Back by popular demand! For parents who want to learn my simple framework for how to change your child’s behavior in just 3 weeks!
In this episode, I am breaking down the 10 simple steps I teach to the families in my clinical practice to help them make small shifts to their own behavior that will result in some big changes in their child.
Plus, download my interactive workbook for an easy-to-follow, customized game plan you can use to start seeing meaningful change leading to more cooperation and family harmony!
Dr. Sarah Bren (00:00):
Does your child feel their emotions deeply get overwhelmed around lots of people or noise, have trouble with transitions or changes to the routine and seemingly go from zero to 60 in an instant? That might mean that they have a sensitive nervous system. Kids with sensitive nervous systems require parenting strategies that deviate from the generic one size fits all scripts, tips and hacks that you’re finding all over social media today for these kids. Customizing your approach and tailoring it to suit the needs of their unique brain and body and temperament can be a game changer, and that is exactly what I help parents do in my coaching program, Parenting By Design. In this program, you will learn exactly what to do before, during, and after your child acts out. You’ll learn strategies for effectively parenting in these tricky situations and learn how to feel flexible and nimble by being attuned to your child’s nervous system at any given moment in time rather than having to hold a million scripts in your head, not necessarily knowing which one is going to work in a given moment. So if you feel like what you’re doing to try to support your child’s big feelings and dysregulated behaviors isn’t working or worse is adding fuel to their fire, you won’t want to miss joining my coaching program before enrollment closes on Friday, February 9th. So go to drsarahbren.com/parentingbydesign to sign up and learn more about this program or hop over to Instagram and DM me the word “design” and I’ll send you everything you need to sign up. That’s drsarahbren.com/parentingbydesign or DM me the word “design” on Instagram. I can’t wait to see you there.
Hi, I’m Dr. Sarah Bren, a clinical psychologist and mom of two. In this podcast, I’ve taken all of my clinical experience, current research on brain science and child psychology and the insights I’ve gained on my own parenting journey and distilled everything down into easy to understand and actionable parenting insights so you can tune out the noise and tune into your own authentic parenting voice with confidence and calm. This is Securely Attached.
Welcome to Securely Attached. This is a podcast that helps you navigate the messiness and the beauty of parenting. I am your host, Dr. Sarah Bren, and today we’re doing something a little different. I usually have guests on interviewing people, but today I really wanted to do a deep dive and I wanted to teach you something that I really think is going to be very useful. It’s something that I teach parents in my practice all the time, and so today we’re going to be diving into the specific steps that you can take to shift your child’s behavior in three weeks. Now, by now, especially if you’ve been following me for a bit, you know that I am not one for quick fixes and shortcuts that put a bandaid on a problem in the moment, but they don’t really help in the long run. You also probably know that I’m a really big fan of looking under the hood when it comes to behaviors.
I do not believe that a behavior is a behavior is a behavior. I believe that behaviors are communications about something that is happening internally for our child, whether they are aware of it or not, whether they can articulate it to us or not. Chances are if it’s a more challenging behavior, they are not that aware that it’s related to an uncomfortable icky feeling on the inside. Otherwise, they would be able to say, I’m frustrated. I don’t like this. I didn’t get a lot of sleep last night. My teacher was looking at me in a way that made me feel like they didn’t like what I was saying, and I’m holding that in and now I’m home and I’m just kicking stuff around and being grumpy. Behaviors are often nonverbal expressions of held in feelings that aren’t fully processed. So when we understand behaviors from the vantage 0.1, we have a little bit more empathy for our child when they’re engaging in those behaviors.
But two, and most importantly, we can start to look under the hood and try to understand what can I do to solve those emotional challenges for my kid or those emotional vulnerabilities for my kid rather than fixating on the behavior, which I believe is the byproduct. We’re going to be talking about behavior today, but we’re going to be talking about it in the context of something much larger. So I firmly believe that our children’s behaviors are directly related to their emotional state. We kind of covered that, right? I also believe that our children’s emotional state is interconnected with and profoundly influenced by our emotional state. So what do I mean by that? When we are feeling a feeling, our kids feel what we are feeling. They might not be aware that the feeling that they’re having this, maybe this anxiety or this kind of discomfort is related to our urgency or frustration or stress.
