Train Them Up...
Practical and Godly Discipline for the Special Needs Child
Child discipline and training is a complex issue and when the child in question has learning difficulties/special needs, that issue becomes much more intricate. It is often difficult to distinguish between immaturity and resistance, between innocence and defiance, between inability to reason and indifference.
I can only speak from my experience as a mother with a special needs child. I use principles for the big picture and practical applications for the day to day necessities. I find them to complement one another and give my perspective a fullness not attainable with either one alone.
PRINCIPLE: God knows who you are and loves you more than anyone else. He is always near to hear and help you. He sees all you do.
Keep your child in sight and accountable at all times. This eventually teaches self-discipline. In the here and now, it is teaching your child that God is watching every thing you do! When you allow the child times when he is not accountable, you lead him to believe that there are times when he does not have to be responsible for his plans, actions, deeds, thoughts, etc. and this message later translates into "God does not always hold me accountable." When you are fixing a meal, have him with you. Take him to the laundry area with you. Have him stand right by you as you fold clean towels. Let his sibling have free time IF APPROPRIATE and if that sibling is obedient during free time. Give him a job that you KNOW he can do (get out the spoons, bring me a stick of butter, empty the trash, sort the laundry, pick up yesterday's newspaper, give the dog new water, whatever you know he can do without eagle-eye watching). Whenever he crosses the line (disobedience), give the consequence and go on.
Plan on the meal being a little later or the laundry folding taking 3X as long or the laundry washing to be somewhat delayed for a while, maybe a few days or a few weeks. IT WILL BE TIME WELL SACRIFICED! Allow one or two free time slots for the first little while and supervise them carefully. The MOMENT he crosses over any lines you have drawn (loudness, attitude, actions, etc.), he looses his free time. Cheerfully move on to the next thing (which you have planned ahead of time). When he has shown that you can trust him with free time, allow a little more.
PRINCIPLE: All actions have a consequence, whether good or bad. When issuing the child a negative consequence, let it (as closely as possible) match the offense. Also see that you reward good actions on a regular basis. Be cheerful in issuing any consequence. Do not get emotionally involved with any misconduct. Do not wait until you are angry with his choice or "have had it"; do it the minute you recognize the first offense.
Some rules could be:
Treat others kindly.
If you used it, put it away.
No arguing with anyone.
No sassing or disrespect.
Some consequences (with possible offenses) could be:
- Move bricks; if you don't have the proverbial wood pile but have a pile of bricks, let one "set" of bricks be moved from point A to point B (and mark those points with a short board placed on the ground; make the number in the set appropriate to the child's age and ability) (for bad attitude)
- Take out the compost (stinky!) (stinky attitude, messes made to be spiteful, etc.)
- Swats (usually only for direct defiance, such as "NO" in your face when you delegate a job)
- Mouth washing (for foul language or sticking out tongue)
- Sit ups OR Leg Lifts OR Push-ups (easy or hard depending on the offense and child)
- Sit in a chair for 5 minutes or until cheerful (for whining, uncheerfulness, uncooperative attitude)
- Shovel snow/dirt/rocks or rake leaves (for grumpiness, slowness or unwillingness to work or do as requested)
- Take the laundry downstairs one piece at a time - no basket is allowed (for one who has neglected his job of taking the dirty laundry downstairs on time)
- Eat 5 or 10 minutes after the others have started (complaining about the meal or complaining about how "slow" the meal is in coming)
- Silence for 5 minutes (you have to build up to this one-) (for excess chatter, an unkind tone, gripping, mocking tone, etc.)
- No dessert (we reserve this for more serious things such as sneaking food OR wasting food)
- Lose a privilege (could be choosing his own clothes, personal reading time, serving himself at the table, etc.) (for neglecting responsibility)
- Serve another family member for 5-15 minutes (must do all reasonable requests such as take off my shoes and socks, rub my feet, bring me a glass of water, read me a story, push me in the swing, pull me in the wagon, etc.) (for being rude or unkind to another family member or causing them discomfort in some way)
Keep rules simple and easy to remember. "Treat others kindly" covers a whole rift of sins, such as hair pulling, teasing a pet, not playing fairly, etc. Be creative with the consequences. If he crayoned the wall, make him scrub it off or take away his crayoning privileges or let him paint the wall with a tiny, tiny paintbrush. If he mistreats the dog, let him have his lunch like a dog, on the floor, no utensils, on hands and knees with the dog free to investigate! We keep our rules and consequences written down and I review them regularly! Legalistic children will try to find all the loop holes; don't let that happen.
Children test occasionally just to see what has changed or what they can get away with today. Try to verbally affirm each good choice your child makes when it happens. No need to display a football cheer each time, but be sincere and specific. "Oh, Helen, what a kind thing to do for Susie. I'm sure she enjoyed sharing your doll very much. Thank you for being so thoughtful." or "Brian, I saw your patience with Benjamin just now. That takes a lot of maturity. I'm glad you did that." or "Mary, you tried so hard to get all your 4 times table memorized this week. That is a difficult job and you are being so diligent. You'll make it with that kind of attitude." You are looking beyond the outward display to the inner choices and virtues being exercised. These virtues need to be mentioned and praised as well. We find that reviewing the day just before or after devotions or at bedtime is a good time to verbally reward our children again for their good choices and actions through out the day. (Don't bring up the broken bathroom window, the soup mess in the kitchen or any of that stuff.) These verbal comments stay with your children and will replay an amazing amount of times in their minds. It will produce good in them.
