Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Starting a New Plan for Success

Today my husband and I met with our son’s psychiatrist to discuss a new behavior modification plan for our home. After years of living with a mood disorder, our son has rehearsed a lot of inappropriate behavior with the onset of every rage and anger outburst. As a result, this type of behavior becomes hardwired into his brain, then as stability is achieved, certain behaviors may continue because they’ve become instinctual. So the next step is to retrain his brain to respond appropriately. No easy task I must admit.

Unlike all other plans that involve rewards and consequences, this program allows free will, thus removing conflict from the moment, allowing our son to choose to take care of his responsibilities. If he doesn’t there’s no reward (like many systems), but what’s different about this system is that we then allow him to walk away from the responsibility while showing no signs of dissatisfaction. There’s no forcing him to do homework or making him do a chore.

The theory is that by forcing someone to do something you aren’t creating good habits, instead you’re breeding resentment. More than other systems, this mimics the real world. If you choose not to do a job you were hired for, you don’t get paid. Nobody makes you do the job, if they did, you would be filled with a lot of anger and be ready for a fight.

So in the future, our son will have responsibilities 3xs a day. There’s getting ready for school, then there’s homework after school, then finally there’s a chore after dinner. After our son completes each set of tasks, we do an inspection. We will not hover over him and scold him and beg him to do it. If he did it well, he gets a “pass” and has access to all the natural rewards in our home (like tv or video games). If he gets a “no pass”, he doesn’t get the rewards and we do not force him to complete the tasks, he can walk away. Later that day, he has another shot of earning rewards at the next inspection, giving him the opportunity to choose to be responsible with a clean slate.

We’re told that if we stick to the plan and take away all cohersion as parents and allow our son to freely choose to handle his responsibilities, he’ll choose to do it because he’ll want the rewards (minus some natural testing). Now what if our son chooses not to do homework but sneaks the rewards. Well the responsibility falls on us as parents to make sure he doesn’t have access to the rewards, even if that means removing them from the home. As our psychiatrist taught us, our job is not to control our son, but to control the rewards. What will follow will be more compliance, less conflict and overtime this will undo the wiring from the past.

A key for us parents is to not react to our son’s decisions when he chooses to walk away from responsibilities. If we do, we’re only feeding into our son’s desire for conflict, which continues the cycle of inappropriate behavior.

There’s a lot more to this plan, including the use of magic 1,2,3 for inappropriate behavior outside of expectations, heck I had to read a whole book on it, so I’m sure that this description is incomplete, but it gives you an idea of where we’re headed.

I have to admit that I’m nervous, we’ve been through so many systems for behavior modification, but I’m intrigued about this one since it seems to tackle it from a entirely different angle.

Wish us luck!


  1. We use pretty much the same system in our home with our 10 year old son. It was under the guidance of his psychiatrist as well. We have used it for a couple of years now and it has worked wonders. It is amazing how much conflict it took out of our home and how quickly it worked. It has been a very powerful tool for him in changing some undesireable behaviors. We use it with our 14 year old daughter as well (she has no issues other than being 14). It is just a great way to encourage responsibility and good choices while removing the power struggle. Good luck! Your family is always in my prayers.


    1. Thanks for sharing Laura, your comment is very encouraging. I really hope that removing the power struggle takes us to the next level.

  2. I hope this goes well for you guys! We do a kind of similar thing but based on natural consequences and some bigger rewards earned over weeks of time (I don't have the energy or desire to monitor actions/rewards 3x day).

    1. Oh Meg, you bring up a good point about the energy required to monitor. Our psychiatrist told us that in the end it will be easier because we won't be using all of our energy fighting battles. I hope he's right! I’ll keep you posted.

      That's a good idea you shared about offering bigger rewards, I hope to use something like this for the weekends.

  3. To tell you the whole truth, I have to react like this with my dad.
    He had never had an official diagnosis, but he falls a lot in ADHD like I do.
    He self medicates for his symptoms.

    To tell you some more, I have written a letter to the administrative service for driving license. He had a medical exam. He got his driving license for one year, then again medical exam.
    We took a non alcohlic drink together. I told him that I did it, eyes into eyes.
    He was really angry, upset. I tried my best not to take it personally (easier said than done).
    Each time I started to answer to his question, he interrupted me after two words. So I opened to him the possibility to speak with someone else.
    He made the 3 years old child, like everything revolves around him.
    It was like I had to parent him, and this is exhausting.
    Since I couldn't manage this story by myself, I have made the choice to involve a legal stuff because pedagogy has failed, and I have no possibility to drag him to the doctor like that. He can be as angry as he wants, but if I do like mom (taking his responsibility for him because "I won't manage otherwise"), we will go towards our loss.

    When I was a child, he drunk drove more than once. Now, he has a 7 years old son, and I can't let him do that. His son has no mean to refuse such a situation, I have to deal with this responsibility myself.
    He does whatever he wants as soon as he doesn't endanger everyone else. This is absolutely non negotiable even if I had to risk my life for it.
    Unfortunately, I am the only one who can impose him something for safety, I have been the only one who led some results. I feel some sadness when I say something like that.