But when we are stressed or have a sense of urgency or feel frustrated, our kids feel it too. So our children’s behavior is related to their emotional state and their emotional state is linked to our emotional state. Now, I also know that a child’s behavior directly impacts our emotional state. How many times have you felt angry or elated based solely on an action that your child took? Probably infinity times. I know I have. We feel things in response to our environment and when our environment is doing things that are frustrating to us, we feel frustrated. So can you kind of see the big circle here? The big loop? Do you see how this is all kind of playing together in interconnected ways? Sometimes we’ll call this like a feedback loop, right? My child’s engaging in a behavior that makes me feel frustrated. My frustration results in emotional distress in my kid, which leads to more dysregulated behaviors, which leads to me feeling more frustrated, which leads to you see where I’m going here, right?
We’re all connected. We do not live in silos inside of our family. I often say that the family is like a spider web. If you move one string, the whole thing moves. We are interconnected. We influence one another, and our emotional state, our behavioral regulation or dysregulation is going to impact everyone in the family system. So while I am about to teach you how to change a child’s behavior in three weeks, and I’m quite confident that what I will teach you will work because this is what I do with the countless families that I work with in my clinical practice, please don’t be deceived. It is just as much about your behaviors and your emotional regulation as it is about theirs. If you really want to see the results, you’re going to have to do some of the legwork, but I promise it is completely worth it.
That’s why I teach what I do to help parents actually see shifts in the parent child dynamic that leads to more peace and harmony and joy in parenting that all of us desperately want myself included. So the question I often get from parents when I’m talking about children’s behaviors and changing their behaviors to change their child’s behaviors is where do I even start? How do I know what to change in order to get out of this frustrating dance that always happens? I have tried all the scripts, I have followed all the rules, I do all the things that all of the respectful parenting and gentle parenting and all of the parenting experts and gurus tell me to do. It doesn’t work for my kid.
I really genuinely believe that most parents are doing the right things. They are doing them not in the most optimal way or at the wrong time or in a way that is helpful in theory, but it’s not getting played out in consistency. And so that’s a big thing that we’re going to be talking about today. I’m going to help you create a plan that is not cookie-cutter and is individually tailored to the unique challenges and dynamics that are happening with you and your child. And then from there, I’m going to show you how to actually implement this plan in a way that works, and I actually created an entire freebie that will support you in this episode. So you do not need to take notes. You do not need to stop and be like, wait a second. What did you just say? I got to rewind that I’m driving.
I can, I’m walking the dog. Ah, okay. I’m going to give you the prompts and the strategies that you can use and take that and apply it to the specific behavioral challenges you’re facing. You can find this free guide in the episode description right where you’re listening to this podcast or you can find it in the show notes, but definitely listen to this episode to understand the nuances and the insights and the examples of how this can be done in real time. And then use this guide to create your customized plan for exactly how to put what I’m covering today into action for you and your kid. Okay? So are you ready for this mini training? Awesome. Let’s get started. Here are 10 things that you can do to shift your child’s behavior in three weeks. Week one, this is going to be the first step of our plan, and this is going to happen over the course of days one through six. I want you to do a behavior audit. Now, this is part of the freebie. There’s a whole audit form that you’re going to fill out, and for six days, I want you to track all the interactions that occur where there is a power struggle, a tantrum, a meltdown, where you lose your temper, where you feel incredibly frustrated, or where your child is feeling incredibly frustrated. I want you to take time every single day to put down these events into this observation tracker.
Now, you can put interactions that didn’t go very well, but you can also put interactions that you felt went particularly smoothly. Both are going to be helpful in identifying patterns. The more detail you can put into this, the better. So again, you can get all of this information in the free resource that I’m sharing in this episode. It’s in the show notes and the episode notes. But what you’re going to want to do is you’re going to want to note when this is happening, you’re going to want to note what you are observing in the child. What behavior, what emotion, for example, did your child ignore or something that you said. Did they show signs of anger or frustration? Did they scream? Did they kick? Did they bite? Did they rip their shoes off and throw ’em down the hall? Are they stalling at bedtime?
Are they refusing to brush their teeth? Are they melting down because you have threatened to take away dessert? Whatever? It’s put down what you are observing in the child. Then you’re going to also be tracking thoughts and interpretations that you are noticing yourself having. So for example, if my child is having a meltdown because we’re having a power over finishing broccoli, might I be thinking she’s not behaving well, I’m feeling so much pressure to teach or correct this behavior in this moment might be having the thought. What is wrong with her? Whatever the thoughts are, then you’re going to be tracking your own behaviors and your own affect and emotions that you observe. My face felt hot, I felt frustrated, my voice got louder. I took something away. Whatever it is, write down what you did and what you felt and then the outcomes that you observed.
