It was a four-week parent academy on positive behavioral supports that met once a week for two hours. And after completing the class last Thursday, I can honestly say it should be a requirement before every child’s first birthday. The daughter of educators, I was generally familiar with Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) even before the class. Much like the name implies, it is a strategy of teaching behavior by positively incentivizing what you want to see instead of punishing for the behavior you don’t want to see. What I didn’t know is the full picture of the interventions and supports, how they should be tailored to the function of behavior I’m observing and what to do when I am beyond preventing the behavior.
I took extensive notes throughout the course to be able to bring my village up to speed on what I learned. You are part of my village, so here is my cheat sheet and my struggle with it:
In the course led by Krysta LaMotte, a graduate research assistant at Georgia State University, we spent a considerable amount of time on understanding the functions of behavior, understandably so because each intervention we would later be taught would need to respond directly to that specific function.
One of the examples LaMotte provided was that of a child told to go to the bathroom who threw her toy at the wall as a means of escaping the bathroom. In that scenario, the parent responded by telling the child to pick up her toy, which in effect taught the child that throwing her toy was an effective way to escape going to the bathroom.
These are some of the prefered ways to prevent undesired behavior that LaMotte taught:
I can speak from experience that using a timer has been a huge help in avoiding tantrums. I’ve been implementing that for a while at my mom’s suggestion. For example, instead of just randomly hitting my son with the directive that it’s time to leave the park, I tell him as we are arriving that I will make a deal with him. We can go to the park for 20 minutes, if he leaves without whining or crying when the timer rings. He agrees and we generally don’t have any problems leaving the park, but the important part is to not give into his request for five more minutes. He’s my expert negotiator, so he usually is going to shoot his shot regardless of our agreements. When that happens, I’ve learned to remind him of his commitment, and he usually just leaves it at that.
I had less success this past weekend when I took my son and his 2-year-old sister to a children’s birthday party at a local park.
I told him before attending the party that if he wanted to go he would have to take his nap. Problem is, I took a nap too, so I only found out that he hadn’t taken his when it was too late. He started acting a whole hot mess about two hours into the party after snacktime. As he put it, the other kids were being mean to him. He cried, threw woodchips and yelled. And I fell back into an old routine of telling him that even if other kids were mean to him he had no right to throw things at them. I told him he couldn’t play in that same environment, which happened to be a cave-like structure under a playground slide. Then, I walked away, and surely enough he had another run-in leading to more tears and screaming. I told him it was time to go, and we left the party with my son crying all the way to the car and a good 10 minutes into the drive home. I explained that he could not throw things and yell at others even if he felt they were being mean. I explained that sometimes people aren’t trying to be mean. I explained that other times they are and he could always go play with someone else. I explained and I explained until I just stopped. I’m pretty sure he didn’t hear a word of it. He was still crying.
When he calmed down, I asked him to be honest with me. “Did you take your nap,” I asked. He responded that he had not, and I said thank you for being honest. I turned the music up and we went home to have tacos for dinner. He was absolutely fine after that.
I can already tell this journey I’m on won’t be an easy one, but ultimately, PBIS is working for us when I can remember to lean into it. My goals this week are to chart out a weekend schedule and to spend more time catching my children being good, a strategy my mom has recommended repeatedly to positively reinforce the behaviors I want to see. The general thought is to catch children being good and to praise or reward them. LaMotte recommended a 5:1 ratio of positive-to-negative statements. I’ll give it a try and let you all know how it’s working out each week. If you are on this journey with me, please do comment with how you’re doing.