Saturday, May 18, 2013

Changing Challenging Behaviors: Update

About a month ago, Corey & I attended a workshop at our Easter Seals entitled Changing Challenging Behaviors. It was during this training that I had an "Ah-ha" moment about MY behavior during a meltdown. To read more about that, click here. In a nutshell, I engage with him during his meltdowns & I needed to stop.

How has this been going? In a word....textbook. Everything has happened just as was described by our speaker, Dona. And that has been a good thing in our home.

First, we knew we needed to change ONE behavior at a time. Focus on one thing for at least 2 weeks. Then we would reassess. Our first challenging behavior that we wanted to change was Ethan's before preschool fight. From the moment we would mention going to school...or sometimes even just getting dressed...Ethan would be insistent on NOT going to school.

I think I have talked about this in the past, and I feel like we tried all in our power to rectify this situation with Ethan. Before we did anything, we wanted to check with his teachers & school to make sure there wasn't an issue at school. They had been charting his "bad" days & so far they were unable to see a pattern. We tried sticker charts, incentives, taking stuff away, meeting with his preschool team for ideas on how to help Ethan. Eventually, I was worn down from this constant battle, I just decided that I needed a vacation from it. I kept him home from preschool for 2 weeks.

When I say meltdown, I mean out of control, biting/hitting himself, flailing his body & taking out everything around him, screaming & crying so loud that I think my ears started to bleed....and this would last for AT LEAST 20 minutes...most of the time longer. Do you know how hard it is to see your child do this to himself & not be able to stop it? Awful doesn't begin to describe it.And this is how it has been most days of this entire school year.

So, when Ms. Dona began talking about focusing on one behavior at a time, I knew just which one to start with! I was very calm during Ethan's meltdowns & calmly answered his questions he was screaming at me. I thought I was doing so well. Apparently, I just needed to not engage at all.

Well, I began changing my behavior. It was soooooooo hard. The more I didn't engage, the more heightened his fits would be. And to be honest, I just wanted to yell, "SHUT UP!" or have a good hard cry...which I usually would do after I dropped him off at school. But I kept remembering what Ms. Dona told us. "The harder it is for US to change are behavior, it's even harder for them." And so I persisted.

One particular day, as we were leaving Easter Seals & driving over to preschool, Ethan started his usual fit. Not only was I silent, but I turned my rear view mirror away so he couldn't see my face at all.After about five minutes, Ethan stopped his crying & said, "Mommy, I want you to talk to me." I explained that I wasn't going to talk to him while he acted like that...and he didn't act like that any longer that day. I had won the battle, but the verdict was still out on the war.

Another day, Ethan fought so hard getting ready for school that we ended up being really late. The Jessica from before the workshop would have just called him in sick & kept him home. But the new Jessica wasn't having it. I dug my heals in even deeper & endured one of the worst fits I have ever seen from my child. Because we were late to school, we had to go in through the office & check in. We parked & were crossing the parking lot...and Ethan was still fighting me. He was trying to wiggle free from my grip on his hand, but I kept a firm hold on him. Being in a parking lot & the fact that he was out of his mind upset made for a safety issue. I was so embarrassed by Ethan's behavior but I was determined to get this kid to school. It was only by God's strength that I made it through this 30 minute ordeal.

But, folks, the MOMENT we stepped into school......THE EXACT MOMENT....Ethan stopped all signs of a behavior issue. ALL signs. Sure, his face was beat read & was caked with tears, but his actual behavior changed 360 degrees. It was unbelievable. That was the second that I realized this kid was playing me. And why was he doing it? Because it had worked on me so many times in the past. Ooooooooo...I was soooo mad. Not at Ethan, but at myself. This was my 2nd AH-HA moment.

After 2 brutal weeks, Ethan seems to know that his tricks will not work anymore. He has been to preschool every day since that workshop. And now.....he does it without any fits. NONE. No whining, no crying, no nothing....he just does it. In fact, he had to miss one day because he was running a fever (probably allergy related), and he actually CRIED because he WANTED TO GO TO SCHOOL!!!!! WHAT???!!!!

And now that this issue seems to be resolved (you know...just in time for summer vacation...haha), we have worked on the next issue. Going to church without fits. I am happy to report that we have made it to Wednesday night church for FOUR WEEKS in a row! I told our Children's Pastor that I think we may have set a new record! :0) And Ethan really seems to be a bit more calm over all.

Changing Ethan's behavior is really about changing MY behavior. In order to win the war, I had to change battle strategies. And I'm so thankful that there are people in my life who have fought on this battlefield before me, and I can glean from their experience....and I'm also thankful that they are willing to share it with me. And I'm thankful to those of you who read this blog.....including long posts like this.


  1. Um...I think I need to attend this workshop!

    Thank you for sharing your experience with all of us. I'm so proud of you, and you are such an encouragement to me!

  2. I really enjoy your blog. And.... I really enjoy reading posts such as this one. Not only because it is YOURS.... but because these "Ah Ha" moments come to EVERY parent.... and it is good for EVERY parent to share. Our children ALWAYS know how to get to us. I'm so glad that this one AWESOME little boy.... has learned that Mom will always do what is best for him... no matter WHAT!!!! Keep up the great work!

  3. Isn't it amazing how our behavior has such an impact on the kids. It is really hard not to engage, but most of the time it helps 100% of the time!