For example, did things escalate or deescalate? And then I want you to put in some reflections. Did I notice anything that feels like a pattern? Did I have any insights as to what might’ve made that interaction successful or unsuccessful? Who was present in this interaction? How was my day? Whatever reflections you may have for that event, put it down. So you’re going to put all this in your observation track. You’re going to put things in every single time that something happens. Now, I don’t think you need to walk around with this document open on your phone and be tracking every single thing, but at the end of each day, definitely go and reflect on the day and try to put in all the things that didn’t go well and anything you can remember that went exceptionally well.
This is our data collection, so we want it to be robust. We want to collect a lot of detailed data because this is going to help us for step two. So remember step one, you’re going to do this behavior audit. That’s going to happen over the course of the first six days of these three weeks on day seven, I want you to sit down if you are parenting with a partner, sit down together. By the way, if you are doing this together with your partner and parenting, both of you should be putting these data points into this tracker. The more you guys do this together, and the more you guys collaborate on this and be sharing this data collection process, the more useful it’s going to be because you’re going to start to see things that are patterns for one parent that might be not patterns for another.
And it’s super useful information because it’s going to help us do the next part, which is looking for patterns in the data. So day seven, step two, look for patterns in the data. What are recurring frustrations? Are there certain times of day or certain transitions that trigger problems more often? Are there consistent internal or environmental stressors that trigger problems for yourself or for your child? So that could be like an internal stressor would be they’re hungry, they’re tired, they’re embarrassed, they feel frustrated, they feel ashamed. For us, it might be any of those things or a sense of internal urgency like we’re running late or we’ve had a really stressful day at work and we’re not feeling good right now. Maybe we forgot to eat anything today because we’ve been eating scraps off our kids’ plate all day. These are internal stressors. So our kids may have them.
We have them look for patterns there. And then an environmental stressor are things that are coming at us from the outside loud or crowded spaces, is it just after screen time? Do we just take away a tablet? Do we just turn off the tv? Is there a sibling behavior that might be an environmental stressor? Do we have a new baby or crawling baby who is getting into our toys? Who’s taken our stuff? Are there territorial threats? Threats? Young kids are incredibly territorial and things that we as grown, reasonable, logical adults think of as insignificant and not threatening, can feel incredibly threatening to a sense of territory to a young child. So if you have a new kid in the house, a new baby, or especially a new sibling who’s maybe now a little more mobile and a little bit more taking up space that can often trigger a lot of territorialness in a child.
So these would be environmental stressors. So we’re looking for patterns in the data. Step three also on day seven, we are going to pick one recurring challenge. We are going to look for something that occurs at least three times in the course of those six days of your behavior audit. And we’re going to look for something that involves in some manner your own behavior or reaction, and we want it to be something that you are motivated to change. So here are some questions to ask yourself to make sure this is the best challenge to pick. And I want to explain why it’s super important here that we’re going to pick one challenge. We’re going to focus on one thing. So many times when I’m working with families who are dealing with behavioral challenges, even if they’ve done the behavioral audit, there’s so many things that feel frustrating and there’s so many areas that feel like, oh, now that I have this map of all of these things, I can see, oh, I don’t like that we do this and we could fix that.
And oh, that is that one. I could definitely shift that one and then this one and this one and this one. And so we go in and we’re say, I’m going to just change all this stuff. And what happens is we start to set limits or hold boundaries in helpful and appropriate ways, but we do it all across the board. And what happens is our kid gets upset and doesn’t really respond so well to the boundaries that we’re changing and the things that we’re doing, which is again, a reasonable and appropriate response to a child who is used to you doing the thing that they want you to do or not doing the thing that they don’t want you to do. And so then when we change all these things at once, we get a lot of reactivity in our child. They don’t like us changing these things.
They don’t like us holding these boundaries. They don’t like it. Again, reasonable but very stressful for everyone because we’re having meltdowns all over the place. And so what happens? We give up on certain things. We don’t have the bandwidth to be consistent. We don’t have the bandwidth to hold our ground all the time because we know there’s going to be another meltdown. And now we’ve had three or four or five meltdowns today, and if I have one more, I’m going to lose my mind. And so I’m just going to give in here and I’m going to give in here and I’m not going to be consistent here. And so what happens is when we don’t pick one thing to focus on and we try to make a lot of changes at once, we aren’t consistent and we don’t stick with it and we aren’t, which results in our child not learning to predictably and reliably expect this shift in our behavior and this shift in our behavior is key.
