Difficult Kids?

Find a new game plan

How many times have you felt like a failure as a parent, wondering why your young child won’t behave? It’s difficult when we have children who don’t respond to the usual discipline strategies our parents used on us. It requires us to find new tools, to think outside the box.   

Catherine Wiggins, the mother of five children, struggled with her 3½- and 5½-year-old sons, Jonah and Noah. When she asked them to do something, “They acted out at home with tantrums and noncompliance.” She tried giving time-outs and taking away privileges, but the boys still wouldn’t listen. Her case manager at Tennessee’s Early Intervention System, an agency helping her deal with her children’s delays and behavioral problems, referred Catherine to RIP. 

When Angie Rosensteel’s 4-year-old son, Alan, couldn’t communicate his needs, he’d start whining and “throwing fits.” To make matters worse, Angie’s 3-year-old son, Austin, began mimicking his older brother’s behavior. Angie knew something needed to be done because reasoning and spankings weren’t correcting the problem. She learned about RIP through the UT Boling Center, where she turned for help with her children’s behavioral problems and developmental delays.

Both families share one thing in common: They came to RIP eager to gain control of their kids and to learn new parenting strategies.



Take The First Steps

RIP is geared to helping parents and children under the age of 6 who are struggling with behavioral issues, which can range from not sleeping in their own bed to being kicked out of preschool. Whether these behaviors are caused by a child’s willfulness, or ADHD, autism, or developmental delays doesn’t matter. If your family needs help, you will find it at RIP. “It saved us,” Angie admits.

Robin Stevens, RIP program director, describes how the program works. As they enter, families undergo Behavioral Skills Training where dynamics between the parent and child are observed and documented. Then, behavior plans are created for the parent to implement at home with consequences that are meaningful to the child. The goal of the home program is to use these new parenting techniques to reduce a child’s willful behavior by 75 percent. 

RIP is free; families commit their time instead, and usually spend six to eight months in the program. The first three months focus on the active treatment phase, where parents are learning new skills. Each week, children take part in activities that focus on teaching social skills, self-discipline, and working together. Meanwhile, parents practice ignoring oppositional behaviors and giving specific, positive attention to desirable behaviors. 

Parents spend the second three months in the payback phase. This is one of the parents’ favorite aspects of the program, as they become role models for new parents and continue to learn by leading the children’s groups.  



Build Your Parenting Tool Kit

Stevens reports that it’s this buy-in to the program that works and makes RIP different from others. “RIP is more of an educational setting versus a mental- health setting, which is not as intimidating to families,” says Stevens. 

Parents gain new tools for their parenting tool kit. Some find their toddler responds to the “When/Then” technique: when you behave in a desirable way, then you will be rewarded. They learn how to word things and react to their child’s actions differently. One mom says it “wasn’t as much changing his behavior but our behavior, keeping frustration down and giving us control.”

Catherine’s favorite technique is using reward charts at home, where she focuses on rewarding desirable behaviors and ignoring unwanted ones. She uses the iReward app from iTunes. The app gives children immediate feedback with funny videos as they work towards their goal. She also found that giving her children clear direction worked better than telling them what not to do. In less than one month, her 5½-year-old went from having seven to eight tantrums and whining episodes a day to one to two. Catherine successfully uses the techniques with her older children as well.

Angie has learned to compliment good behavior as it happens. When she finds her children playing well together, she takes the time to give them positive feedback instead of slipping away in that quiet moment to do the dishes. When Angie first started the program, she tried ignoring bickering at home and was surprised when it worked. This encouraged her to learn and do more. Angie says her goal now is to always have a plan and pair unpleasant activities, like cleaning up a bedroom, with positive ones, like playing outside. “I’m not embarrassed to admit that I needed help,” Angie loves the results of the program and even uses the techniques with her high school students. 

“The more you put in to the program, the more you get out of it,” encourages Stevens. Why wait until your child is 15 to work on problems that can be corrected at age 3 or 4? If you’re ready to put the time and effort into your child, give RIP a call.

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