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Identifying Your Child’s Problem Behaviors: Where to start

     Kids are great…Most of the time. Actually, kids are great, SOME of the time. Another way of looking at it is, kids are great when we have lots of patience, and sometimes our patience runs short. No matter how much we love our kids, we become frustrated with recurrent behaviors. Usually, the longer-standing the frustration, the less patience we tend to have for it. It’s not rocket science, but easy to lose sight of in those moments when we are accomplishing amazing parenting feats like finding a lost size 3 Spiderman shoe, while watching the dog crap on the carpet, and simultaneously burning dinner, through a chorus of 2 or 3 screaming, tired, and hungry superheroes. Maybe your version is different, but I guarantee no less a feat.

      Routinely in my practice, I encourage parents to assess their patience with their kids at different moments during the day, so that patience becomes more than just something that is spent and can become a valuable measuring tool. As a parent and a therapist, I recognize that simply raising awareness of the source of frustration can be more than half of the solution. So, when my clients find themselves struggling with the ever-common childrearing frustration, I usually encourage them to do what teenagers do best: Take out their phones. I give the simple instruction:

  1. Preselect 3-4 times when the kids and parent will be together during the day and enter an appointment that says, “Got Patience?” This should be a recurring appointment, but not so frequent that it will become a distraction. Remember, the goal is for it to help increase awareness, not to increase stress.

  2. When the appointment pops up during the day, the parent should mentally rate his or her frustration with the child’s behavior between 1 (most frustrated) and 10 (not frustrated at all). Write it down if you will forget.

  3. The rating should be done while keeping in mind specific things the little angels were doing at the time. A good formula to go by here is: Who is doing what, to whom? (i.e. Johnny was hitting Savannah and wouldn’t stop when I said, “knock it off.”).

  4. At the end of the day, the parent should take about 5-10 minutes to think about and write down the highest level of frustration reached during the day. What behaviors were occurring at the time? Be specific. Feel free to write down 3 or 4 behaviors that troubled or stressed you or another family member, but the idea hereafter will be to focus on one or two as a starting point for helping little miss or mister make better choices.     

     I think it is important to write things down for a couple of reasons as a parent. One, most parents forget things when they least expect to. It can be very hard to remember what was observed in the heat of managing a family. It will be useful in allowing you to choose a specific focus or priority when you help your child make behavior changes. Two, writing the behaviors down will help you solidify a commitment to yourself that you intend to focus on that one behavior. Doing so will make it more likely that your attention and energy is efficiently focused toward success! Making a decision and commitment to help a child improve his or her behavior in one area frequently begins to snowball in a positive way toward other problem behaviors. Start with one and you may be surprised at what you and your kids can accomplish. Remember to have fun with this, and Good luck!

Brock Caffee, LCMFT is a Marriage and Family Therapist, licensed in California and Kansas. He has over a decade of practice experience. He has a private practice in Lawrence, KS. At home he has three children, three dogs, and a very patient wife.

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