    The problem with his drinking is not much the quantity, but his attitude. He can't say "Ok, I drive after, so no drinking". He states me that one glass is no harm and such... I don't care about it.
    He can't say "ok, I stay with friends and I, for once, won't drink a glass". For him, a good moment in company at a meal = alcohol. He doesn't need to be drunk to die.
    His problem is that even without alcohol, he looks like drunk (same for me with ADHD and when I am without treatment). So even when he drinks a glass of wine with dinner, it's even worse.
    If I tell him, he absolutely refuses to listen. Same attitude with my deafness : only when my ENT doctor told him, he agreed to listen. I was and I am still not enough legitimate at his eyes.
    I take act of it, and I do what I need to do. As he doesn't want to hear when it comes from me, I will bring him to the doctor (like my GP, or someone else).
    Towards my father, I copy exactly what does my GP : I force compliance when it deals with health and safety and for the rest, I let it go.

    He wants to go to a meeting for work while dressed with Mickey Mouse socks and a Bob the Sponge Squarepants tee-shirt ? Fine, it's his life.
    He wants to have his beard and white hair ? Fine, it's his life.
    As long as he doesn't endanger anyone else around, I won't battle about everything and nothing. I can't, because it's too exhausting.
    I don't give up when it deals with health and safety. Even if people calls me the nasty, the person who wants to be in USSR or a nazi person, I don't care.
    Mom gave up because she said that if pedagogy doesn't work, let it go. I don't and I made her understand that it is only being coward. She wants to be coward in front of such a matter, fine for her, but I don't make this choice even if it would had meant risking my life. She is exhausted after such a battle, so do I. But we can't escape from it.

    I am exhausted, but we have made an important step. I can only hope some better.

    1. It seems that you're very dedicated, I hope the steps you have taken will payoff for not only him, but for you too!

    2. It has already paid for other stuff.
      He wanted me to reconciliate with his wife. No way. He entitled me that this conflict is ridiculous. "It's completely up to you to have this opinion", imply I won't reconciliate with her even if you beg me to do so.
      Beg me whatever you want, but this is a clear boundary I won't move.

      To tell you, been there, done that. Unfortunately, I found no other solution to set up clear boundaries and stick with them.
      It was always better after the initial anger.

      Each time mom blames me for being nasty and not having to parent my dad, I ask her what does she purpose, reminding her that dad has a 7yo child around him so drunk drive is unacceptable. Since she has nothing left to purpose me, she doesn't say anything (another tip to manage the-person-who-thinks-she-knows-everything-whereas-she-doesn't).

      Unfortunately, his drunk drive could have led to serious accidents with my sister and I. So if mom has anything to purpose except her pedagogy which miserably failed and the legal stuff I made, I am open for it.

      I dearly love daddy, but he is sometimes an exhausting man which you have to handle like a child.

  4. About the 1,2,3 magic, I strongly believe that you can walk away to let him process the info, and go back after a few minutes.
    The system of counting may fuel the desire of conflict for some people (like me, or my father).
    If it works for your son, it's great. But this way of doing may not work.

    And in a few words, I can also say that my GP uses this kind of system. I can only say that she tackled many of unhealthy behaviors to her patients with this way of doing.
    And she could also saved herself from many problems, complaints and such.

    1. We’ve been using 1,2,3 for a few years now, it works better when he's stable. It is very effective with our other kids. Most of our problems occur when the behavior continues and we get to “3“, thus having to give him a time out, that doesn't always go so well.

    2. The 1,2,3 thing is not going to work soon. Neither will time outs. In not too long he'll tell you where to stick it if you start counting at him like you would a small child and if you want to put him in time out he may just walk out of the house and not come back for a good while. The teen years are nothing like the elementary school years.

      The other thing...you will need to have a plan for when he rages when he does not complete a task and then does not earn the reward. Especially if he sees the reward as something he needs to unwind or decompress from the day. Keep in mind that going to school all day, every day is tough for these kids - especially in middle school with all of the different teachers and the social pressures. And if you say he can't watch tv at your house, he may just take the bus to a friend's after school and do it there (been there, done that :)

    3. I hear you loud and clear Meg. We are already starting to see this kind of resistance. We're starting to have him go for a walk around the block to cool off, this helps remove him from the conflict and allow his stress to drop, giving him the ability to think before he acts a little better. More than anything it helps to diffuse the situation.

      As for taking off on his own, we have seen this a few times too. Thankfully he just walks around the block. As he gets older, I know he'll go farther. Scary stuff.

      Your idea of having a plan is good. That is one of the things that our psychiatrist talk to us about, letting us know that we need a plan for this behavior as well as for when he becomes violent or threatening.


  5. Having tried several different behavior strategies, I ended up abandoning everything (including basic parenting) for a while when things were really bad. That doesn't work either! We now have a basic behavior plan in place, posted on the wall with consequences that have more to do with cooling down than taking things away. Though we do have a couple of lose iPod or lose internet consequences. (I don't take away all the unwind type things at once)
    I've realized that these kids need to have some limits to know that we can keep them safe. But having something has taken some of the conflict out of it. We can point to the wall and say "It says here that if you do this then that happens." And being able to point to the paper works most of the time. But we did have a 45 minute one-sided argument about them the other day. I just calmly stated the situation and he kept trying to get me to engage in an argument. Once he'd burned himself out he accepted it.

    1. I admire your dedication. it isn't easy to stay calm for 45 minutes, but being calm is the key to getting through this without things escalating.

  6. Looking for a child psychologist in the Atlanta Area (preferably north area of Atlanta) that can help us develop a home behavior modification plan like the one Mama Bear is using/used. We are in the same boat/have the same need and while our son's current psychologist has been okay in helping us get to the root of his problems, he appears to not be so good and experienced at helping families develop out of the ordinary behavior modification plans. Does anyone have a recommended child psychologist?