Q: My 5-year-old daughter is in "rehab" for some listening issues at school. When she comes home with a note from her teacher indicating one or more of these incidents at school, she is confined to her room for the rest of the day. What should I do if she is constantly calling me, wanting to ask me something, wanting me to get something for her, and so on? She isn't coming out of the room, but she is constantly trying to engage me. It’s driving me nuts.
A: Since you didn’t specify the nature of your daughter’s “listening issues,” I don’t know if I’d have suggested that particular form of rehabilitation, but let’s assume I would have. In that event, I’d have recommended the following:
1. You and the teacher should get together and define these so-called “listening issues” as concretely and concisely as possible. A lack of specificity makes it nigh unto impossible for this age of child to understand the expectations, in which case any rehab program is going to do nothing but frustrate her. In turn, her repeated failures are going to frustrate both you and the teacher. This is how young children get referred for special attention and you want to make every effort to avoid going down that road.
2. Don’t work on more than one specific problem at a time. Expecting too much of a child too soon is a common mistake that dooms rehab programs of this sort to failure. Target one problem behavior and “cut your losses” in other problem areas for the time being. When that one problem is pretty much cleared up, move on to a second problem, and so on. This approach will require a good amount of patience from you and the teacher, but the attempt to build Rome in a day is going to create additional problems and solve none.
3. At least initially, your daughter needs to be given a “margin of error” concerning whatever problem she’s working on. For example, if the target behavior is “talking while the teacher is talking to the class,” and that tends to happen, say, three times a day on average, then your daughter needs to be given a free pass the first two time that occurs in a given day. When she’s managing to stay out of her room pretty reliably, then the margin of error can be reduced from two to one.
That sort of organized approach is going to give your daughter a much greater chance of success, and keep in mind that success does not build on repeated experiences with failure. If after being put on a behavior rehab program, a child experiences a lot of failure right out of the gate, then she is very likely to give up. You certainly don’t want that.
Concerning the fact that she calls out to you from her room, I’d give her a margin of error there too. Tell her that you will respond to the first two calls, and make sure you do so cheerfully and helpfully. Then tell her that although you will continue to respond to her calls (again, cheerfully and helpfully), the third call will result in 30 minutes being shaved off her normal bedtime, the fourth call will result in one hour shaved off, and so on.
Above all else, once you chart a course, stay the course!