PRINCIPLE: Bring closure to mistakes and conflicts with repentance and forgiveness, both within the family and with God. This closure will lessen the child's tendency to rehash his "badness" or "dumbness".
When a child must receive a negative consequence, as soon as that is finished, let him tell you he is sorry and ask for your forgiveness. FORGIVE HIM and say so. Let him talk to God about it. Give him the words needed if appropriate.
"Joseph, let's talk with God about this. Pray with me. Repeat what I say. 'Dear God, I'm sorry I hit Marvin over the head with a Tonka truck. Will you forgive me. Thank you. In Jesus' precious name, Amen.' " Then DON'T bring it up again! You'll want your spouse to know, but, otherwise, don't bring it up because it has been forgiven, hence forgotten. If another person is involved (in this case, Marvin), have the child apologize to him as well. Don't allow siblings to bring up already forgiven offenses either.
PRINCIPLE: Consistency produces uniform results
Consistency means that he gets the same consequence for "x" violation every time. If he gets push ups for it today and a swat for it tomorrow and sitting in a corner the next day, where is the consistency. Consistency will remove the "excitement" of "What kind of reaction will I get if I do ____?" It will make it downright boring for the child and that in itself works as a negative consequence.
Consistency also means giving the negative consequence as quickly as possible. As soon as you realize there is a violation, follow through with the negative consequence. Expect immediate obedience; delayed obedience is disobedience. If he messes around with a consequence, make him repeat that one AND add another one for the messing around. He needs to experience YOUR CONSISTENCY, whether that will be painful or not is HIS choice.
I often think about how God deals with me. When I chose something foolish, I pay for it. God isn't happy with my choice or the pain, but He loves me too much to let me grow up into a (Christian) weed. You're trying to help your child grow into a prized, stunning fruitful plant and he'll need some pruning.
PRINCIPLE: Loving correction is done with cheerfulness, not anger.
Give the appropriate consequence (which you have pre-planned) and be about the day, cheerfully. Part of being cheerful is having it all planned so you don't have to decide in the heat of the moment. Yes, his antics can make you angry, but when YOU ARE IN CONTROL OF THE SITUATION (not necessarily his choices), you can remain cheerful. Some kids want to see Mom or Dad lose it; who knows what funny thing they'll do next!!!!
PRINCIPLE: Work is good for man and wholesome for body and soul.
Teach the child to work. Any child can learn to work. The old saying "Idleness is the devil's workshop" has much truth in it and idleness will open the door for your child to cause trouble, get in trouble or be trouble.
It doesn't have to be so. In other words, keep your child busy! Not with busy work, but fill his day to fit YOUR plans/agenda/etc. Plan your day, loosely at first, using a schedule that will best suit you. To begin with you may only schedule meals and a few work periods for yourself, allowing all the time you need to supervise your child. Gradually add in what your situation will allow, while maintaining the same level of supervision required.
In brief, here is what you need to do:
- Decide your rules; remember to keep them simple.
- Decide the consequences; remember you can refine or change them as you go along if you find some that don't work but don't do much changing! Plan well what the consequences will be to avoid changes as much as possible.
- Do as much as possible before his feet hit the floor in the morning (personal needs, shower, devotions, breakfast begun/prepared, some laundry, general pickup, computer time, menu plan for the day, etc.). You need to be available the minute he is up and running, to oversee, correct, guide, encourage and train.
- Plan to let some things slide until the discipline is under control; these things might be deep cleaning, intense schooling or therapy, extra church events, extended telephone conversations, lengthy computer times. Plan to spend a few weeks at home when you first start. It is VERY difficult to correctly (and calmly) discipline if you are anywhere else, including grandma and grandpa's house. This will mean no extra curricular activities such as Vacation Church School, Little League, swim team, etc. He will be blessed more if he is under control than any of these other things can provide.
Learn to say "No".
- Get plenty of good rest each night; you'll need it and it will repay you beautifully. It is better to go to bed early and get up early than to stay up late and straggle out of bed a bare 4 1/2 minutes before he does!
- Keep copies of your decided upon rules and consequences in likely spots (family room, dining room table, kitchen, etc.); when a violation occurs, you can calmly scan the list, issue the negative consequence and be about your business, cheerfully.
- If you'll be using a paddle or switch, get a goodly supply. There is nothing more embarrassing than a traveling paddle that is lost and cannot be found when needed!
- Remember you will be in training yourself as you make these changes and you'll need God's encouragement just as you are giving your children encouragement. Take time for prayer, often.
- Expect your child to have the energy of a dozen children when you first start making changes. Let the discipline training be FIRST priority until it is under control. Everything else you do after that (including therapy) will be smoother, more productive, easier, more enjoyable!
by Jennifer Raffety, SNM (special needs mother)