Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Creating a Toxic Free Zone: Rewriting the Script, Part Two

In my previous post, I talked about strategies to circumvent having to overtly correct or discipline the children I treat, using incompatible behaviors.

The other idea from this article that has been very useful in creating a toxic free zone is the LRS, or least reinforcing syndrome. This is employed by animal trainers to shape behaviors, by ignoring what they don't want and only responding to and rewarding behaviors that they want to encourage.

In the clinic, there are so many reasons why a child won't be able or willing to comply with the demands I set for him.  Sometimes it's something simple, like his blood sugar has dropped, he needs a drink of water, or he has to go to the bathroom.  Sometimes it's because it's a busy time in the clinic, there's noise and confusion, and he can't concentrate with all of the chaos swirling around, so he shuts down and tunes out.  Sometimes he's just scared of the equipment, or can't figure out how to get started, and doesn't know how to tell me.

And sometimes, the child just wants to wind me up or to see who's really in charge.  

When I sense that this is the case, I don't argue or scold.  I do nothing. 

If he is not endangering himself or anyone else, I remove myself, go sit in a corner, and gaze off into space.  When the child realizes that he has lost me,  and that I am not responding to what he is doing, he stops the behavior.  What he really wants, more than anything else, is my undivided attention, so if he's doing something that causes me to withdraw it, there is no incentive for him to continue.

I have learned over the years that withdrawing my attention from an unwanted behavior and simply waiting for the child to notice that I'm not engaging with him works far better than any amount of talking.  Any energy or attention that the behavior generates from me is enough positive reinforcement for the child to continue, but if his behavior is eliciting nothing from me, then there is no further incentive to go on.  If he wants my attention, he has to do something that will engage it.

{Ever read The Rules?  The best way to create the desire in another person to move towards you and reconnect in a relationship is to withdraw slightly.}

Another way I use the LRS is to be mindful of what I choose to respond to and what I don't.  When a child starts telling me he doesn't want to do something {usually in reference to handwriting} I don't answer.  It's so easy to get sidetracked into a power struggle and get nothing accomplished.  I just ignore the "I don't want to" and continue to patiently refocus the child's attention on what we are supposed to be doing.  Eventually he has to give up, because he is getting no response.

 LRS also works well with adults.  For example, I have a friend whose husband has a high pressure job and doesn't handle it very well.   He had the unfortunate tendency of coming home after work, full of frustrated aggression, and picking a fight with her.   She responded by trying to defend herself against his nitpicking and accusations.  Inevitably, she would be drawn against her will into an exchange that climaxed with him screaming obscenities at her.  She didn't want to divorce him,  but she didn't want to continue to live with him on those terms.

I suggested that when he arrived home and began to behave that way, she practice an LRS: give him a blank look, go back to cooking dinner or whatever else she was doing, and say nothing at all.   No eye contact, no response of any kind.  She could even quietly leave the room, without so much as a backwards glance.  If he followed her, she was to say, "I'll talk to you later, when you're feeling better."  Pretty soon he stopped doing it, because it wasn't getting him anywhere.

If you try an LRS, or implement incompatible behaviors, let me know how it goes for you in the comments section.

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