So here I’m just going to cover, these are questions that I want you to ask yourself to make sure that this is the best challenge to pick because I want you to look at all of these things on your behavior audit, and I want you to pick the one thing. Now, when I say the one thing, I don’t mean that there’s a single perfect thing. Probably a vast number of the things on your behavior audit could be the challenge that you pick. It’s not like there has to be some one magical thing and we’re trying to discover the one diamond in the rough. No, but we just want to pick one at a time because we need to be able to focus our energy and our emotional resources on being consistent in what we are going to implement. Because remember, we’re going to implement an actual plan here.
So the questions you want to ask yourself to make sure this is the best challenge to pick is one is this recurring at least three times a week. We want it to be happening frequently enough that we can actually make a meaningful change in a few weeks of shifting this behavior. Now, if you’ve done an audit for six days and a behavior occurred once or maybe twice, but you recognize that it’s something that generally happens two to three times a week, that’s okay if you didn’t get because that sometimes not everything shows up. But we really want to make sure that over the course of the next two weeks, we are going to be seeing this behavior emerge with good amount of frequency so that we can actually shift it in that short amount of time. If this is something that only happens when we go to grandma’s house and we only go to grandma’s house the fourth Thursday of the month, then you’re not going to change any behaviors in three weeks by doing this.
So we want it to be something that’s happening all the time. Two, is some aspect of this challenge related to my own behavior. For example, am I asking a million times for a child to do something? Am I yelling? Am I not following through on something that I say I will do or set a limit or follow through on a consequence? What are the things that I’m doing that are contributing to this challenge and is there something within that that I could change? Three, is my expectation of my child’s behavior in this exchange developmentally appropriate? Can they reasonably do the thing that I want them to be able to do on a consistent basis? So we want to make sure that the thing that we’re trying to get them to do or the dynamic we’re trying to change is something that is realistic for the environmental and internal stressors a child might be feeling in that moment and is realistic for them.
So for example, let’s take toothbrushing. This is a common power struggle in my family. It is a dynamic that I’ve had to work on to change because I would get mad and I would really have a hard time figuring out how to get my kids to brush their teeth. My kids are able to brush their teeth or at least allow me to brush them, but when we are fighting, it’s just a disaster. And so was it happening three times plus a week? Yeah. Was it an aspect that was related to my behavior, like an aspect of the challenge related to my behavior? Yes. I was definitely getting frustrated. I was threatening. I was not being patient. I was also, in retrospect, after I put this into the map to the behavior audit, I recognized that I had my own sense of urgency around bedtime because I really, really, really wanted to get my break.
I really wanted bedtime to move faster because I wanted it to be over so I could stop parenting. Was that reasonable of me? Yeah, it totally was. Was it functional? Was it working? No, it wasn’t making bedtime go faster because we were having meltdowns and power struggles over toothbrushing and it was making everything less longer, so it was occurring at least three times a week. Check. It was an aspect, there was an aspect to it that was related to my behavior check and was my expectation of my child’s behavior in this exchange developmentally appropriate? Yes, they can reasonably do the thing I want them to be able to do. Now if the behavior is that my child is hitting when they’re mad that child’s mad and that’s why they’re hitting, you aren’t really in a part of that exchange now, you might be able to look at the triggers of that situation and look at the stressors, the internal and environmental stressors that might be resulting in your child getting so mad that they hit or so territorial that they hit, and you might be able to engage in some sort of preventative measures around that to reduce those stressors so that your child is less likely to get mad and hit.
You can also physically be there to protect and block and keep safe when they’re mad, but realistically, that’s probably not a challenging behavior that I would pick as an example for this because it’s not about a dynamic back and forth between you and your child. We just really want to make sure that we’re focusing on a dynamic exchange, a call and response, something that we are contributing to in order to maintain or amplify or devolve the situation.
If you’re saying yes to these questions, fantastic. You have found your challenge that you are going to target, and now we’re going to move on to step four. We’re going to map out a specific plan for how you are going to change your behavior in the context of this challenging interaction. So this is where it’s going to be quite individualized. This is where it’s going to be quite specific and nuanced and related to you, and it’s going to be very contingent on the patterns and the data that you’ve collected already. We have to understand what seems to be the thing that’s triggering this challenge, and you’ve collected a whole lot of data now that gives you clues as to what might be triggering this challenge, and you’re going to be thinking about those triggers in terms of your behaviors. So it could be something like, I’m going to make sure that I set aside some time for myself before bedtime starts or outside of this exchange, this power struggle so that I get a little bit of rest.
