New Year, New Strategies: 5 Fresh Ways to Limit Extreme Behavior
Just when I think I’ve got this discipline thing down, my extreme child does something unexpected, and I’m standing there, (frantically) grasping for solutions. It’s mostly trial-and-error, but these strategies have made it into my parenting toolkit because they always make a difference.
For many parents raising extreme children, “new” – a new year, new teacher, new school – can feel less like a fresh start and more like the same revolving door of appointments and meltdowns. Our kids thrive on predictability and routine, but mixing up our approach to behavior management skills, coping techniques, and discipline strategies allows us to try new approaches and to throw out what isn’t working.
Here are five fresh tactics to try with your extreme child:
1. Start the day with a little movement.
Many children with a behavior diagnosis wake up as if they have been shot out of a cannon. Work with their high energy, instead of fighting it, by beginning each morning with some kind of physical activity. It can be a yoga video (our kids love Cosmic Yoga), basic stretches, or a walk with the dog before school.
In our house, we do a series of basic gym exercises with our young ones—bear crawls, crab walks, and snake slithers. All you need is a small open space, no equipment required. Sometimes we make a race out of it to keep things exciting.
2. Give specific choices.
Extreme children struggle with authority and even enjoy challenging their parents. For children with ODD, the most challenging moments often occur during morning and bedtime routines. To avoid explosive situations, we give specific options to our kids, such as a choice between two outfits in the morning or between two types of toothpaste at bedtime.
Giving them limited selections instead of open-ended directions — like saying, “Pick a book to read,” and turning them loose on their bookshelves— promotes decision-making while eliminating overwhelm and negotiation.
3. Choose three and agree.
This strategy has been the hardest to implement in our home — not because it can’t be done, but because it goes against the basic parenting instinct to dole out discipline in exchange for any misbehavior.
When you’re parenting an extreme child, it can feel like you or your spouse is constantly dishing out consequences or saying “no.” Cut your kid – and yourselves – a break, and consider choosing three behaviors worth addressing.
Start by writing down every little thing your extreme child does more than once a week (or, in our case, a day). Think of the things you find yourself constantly having to correct. Once your list is exhaustive—our initial list had 60 items—talk each one over and choose only three things that you agree to address during the next week. That means that no other behavior can be punished, unless it’s dangerous or unlawful.
It might feel like bad parenting to ignore attention-seeking behavior, but for most extreme children, it is just that—attention seeking. Once they see they are not being rewarded with attention—correction or punishment—they will move on. I know it sounds crazy, but try it. It works.
4. Let the heat of the moment pass.
As parents, we shouldn’t reprimand our kids when they are in the throes of a meltdown. Sure, it makes us feel better to give a step-by-step, three-point sermon about to why what he did was wrong, but, mama, I promise that he isn’t hearing any of that when he can barely breathe through sobs. He certainly won’t listen to reason. My type A heart cringes leaving a moment without redirection, but it works.
This doesn’t mean you never offer correction or redirection. It means that during a tantrum is not the appropriate time. Wait until both you and your extreme child have cooled off. Then sit down and have a conversation about what went wrong and how you could both better handle the situation next time.
5. Allow play during time-outs.
This may sound crazy, but who says our extreme children should be deprived of all interaction during time outs? After all, their brains are usually hyperactive, right? This doesn’t mean reward them or fill their time-out space with things they enjoy. It does mean that most extreme children can calm down and process emotions more effectively when they are encouraged to use their minds and their bodies.
In our house, we have a felt-lined bin filled with stuffed animals, puzzles, books, and soft blocks that our son uses while he is calming down. He knows that if he chooses to use these things to harm himself, others, or our house, the box will be removed.
Parenting an extreme child is a series of trial-and-error strategies for modeling better behavior. We must be ready with a toolkit of new and changing strategies to set our kids up to succeed.