All parents, regardless of the label their child has been given – anxiety disorder, PDD-NOS, overweight, learning disorder, lactose intolerant, Autism, OCD, near sighted, gifted, etc – struggle when it comes to dealing with negative behaviors. I have never met a parent who wasn't open to learning new skills that are guaranteed to help them manage annoying behavior better.
We all know the behaviors that irritate parents.
“He won't do his chores.”
“She has a tantrum when I ask her to… ”
“My kids never listen!”
Wouldn't life be more pleasant if kids just listened?
Listening is a big part of communication. Without it communication breaks down and can result in behaviors that irritate, upset and anger you. Parenting a child with Autism is not much different than parenting any other child in the sense that you harbor the same desire to minimize or eliminate the incidence of negative behaviors from your child. So how does a parent accomplish this task?
Let's focus on the annoying behavior of selective listening or what to do when your child doesn't listen.
- Listen to Albert Einstein! Pay attention to what is NOT working and STOP doing it. Mr. Einstein is quoted as saying: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” These words of wisdom come from a very famous historical figure that is said to have had Asperger Syndrome or similar autistic traits. Why not LISTEN to him! If your child does not listen to your shouts across the room and you are not getting the results you want, it's time to take another tactic.
- Focus on the behavior you want to see. Place your full attention on the behaviors you want to see more of. Pick one behavior you really want to change and disregard the other 'little' things that irritate you. This is what many experts call 'picking your battles'. For example, if you choose to concentrate on instructing your child to be a better listener don't go into battle when your child ignores you, instead catch her when she listens appropriately and you will slowly begin to see change.
- Always use specific feedback. When your child listens and responds to your request, specifically praise him for doing so. “I like the way you turned your head towards me when I spoke to you. That was good listening.” “When I ask you to do something and you ask me questions it tells me you are listening.” This will help paint a picture in your child's mind of what it means to listen well. You can also give feedback that describes the pleasant ripple effect good listening has on other people.
- Teach your child how to listen. Does your child know what good listening looks like and sounds like? Because children with an Autism Spectrum Disorder already struggle to communicate we cannot assume they have good listening skills or that they will pick it up by osmosis. Take the time to teach your child to listen almost as you would train a dog to listen. Parents can teach good listening skills through example, role-play, and specific demonstration.
- Use positive reinforcement. Just as an Animal trainer uses positive actions or rewards, rather than punishment or correctional actions, to teach a dog right from wrong, the same technique is extremely effective in parenting. The key with this type of training is to determine what it is that motivates your child, and use that motivator to encourage the behavior you want. Both kids and dogs like treats, toys, physical affection, or a combination of any of these but both respond to a positive tone of voice as well.
- Show your gratitude. When your child does listen and follow through on a request you made let him know you appreciate it in the way he takes in information best. Knowing your child's learning style – visual, auditory or kinesthetic – is always helpful. When your child is able to connect your happy grin, hug or calm and happy tone of voice with something he did instead of associating it with angry frowns, shaking fists and high pitched displeasure he will be more likely to repeat the behavior. Parents who allocate more time responding to the behaviors they like, as opposed to lecturing about behaviors they would like to eliminate always get better results.
- Stay the course. When you want to develop good listening habits and ways of relating to people that last it is important to be consistent, decisive and calm. None of us retain new ways of doing things with just a few tries. One can never practice a new skill enough, especially a child with Autism. It takes a lot of repetition to rewire a brain and build strong neural pathways that last. As the saying goes, even the most intelligent people typically have to do something twenty-one times before it becomes a habit, so be consistent.
- Evaluate your own listening. As parents we all have to practice what we preach so it is important to remain aware of the way we model listening to our children. When your child approaches you with a question or two, do you give them your full attention? Or do you respond by default, half listening and continuing to do what you are doing? Multi-tasking is often necessary in our role as parents but taking a few seconds to look them in the eye, listen and respond when they approach us can save valuable time in the long run. It makes them feel good too.
Teaching and promoting positive listening skills in children will help reduce the occurrence of negative behaviors that are bound to annoy and irritate us. Good listening not only improves communication but it reduces frustration levels and minimizes stress. Now what could be better then that?