Tools From Behavior Therapy For Children

Nearly a month ago I wrote about My Child’s Diagnosis and the difficulties we had been going through with our oldest son. I was eager to start his behavior therapy in hopes that the difficulties would begin to get easier on everyone. We went to the first official therapy appointment and learned some new techniques. I figured I would share some of those things so that anyone else who is struggling and may not have the resources to get help, would be able to try them out.

Back Story

One of our biggest struggles with Pickle (he is now 6 years old) was going to bed. As a baby, Pickle hated sleeping in his own bed. It was something we struggled with for literally 4 years. We coslept because otherwise no one would sleep at all. He was a very hard headed kid that would somehow just keep screaming and crying for hours (literally) with no end. At the time, cosleeping worked for us, but we often tried to adjust him to his own bed and room. We tried everything from a small toddler bed, to a full size bed, to radios, redecorating for excitement, and bribing. Nothing seemed to work.

One day we decided let’s get him a t.v. and he can fall asleep to watching a movie. That was all fine and dandy until he started school. He would stay up way too late watching things: waking us up late at night when his movie ended to get a new one put on. When we would tell him no, he would throw the biggest fit. Much like the same screaming baby that wanted to sleep in our bed. Things just kept getting worse, especially surrounding bed time. We do our best to maintain a bed time routine. We know that kids do much better with a routine so they know what to expect. Though he has always known the routine, it didn’t stop the meltdowns.

He would find the most random thing to get ticked off about and the tantrum would escalate. His tantrum would last for hours no matter what we did. We tried the mean approach, we tried the talk it out approach, but nothing worked. It got to a point where we dreaded bedtime ourselves because we knew it was coming. Part of us knew that the t.v. was a problem. He was depending on it, but using it he wasn’t getting enough sleep. When kids aren’t getting enough sleep, they are ornery and they can’t practice self control. Because of his behavior we decided to ground him from the t.v.. This made the meltdowns worse because now he was fighting us to have “just one” show because he said he couldn’t sleep without the noise and light.

Me being me, I was googling and pinteresting for help. I felt like I tried everything we could find, but the meltdowns kept getting worse. One night it was so bad, he said he wanted to live with his grandparents because “they are the nice ones”. He said he loves us, but he was sick of us yelling at him and telling him what to do (imagine that). What he didn’t understand is that we were yelling because every approach we tried, failed. We were all frustrated with each other. And though I definitely felt guilty about the yelling, I didn’t know what else to do.

One of the things I found on good old Google was about anxiety and ADHD. After much research and filling out the questions from the doctor, we finally got into behavioral therapy. Like I mentioned in the post My Child’s Diagnosis, the first appointment was just a get to know us and whats going on appointment. They did not give us any tools, but did tell us we definitely need to keep the t.v. out of his room.

On that day, Pickle’s room was still on the main level of the house. We thought maybe that was part of the problem as he was always asking to sleep upstairs; whether it was on our floor or in his sister’s room. We decided to move his clothes and bed upstairs to the baby’s room to see if that alleviated any of the tantrums. We did not bring his t.v.. Unfortunately, moving him upstairs did not make things any easier. He kept demanding to watch t.v. and would find any reason to tantrum.

Side note:

We also had started an attitude chart. If he had a good day he would get a sticker. But that didn’t really keep him in check enough.

We eliminated everything he enjoyed, t.v., tablets, YouTube, playstation, and sleeping over at his cousin’s house until his behavior was under control.

Tools We Learned

At the second therapy appointment we discussed the main goals to work on; bed time and listening. The first thing I was told to do was to ignore the behavior. She said, she promised that there would be no long term damage to him by literally ignoring his tantrum. As long as he is not hurting himself or anyone else, to pretend like he isn’t there. She said it will be hard but if you stay strong he will eventually understand that his behavior does not get attention. One night he was tantruming and we ignored him for over an hour. He would come get in our face, crying and screaming, but we just acted like he wasn’t there. Of course, it was very hard and I felt guilty doing it, but eventually it started to work.

The second thing and the most helpful tool we started was implementing “job cards“. Now, job cards are not the same as chores. Pickle does have a list of daily chores, but this is not in relation to that. Job cards are cards with jobs wrote on them that are added work to their already daily requirements. You want to write things that they can do by themselves without help (safely). You want to write things that you don’t get to very often (like cleaning door knobs, light switches, baseboards, trashcans, dog poop etc.). There are 3 steps to this process:

STEP 1: Give Direction

If they don’t comply then go to

STEP 2: Warn them if they don’t do as instructed they will get a job card.

If they still don’t listen then

STEP 3: You hand them a job card and it goes into effect immediately

When handed the job card they are grounded from everything until the card is completed. Not only that, but they essentially go “invisible” to everyone in the house until it is completed. So you have to pretend they aren’t there until the task is done. Once the task is done, they have to finish the original task still, too.

For Example

The first night we started this Pickle really didn’t care. He was instructed to go to bed and started to have a meltdown. We threatened to give him a job card and he said “I don’t care just give me one” and so we did. Now, since it was bed time, the card was in affect but would not be able to be completed until the next day. He was told the rules about the job card “you only get to stay in your bed and we won’t talk to you until it is done”. Of course he spent about an hour and a half crying and yelling from his bed, trying to get us to answer his questions. He was making crazy demonic sounding noises because us ignoring him was very bothersome to him. We were strong and ignored him the whole time, even when he came and got in both of our faces with those puppy dog eyes. He eventually went back to his bed and fell asleep. The next morning, I reminded him the job card was in affect until he gets it done. He understood and I took him to school. After school when I picked him up, I reminded him again. [He tends to be forgetful]. He said he knew and we went home. As soon as we got home, he started his task. It took him a lot of work to get it done (wash out all the trash cans), but he did it.

The cool thing about the job cards is that they get to decide how long they are grounded for. Our therapist said that for his age the biggest thing that will bug him is us ignoring him. She definitely wasn’t wrong!

In the last 2 weeks he has acquired more stickers than x’s on his attitude chart.

Things are improving so much! Bed time has been much easier most days and that means he is getting more sleep now too. More sleep = more focused and less crabby. With the sticker chart we also made a reward system to entice him even more. He had to earn 5 stickers in order to earn a sleepover, which is the most enticing thing for him. We also have some small rewards if he earns 2 stickers and bigger rewards for more stickers.

The last tool we learned was to overly praise him for good behavior. It is easy to focus on negative behavior because it is easier for us to notice it when they are being ornery. The therapist said to be corny and praise for everything; being polite, being kind, sitting nicely, being helpful, listening etc. She said you will feel silly, but just do it.

We started doing this with both the kids. While it does seem corny, I feel like our 2 year old has been doing really well with it. She has started being a lot more polite without us prompting her to.

Of course there is always something that could be improved. Kids are kids, they are learning constantly. Any good parent just wants the best for them and to help them be as successful as possible. I will always strive for them no matter what.

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