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Attention Problems and Children VI  

In this part of the series on helping children with attention problem I address discipline and consequences and how parents can use them to best structure their children’s lives. I will rely on a number of things we have already discussed to lay out recommendations for parents in this area. The main things to attend to are that children have a different sensitivity to consequences, seem less responsive to punishment than other children, and have difficulty estimating time and processing lengths of time.

When you take all those factors into account it seems that consequences for children with attention problem should be more positive than negative focused, be small and frequent rather than big and infrequent, and happen as close as possible to the time of the behavior you want to be changed.

In general, consequences should be positive or reward focused rather than negative. Part of this is because children with attention problems don’t seem to be as impacted by unpleasant consequences as other children. Unpleasant consequences are also more likely to generate frustration and emotional arousal and children with attention difficulties often have more trouble managing those aspects as well, leading to more likelihood of melt down. Sometimes it is just the way something is framed. If you meet your goal you get the privilege of playing videogames for thirty minutes tonight sounds better than if you don’t meet your goal, you lose videogames tonight. The first has the child working for something – the other punishes bad behavior.

Setting goals is also important. One of the problems with problematic behavior generated by attention challenged children is it tends to happen a lot. It isn’t reasonable to think that a child is going to go from interrupting conversations forty times a day to not doing it at all. When trying to change a child’s behavior you need to set goals they can meet and then build on those goals.

The goal for a child who interrupts forty times a day may be to reduce it to thirty. Then in order to offer reward frequently, they might be told they get a point or star for every thirty minutes in which they don’t interrupt more than once. They don’t have to get a reward for each point or star, but those can be traded in for bigger rewards later. That way the points themselves become rewarding.

It is also possible to just set the day goal and have them earn a reward for the goal if they don’t go over the goal, but that likely won’t be quite as effective. It moves reward farther from the consequence associated with it and makes rewards bigger and less frequent. The frequent rewards helps break through the difficulty of time. In order to change behavior children need frequent reminders of the need to change and recognition for changing.

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