Because one of the reasons why I was feeling that intense sense of urgency around toothbrushing was because I really wanted bedtime to be done with because I was stressed and I was burnt out and I was overworked and I just wanted to get to the end of the day. So I’m bringing that urgency to this dynamic. I need to figure out how to reduce my sense of urgency, and I can probably for me do that by making sure I know that I have some protected time in the day or in the week that I can really kind of be by myself and not with my kids and not momming. So what the actual plan is going to look like is going to be very unique to this particular challenge you’re facing and what is triggering your response to the behavior. And it can be before the problem tends to start. In my example, I’m saying I’m going to make sure I have time for myself so that I reduce my urgency, but that’s not the only part of my plan. We still have to deal with the toothbrush stuff. So when I’m actually with my kids, I’m also going to perhaps let them know before it’s time to brush their teeth what they can expect.
I’m going to go up with them, I’m going to be playful. I’m going to give them some way to have some autonomy. I’m be willing for this to take longer than I might want it to take. Now again, there are a lot of pieces here that require more work on my part and more time investment on my part than I might normally want to spend. And I want to be really clear here. This is why we pick one thing at a time and we are willing to invest some real time and patience and energy into this particular challenge for a finite period of time because it is more work. If your problem with your challenging behavior is always around screens, I’m going to have you think about ways to prepare your child ahead of time for what they’re going to be feeling when it’s time to turn off the tablet or the tv.
I’m going to be checking in periodically to give them markers and anchors of how much time they have left, and I’m going to be at the end of that screen time. I’m going to come back in and I’m going to sit with them for the last five minutes of that screen time and I’m going to engage in what they’re doing with them. I’m going to ask them questions. I’m going to enter their world. I’m going to act as a bridge to sort of help pull them out, and then I’m going to turn off the TV or I’m going to put the tablet away or I’m going to see if they will do it, but if they won’t, I’m going to put the tablet away or I’m going to turn the TV off. And I recognize even if I do all those things that they might still be really upset when I turn off the thing and I’m going to recognize and be ready for a meltdown and I’m not going to turn the TV on or give the tablet back or say, okay, five more minutes or whatever it is that I tend to do.
That leads to inconsistency in setting this boundary and holding this limit. And I have to remember that the meltdown is part of this. It is okay for them to emote. It is okay for them to lose it. That’s not a sign that this isn’t working, and that is why we have to remember that this is more work. It’s exhausting. It’s the thing we always are trying to avoid. It’s the meltdown that we know is coming. It’s just that we want to be able to contain it and help them understand you can have this meltdown and it’s not going to change my behavior. My behavior is I set a limit and I’m going to hold the limit. We set a lot of limits. That’s the easy part. Holding the limit is the hard part. So this plan that you’re mapping out is going to be about what do I need to do outside of this challenging moment to help myself have more bandwidth?
But then what am I going to do in the challenging moment to hold the boundary to show up with consistency and if my child has a meltdown to be okay with that because we’re not worrying about emotional response. We’re worrying about us holding the boundary. This is the plan stress, test this plan. Think of all the possible things that could go wrong and come up with different solutions that you are going to try to address those things. If my child starts hitting me because they want that TV back on, I will say, I’m going to go in the kitchen. I’m going to step away. You can’t be safe with me right now and I’ll come and check in on you in a little bit. We’re not going to engage in a lot of negotiation. We’re not going to engage in a lot of threats. We’re not going to engage in anything where we can stay there and keep them safe or we can step away, but we’re going to turn off the TV and we’re going to go if they have a big feeling, we’re going to let them have the big feeling, but the TV’s not going back on.
This is about how we’re going to change our behavior. So we’ve mapped out our plan. We’re stress testing the plan. We’re also going to share this plan with our child. So this brings us to week two, step five. We are going to share this plan with our child. We’re going to let them know exactly what we are going to be doing and what they can expect. This might look like, Hey, bedtime’s been really tough these last couple of weeks or months or whatever for a while now. And I realized that me constantly saying I’m going to leave when everything is kind of hot and messy, isn’t actually helping you to feel like you can really confidently go to sleep without me in the room. So I’m going to put you to bed. I’m going to read you a story. I’m going to sing you a song.
