Posts Tagged ‘behavior change’

New Year’s resolutions – good or bad for kids with special needs?

Wednesday, January 7th, 2015

celebrationI have never been one to commit to a New Year’s resolution, in part because I would feel badly if I did not follow through and achieve my goal. Most of the time, my resolution was such an unobtainable goal that I set myself up for failure. Sound familiar?

Kids with special needs all too often face immense challenges and have to try and try again to reach goals that their peers seem to attain with ease. As a parent, it becomes very important to carefully pick and choose goals and to try to make sure your child is not facing undue hardship or repeated failure. As with any struggle, a little bit of a challenge is good – it spurs you to move onward and provides a huge sense of relief and pride when you reach your goal. But, too much struggle can bring exhaustion of body, mind and spirit, which will not help your little one in the long run.

As a parent of a child with special needs, it is important to set goals and have aspirations for your child. But it is essential that the goals are reasonable. There is no sense in whittling away at your child’s confidence by setting a bar too high and then having to deal with the negative self-image your child experiences if the goal is not achieved.

As you settle into the mindset of New Year’s resolutions, think of goals that are measurable and achievable. Perhaps set three small goals instead of one big goal. Or, let your child decide what he would like to focus on (if he is old enough to decide). For example, it could be that riding a tricycle is something he really wants to be able to do and will work on that goal for a few minutes every day with your assistance and praise. Or, it could be that dressing himself is something you really want to see your child master, so you may focus on one aspect of that task at a time (such as putting on socks, or pants), and gradually adding on other aspects of dressing as each small part is mastered.

Whatever the goal, break it down into smaller chunks, so that each week you can celebrate progress. A sticker chart can work wonders to help your little one see how far he has come. Just be sure to be consistent and celebrate each step as he inches closer to his goal. You can never do too many happy dances!

So, go easy on yourself and your little one as you glide into 2015. I wish you and your family many happy moments, continued progress and much success.


Note: This post is part of the weekly series Delays and disabilities – How to get help for your child. It was started in January 2013 and appears every Wednesday. While on News Moms Need, select “Help for your child” on the menu on the right side to view all of the blog posts to date. You can also view a Table of Contents of prior posts.

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The power of one M&M’s® candy

Wednesday, May 28th, 2014

potty trainingTrying to sculpt or change your child’s behavior is easier said than done. But here is a story of how one M&M’s candy changed everything.

Years ago, when my children were very young, I attended a “mommy and baby” parenting class. While the children played, the parents discussed child development issues under the guidance of an early childhood development specialist. Potty training was always a hot topic. Potty training has its challenges – first day-time training, and then night-time training. One mom (let’s call her Lynn), told the story of how she was able to successfully potty train her child at night. Lynn had been successful with getting her son to use the potty during the day, but he refused to get up at night if he needed to use the toilet, and instead he wet the bed.

Her son loved M&M’s, and Lynn often used them (in tiny doses) to reinforce desired behavior. However, she was at a loss as to how to reinforce positive behavior (going to the potty) at night.

Her solution was to place one M&M’s candy on a paper plate, which she then placed on top of the closed toilet seat cover. She showed her son the M&M on the plate before bedtime, and told him if he gets up to use the potty during the night, he could eat the M&M as his reward. The thought of eating an M&M in the middle of the night was simply too appealing to her little son, and much to everyone’s shock, he got up to use the potty. This little guy absolutely loved the idea of knowing an M&M was waiting for him. He got up to use the potty just to be able to get that tiny candy coated chocolate. Such was the power of one M&M.

At first, each time he got up and used the potty at night, he ran into his parents’ bedroom and announced his achievement. But, soon, he would simply get up and use the potty, eat his M&M and head back to his bed.

Needless to say, I was intrigued by Lynn’s story. As I was going through the trials and tribulations of potty training my daughter, I decided to try it. I did exactly what Lynn had done, and my daughter reacted the exact same way as her son, including waking me up to tell me the news of her success. Soon I added another layer to get her to head back to sleep on her own:  I placed one M&M by her bedside to be eaten if she went back to bed without waking Mommy or Daddy. That ploy worked, too.

I have to say, after about 3 weeks of this training, I used to get up in the morning and peek into the bathroom to see if the paper plate was empty or not. I did the happy dance every time I saw that the plate was missing the M&M.  The sense of pride and accomplishment in my child also made me do the happy dance. But, most of all, I could not believe the power of that one M&M. Can you? How could such a tiny bit of positive reinforcement have such an effect?!

Behavior specialists tout the benefits of positive reinforcement as a means of shaping behavior. People love rewards and praise – it is human nature. But as this story proves, the reward does not have to be huge or expensive – often the tiniest rewards have the biggest impact. The key is having the reward be meaningful to the child.

Do you have a story to share of how you shaped your child’s behavior through positive reinforcement? We’d love to hear it.


Note:  This post is part of the weekly series Delays and disabilities – how to get help for your child. It was started in January 2013 and appears every Wednesday. While on News Moms Need and click on “Help for your child” in the Categories menu on the right side to view all of the blog posts to date (just keep scrolling down). We welcome your comments and input. If you have questions, please send them to