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  • Orestis Kasinopoulos

Building Parenting Skills: The Johnson Family

A few days ago, we have talked about cultivating the skill of attending, or in other words how to reinforce desired behavior by verbally describing it with enthusiasm. As it turns out, showing our children that we observe and encourage what they do instead of maintaining a critical stance towards them is beneficial for their healthy development.


This time, we will see attending put into action; here is a little story about the Johnson family and how they learnt to apply the attending skill into their family life.


Note: This is a modified excerpt from Forehand & Long’s book, Parenting The Strong-Willed Child: The Clinically Effective Proven Five-Week Program For Parents of Two-to Six-Year Olds.


"Michael and Marie were concerned about little Steve's disobedience and inappropriate behavior. They made the decision to try making changes in his behavior and in their family life. So they decided that they needed to become more positive with Steve, and both parents soon realized that attending was an excellent way to do it. You see, Michael and Marie had both read about attending skills, but they never actually tried to implement it. In fact, Michael was a bit skeptical about describing Steve's behavior over and over (he found it a bit silly) but he thought: " Oh what the heck, let's give it a go!”


Michael and Marie at first found the attentive skills harder to learn than expected. Both parents caught themselves wondering, "What are you doing?" and telling Steve what to do rather than describing his activity during playtimes. At first Marie, who was with Steve more than Michael, was more committed to her practice sessions with their son and was able to set aside designated playtimes to spend with him every day. However, Michael was more than willing to observe Marie practicing with Steve. At these times, he noticed how many questions and instructions she used in the interaction. He begun to realize that at the dinner, during bath time and when playing ball outside, almost everything he said to his son was a question or an instruction to do something!


As Michael observed more of the play sessions between Marie and Steve, he also realized that as Marie's behavior was becoming more positive and attentive and less demanding and questioning, Steve appeared to enjoy his mother's company more and played in a less disorderly and more co-operative manner. Watching Marie and Steve led Michael to conclude, "Maybe there is something to this attending business." At the same time, Marie was having a similar reaction to her own experiences in using the attending skills with Steve and her observations of Michael and Steve in their increasingly frequent play sessions.


Marie and Michael began discussing ways to use attending at times other than during designated playtimes with Steve and also to use the skills with his older sister Jenny. Marie found that if she brought Steve's toys into the kitchen, he would play on the floor with them while she described his activities and cooked dinner! Jenny also was responsive to Marie's attending. In fact, she would grin at her mother and say, "I like being with you, mommy." Michael began using attending skills when Steve and him went grocery shopping. Instead of listening to the radio, while in the car, Michael turned it off and described the scenery along the roadside to Steve; he also described his son's behavior. Steve's behavior changed almost immediately from constant squirming and trying to get out of his seat belt, to listening and talking to his father.


Michael and Marie begun to realize that attending was exactly the opposite of what they had been doing. In the past, when Steve was acting up, they would usually attend to him, most of the time in a negative way. Whenever he was behaving appropriately, they had been adhering to the philosophy "Let sleeping dogs [or children] lie". In fact Michael said: "Steve was good so seldom that whenever he was good, we weren't going to say anything because he might quit being good."


Marie and Michael realized that the attending skill was designed to tune them in to Steve's good behavior. The more they did this, the more they realized that Steve was not always bad, and they actually enjoyed being with him (well at least some of the time). For his part, Steve seemed to enjoy and respond well to the attention, thus allowing extended positive interactions to occur with his parents. There were still many difficult times, and Steve continued to be disobedient when it came to obeying his parents' instructions. However, at least they had made a great start. Something positive was happening in the Johnson family."




The above story allows us to see "attending" skill into a context. Notice how the co-operation of both parents as well as observing each other was a helpful tool to pull it through. At first simply by noticing, Michael realized how many questions and instructions were used both by him and Marie to address Steve. When they did start attending enthusiastically to his positive behaviors, things changed drastically. Steve became more co-operative and soon a more positive and warmer relationship was starting to develop between Steve and his parents. In addition, Michael and Maria started shaping up a new more positive picture about Steve as they were tuning in with their child's positive behavior. Steve was able to perceive that his parents were making efforts in becoming more aware of his appropriate behavior and this in turn led to the child becoming more and more willing to cooperate! If you have found this story helpful, stay tuned as more will follow specifically on acquiring and implementing the "attending" skill.


Sources:

Forehand & Long: Parenting the strong-willed child: the clinically effective proven five-week program for parents of two-to six-year olds.

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