindictive kid either. But, something changed about two years ago and his behavior started to deteriorate.
He became more defiant and angrier.
He became more defiant and angrier. He started lashing out and hitting his brother and me when he got mad. He would retaliate over the smallest infractions. Take a toy, he would hit. Send him to his room and he would throw a tantrum and hit the walls. My oldest would scream and yell and throw a temper tantrum so big there were days I felt they would never end.
We tried it all to stop the behavior. I read books, I went to counseling workshops, we tried timeout, punishment, sending him to his room, and even spankings. Nothing worked. Rather, all of the negative attention he was getting just reinforced the bad behavior. By the time I found our psychologist my husband and I were at a complete loss. We just didn’t know what else to do to make things better.
Cue the music, throw back the curtains, add applause.
Then we found our doctor. He has been a Godsend. I mean an actual Godsend. I really think God took pity on our ineptitude and exhaustion as parents and sent this man to rescue us. And to rescue my sweet boy as well. Because it turns out, we as parents are the problem.
My husband and I had become impatient with our kids. We wanted immediate compliance and action. We didn’t want a discussion or to compromise. We wanted immediate action and no back talk. We wanted the type of kids he and I had been when we were growing up. Compliant and easy going. We were raising the child our parents had spent 18 years raising and molding, and not the sensitive sweet boy we actually had.
We, I, had fallen into the trap of my childhood; compliance over conscious discipline.
As a single mother, my mom worked the swing shift for over thirty years. A great deal of that time was working to support my brother and me. Single is the important part of the story though. My mom did not have extra support as I do. She was feeding, clothing and keeping a roof over our heads all alone. She needed compliance. She did not have the time or the bandwidth to argue or negotiate chores and responsibilities with my brother and me. So, she didn’t. My mom gave instructions and we were to follow through or there would be consequences. Plain and simple.
And that is basically how my husband and I approached parenting; with an expectation of compliance. Now I am not saying compliance is not necessary. Because if you are a parent you know it is critical, particularly when a child’s safety is concerned. But what I am saying is compliance is not the only way. We are raising our children in a different way because we are in a different world. There is internet and instinct access to everything and everyone. There are pedophiles and crazy people on the other end of video games and tablet apps. And because of this new world, we have to ensure our children will talk openly and honestly with us, no matter what.
We value truth most
For instance, my children do not get in trouble for a behavior infraction if they own up to it and tell the truth immediately. Because my oldest struggles with honesty this has been a particularly powerful tool for us. So, my husband and I have decided that honestly is more important than punishment when it comes to discipline. We choose instead to reward honesty and ignore the negative behaviors which accompanied the action. But beyond honestly, negative actions need consequences and we were not doing a good job. So we listened to the doctor and changed our tactics and started rewarding good behavior instead of punishing bad behavior.
How we discipline
I am not saying stop all discipline. We have to have discipline to teach responsibility and empathy. But our psychologist said something so profound to me I will never forget it. We are trying to get our children to unlearn the behavior they have perfected over the last six years. All the while, we reinforced the negative behaviors with negative attention. And whether we intended to or not, produced a reward. BUT, he said… we were not to despair. There are lots of strategies that we can implement for change.
I will tell you that none of the strategies he has taught us are a quick fix. But since the boys were able to learn the negative behaviors in the first place, they are more than capable of learning the good behaviors as replacements. We just need to be consistent with our actions.
And we have. I can honestly say things have greatly improved. (I owe that doctor a gift basket!) Our boys are so much more manageable. Both boys. They are more compliant, patient and understanding with us and one another. It has not been easy, but the change has been doable with the implementation of several behavior changes on our part as parents. One of the major changes that has really worked along with reinforcing positive behaviors is the implementation of job cards.
The first thing we changed was to ignore all the negative behaviors. Whining, complaining, yelling, tattling, all the INGS. The psychologist said to just ignore anything that is not dangerous and destructive and instead focus on the positive behaviors. Taking turns, being patient, not acting out when the boys get mad. Those behaviors were to be rewarded through positive reinforcement.
Job cards are for the negative behaviors when timeout is not sufficient.
Job cards are just how they sound. They are cards with chores printed on them as consequences. Each card is age-appropriate and contains a chore that is just crappy enough the kids don’t want to have to do it. Job cards are given for non-compliant, dangerous and destructive behaviors. If the boys refuse to comply with instructions such as going to time out, it becomes an automatic job card. The job becomes the only punishment, and the kids are not allowed to do or participate, in any other activity until the job card is completed. (We do not add job cards on top of job cards if the kids do not comply. (They just cannot do anything else until the chore is completed.) And the best part, about chore cards? — I get to mark a chore off my to-do list in the house!
The kids hate job cards.
The kids hate job cards. They hate them even more than any other punishment we have tried. Sitting out and time out had just begun to work less and less over time. The boys would sit out and then get up and repeat the same bad behavior that got them in trouble in the first place.
Job cards have solved that. The other day while completing a job card in the back yard my six-year-old said, “I have definitely learned my lesson. I never want to pick up the dog poop again!”
YES!!! Parenting Win!
About the cards
The cards are laminated and on a ring for easy access and distribution. There are about 20 cards and each one lists a different age-appropriate household chore. There is also a picture of the chore for my kiddo who cannot yet read. If the boys happen to get a chore card at the same time, I use an expo marker and write their names on their particular job cards.
It is important to hand the card to each kiddo when they get in trouble. The card becomes a tangible and immediate consequence for their actions. They can literally hold the consequence in their hand.
I have to be honest, the journey has not been easy. The kids have crumpled up the cards, tried to tear them apart and thrown them in the trash to show their displeasure. But do not give up. I just re-printed and re-laminated the cards for next time. As parents, we have to stay consistent to make change work.
And it has worked for us. So, give it a try and let me know how job cards have worked for your family.