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Each week I will be dealing with queries from parents, teachers and other professionals in the field of special needs. Previous questions can be found on the pages in the right-hand menu.

My little girl is very wilful and presents a range of behaviour problems. The most distressing, at present, is her refusal to get ready for school in the morning. It causes huge stress to everyone in the family and leaves me exhausted for the rest of the day. Any suggestions will be welcome.

 

You could try Response Cost. Give your little girl a reward at the start of the week, for example 50p. Each time she is ready for school in a given number of minutes (make this reasonable and use a cooker timer so that there is no room for argument) she earns an extra 10p, and each time she is not ready she loses 10p. The reason this system appears to be so effective is that children never lose everything in one go, and they can always win back what they have lost. Stress this point to her, saying: ‘I know you have lost 10p today, but if you win 10p on every other day you will still have 90p at the end of the week and still be a winner’. Never engage in arguments, just say (as calmly as possible): ‘You knew the rule, it was your choice’. Remember that children find it highly satisfying to be able to wind-up adults: it makes them feel very powerful, although also leading to feelings of insecurity in the longer term.

 

If you do not want to use money, choose any other item that is rewarding, e.g. ‘10 minute stickers’ that allow access to the computer.

 

Another strategy you can try is allowing your child to be late for school. Allow it to become her problem rather than yours, but discuss this with her teacher first. When she finds that being late had no impact on you, but makes life uncomfortable for her when she arrives at school, this may prove sufficient. With the teacher on your side, you can afford to be very relaxed in the morning!

 

In terms of general behaviour problems try to remember:

 

  • Choose rules that really matter and make sure that your child knows them and the consequences of keeping and breaking them.

 

  • Make sure that rules are clear, e.g. ‘You must be ready in 5 minutes’ rather than ‘Get ready quickly’. Fuzzy rules allow room for argument.

 

  • Make the rules realistic and attainable. For example, it is unfair to ask a child to sit quietly on a long journey with nothing to do.

 

  • State the rules in positive language: ‘Be kind to your little brother’ rather than ‘Don’t hit your little brother’.

 

  • Be consistent: a rule is a rule all day every day, and once you have said ‘no’ do not give in even when the child ups the ‘anti’ by throwing a major wobbly in a supermarket.

 

  • Don’t argue or show that you are anything other than calm and relaxed: winding up an adult is highly rewarding.

 

Above all, praise all positive behaviour readily, showing how proud you are of having a sensible/kind/grownup child.

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