I’m going to lay with you for five minutes and then I’m going to get up. I’m going to give you a kiss. I’m going to walk outside the room and I’ll come back and check on you in five minutes and then I’m going to leave and I’ll see you in the morning or I’m going to keep checking on you, whatever. You don’t have to give them this final thing, but you just need to tell them what they can expect from you. I like to keep things like bedtime a little more open-ended because the reality is you might have to check on them a ton of times and this is where that stress testing the plan that we’ve already done is really important, but we’re going to share with our kid what they can expect and then we are going to stick with the plan. We will implement the plan exactly then starting now or starting tomorrow.
So here’s the thing that can be really tricky. It is very tricky to be consistent and to stick with a plan when we know realistically that on the other side of me sticking to this plan could be a meltdown. It is not unlikely that there will be a meltdown if you stop doing the thing that your child wants you to do or start doing a thing that your child doesn’t want you to do. But in the long run, it’s going to be more effective if you do or don’t do this thing. So we tend to avoid, we really, really, really want to avoid meltdowns. We really do. They’re understandably. But I think a lot of times one of the reasons we try to avoid meltdowns is we think it’s a sign that our plan isn’t working. The meltdown happening has nothing to do with whether or not this plan is working.
Whether or not this plan is working is if you do what you say you’re going to do and allow the meltdown to be an understandable byproduct of you doing the thing you said you were going to do. This is hard. It’s very important to stay focused on what is working to find a lot of support and resources. You definitely want to be getting extra rest. You want to be getting, definitely want to be giving yourself adequate meals. You want to fill your tank. You want to make sure that you have the bandwidth coming into whatever this thing is you’re going to be tackling over the next two weeks that you are kind of ready. It’s like you’re about to run a little marathon and you want to make sure that you are hydrated and fed and rested. Now, I also recognize that if any of the behaviors you are dealing with are related to bedtime stuff, nighttime stuff, middle of the night stuff, it might make it so that you’re very much not rested.
Here’s a little tip, unless there’s absolutely nothing on your behavioral audit that happens in the daytime and everything on it happens at night, don’t make the thing that happens at night the thing you pick first. Don’t make that your first challenge. I often recommend that parents pick the first challenge that they’re going to address with their kid to be something that occurs at a time of day when you tend to have a little bit more bandwidth. If you are often having challenges about getting out of the house in the morning, but you also have a hard and fast work time that starts at nine on the dot and you can’t be late for work, picking a challenge that occurs when we’re getting out the door every morning as my target challenge probably isn’t going to be that great because I’m not going to be able to be consistent with it because there’s something bigger than me determining the timeframe.
Some of this stuff that we’re going to be doing in this plan as we implement this plan is going to result in messiness. It’s going to result in things getting messy before they get cleaner. There’s going to be meltdown sometimes when we’re changing how we are responding to our child. So we want to make sure that we’re thinking about that when we’re thinking about our challenge that we’re going to pick, right? Because if we’re going to do something that could result in us having to put in more time and more effort for this finite period of time, as we’re shifting things and adjusting things, they will recalibrate. But this won’t last forever, but it can get really messy for a little bit before it gets clean. And so just be mindful of that as well, that you want to make sure that you’re picking a challenging behavioral dynamic that occurs at a time when we can really actually implement our plan with enough reliable frequency and we can be consistent.
And it helps sometimes to remember, this is finite. This is not forever. This will get better if I can stick to this plan. So then step six is kind of separate from sticking to the plan. It’s almost like the buffer around the plan is we want to find a lot of opportunities unrelated to the challenging dynamic thing that we’re addressing. We’re focusing on. We want to find opportunities to build in quality fill-up time. We want to make sure that even though we’re going to be addressing a challenging behavior, and we know it might be resulting in frustration and big emotions from our child as we shift our own behaviors, that we are balancing that out in other spaces in the day and other spaces within the family life that are really positive and really filling to our children’s bucket. So there’s a term that I’ve talked about in this podcast before if you’re familiar with it, but it’s called Wants Nothing Time.
And this is a term that was coined by Magda Gerber, who is a woman who created the parenting philosophy RIE or Resources for Infant Educarers. And if you want information about RIE, you should definitely check out my episode with Janet Lansbury. I will put a link to that as well in the show notes. But what is wants nothing? Time wants nothing. Time is a time in which you are going to be with your child, giving them your undivided attention where you have no agenda. We can have quality time with our child where we have an agenda that’s wants something time. So that’s like, I need you to get dressed or we’re going to take a bath now. And these are times that can be quality time, quality, connected time, but we have an agenda. Wants Nothing Time is quality time with no agenda from the parent.
We’re simply present with our kid and we are giving them our undivided attention and we’re following their lead. So as you are working on this challenging behavior over here, we want to be making sure that all around in the background are these moments for positive quality time, giving our children our undivided attention, finding playful, joyful things. Now, another really important thing about really quality fill up time is that we’re thinking in terms of what’s filling up for them. We want to be mindful of not projecting onto our kids the way that we fill up our buckets or regulate our nervous system. We want to be thinking about what regulates their nervous system or what fills up their bucket. So for one kid, it might be that they really like a lot of proprio receptive input, which is like squeezing or hugging or weighted blankets, or maybe they really like a lot of cuddly time together, or maybe that’s what we like.
And they like to have a lot of freedom of movement, and they really like to run around and they like vestibular input, which is rolling in swinging and moving their body in space. And so we, us wanting this quiet, cuddly, cozy time isn’t filling up for them because they have to sit and inhibit and hold it together. They want to be out and running and doing big movements. I’m just coming up with a random example of how you might have two incompatible sort of fill up strategies for a parent and a child. Neither are good, bad, right, wrong, it doesn’t matter. It’s just you want to make sure you’re paying attention to what fills your child’s bucket, what regulates their nervous system. And another really important piece to quality fill up time is that you yourself are able to have fun and be playful, meet your kid where they’re at, get on their level.
This is a good way to buffer out a lot of the stress that can happen when we’re really targeting a challenging behavior. So now we’re finding ourselves at the end of week two. This is where step seven comes in. By the end of this week of sticking to the plan, we want to revisit the behavior audit. We want to take note of what changed in our child’s behavior, even if it was a small shift in behavior. We want to take note of what changed in our mood, in our affect, in our energy levels, what was taxing, what was easier than I thought it would be. A lot of times people think their kid’s going to totally react very poorly to what they’re going to do or not do anymore, and their child actually is able to kind of adapt to it and run with it and roll with it.
It can be that our child really has a hard time tolerating our limit and are not engaging in some particular behavioral dynamic anymore. So pay attention, really note what works, what doesn’t work, how your child’s responding, where you are seeing even the smallest shifts in behavior. Write all this down and again, iterate. We’re going to not make big changes to the plan here, but we are going to look at ways to sort of smooth out any wrinkles or where has it been hard to be consistent? Where have I noticed that my behaviors weren’t where I wanted them to go? So we have a lot more control over our behaviors than we do our kids’ behaviors, which is why we are focusing on our behaviors in this whole thing. But we want to make sure that we’re thinking in terms of what can I do to shift how I’m going to be showing up in week three to make sure that I’m continuing to stick to the plan and that I’m able to be very consistent.
Do I need more support? Do I need more breaks? Do I need to be more clear about what my kid can expect? Whatever it’s step seven is about reviewing and iterating, and then we come to week three, and this is step eight, and that is stick with it some more. Keep up the plan. Stay consistent, stay focused. This is where you are likely to see some meaningful changes in behavior this week. Step nine, when you see something positive, acknowledge it. How do we acknowledge when we see something positive? We really want to make sure that we are noticing the things that are going in the direction we want them to go in. We might have an ideal image in our mind of the change we want to see for this behavior. For me, maybe it’s, I wish my kids would just march right upstairs, brush their teeth by themselves and say, okay, I’m ready to get in bed.
That would be incredible, but that’s not what I’m looking at looking for right here, right? I’m looking to see were there fewer points of resistance? Was my child able to, maybe they had a really big meltdown the first time that I turned off the TV and kept it off. Maybe the second day they had a slightly smaller meltdown, right? Maybe I’m looking for trends in the right direction, and when I see something positive, I want to make sure that I’m acknowledging it. I want to make sure that I’m letting my kid know, Hey, this feels a little different. I see that you did this, or I see that you tried this for a little longer, or I see whatever the thing is, we want to acknowledge it. Here’s a few things about praise. I think praise gets a bad rap. I think a lot of people say, oh my gosh, if you praise your kid, if you say good job, then you’re taking away their intrinsic motivation and you’re making them focus on external validation.
Yes, I don’t disagree with that completely, but I also think it’s really important that we validate and we praise and we acknowledge things that our kids are doing. We have to notice the good. We have to put attention on the things that are going well, especially if we have kids who have a lot of behavioral challenges, because kids who have a lot of behavioral challenges get feedback all the time from their environment directly and indirectly about all the things that they don’t do well, and we don’t often help them see all of the little things and maybe some of the big things that they’re doing very well. And so we need to really amplify, amplify, amplify, amplify the things that they are doing, the attention we place on the things that they’re doing well, does this mean that we go over the top with our praise?
No. Does this mean that we’re inauthentic and we’re calling out amazing on things that are really mundane and not special at all? No, we aren’t manufacturing positive things. We are looking for the genuine, authentic, positive things that I guarantee you your child is engaging in, whether it’s related to the change you’re trying to make in their behavior, the targeted challenging behavior, or just in general outside of that behavior. We might be targeting bedtime issues, but maybe they shared with their sister. We want to really notice that. So here’s something. This is my favorite way to give praise to a kid. It is the quiet praise. I love it when parents get down on their child’s level and they whisper quietly in their ear, Hey, I noticed that you just did that. That’s it. I noticed that it’s so valuable. And the quieter and closer you get, the more it feels powerful. Kids feel so seen when we whisper into their ear how much we just noticed something that they did. That’s it. That’s all we have to say. And of course, you can say more things. You can even say, good job. It’s not forbidden. But I think that when our praise is specific and it helps them connect dots. So for example, Hey, I saw that you shared that toy with your sister, and I think it really made her feel really happy.
That’s specific, and it shows an outcome. And helping kids connect those dots is really valuable. So that’s step nine. When you see something positive, acknowledge it. And finally, step 10, keep your expectations realistic. A small change in behavior is a change in behavior. And we want to celebrate those changes, not just for our kid, but for ourselves. We are doing something that is having an impact. We are able to create change in our child by changing our own behaviors. That is amazing and empowering because it gives us a sense that we are agents of change, not by forcing our kid to do something different, not by hyper-focusing on their behaviors, but by just going in and looking at our own behaviors. And in doing so, we shift the dance. We are dancing with our kids all the time. And if the dance doesn’t feel good, the beautiful thing about the parent-child relationship is they’re so hardwired to be in sync with us that if we change the steps of our dance, if we show up in a different way, they will eventually sync up with us because that is what their brains and bodies are hardwired to do.
So when we change our own role in a dynamic, the dynamic tends to be better. Okay, so there you have it. How are you feeling? My hope is that you are feeling excited and like you have a clear vision for exactly how you can create this concrete plan that can shift your child’s behavior by shifting yours. And while this is an investment in upfront time and things may get a bit messier before they get better, all this is more than worth it to build long-term skills for emotional and behavioral resilience in your child and have a more harmonious and connected parent-child relationship. So if you do the legwork upfront, you go through the simple step-by-step formula, and you use the prompts that are in this free resource in order to take this to the next level to personalize this for your unique child, that’s where it becomes so powerful.
And remember how I told you that you did not have to worry about taking notes because I would give you all this information at the end. So now is the time. Go grab that free cheat sheet. It’s called How to Change Your Child’s Behavior in Just 3 Weeks. And here’s what I want you to do. Go to drsarahbren.com/3weeks, the number 3, and follow the simple steps to get started changing your child’s behavior by really doing the work to reflect on the things that actually move the needle in shifting children’s behaviors. And it’s always different than what we think it’s, so that’s drsarahbren.com/3weeks with a number three. Or you can just click the link inside the podcast episode description.
(49:31):And if your mind is turning and you are thinking about ways that this framework could transform something meaningful for you and your kid, and it’s resonating with you, this is exactly the kind of practical real life tools that I teach parents in my coaching program. It’s called Parenting by Design. It is open for enrollment right now. So if you want to learn more about that program and how it helps you create a big, vast, personalized toolbox of strategies that are tailored to different stages of your child’s development and regulation, and it gives you a roadmap for how to read your child’s cues so that you can determine when is the optimal time to use a tool, go to drsarahbren.com/parentingbydesign, or hop over to Instagram and DM me the word design, and I’ll send you everything you need to sign up. That’s drsarahbren.com/parentingbydesign or DM me the word design on Instagram. So thanks for listening and don’t be a stranger.