As parents we would all love to have a quick and efficient way of changing some of the negative behaviors our children display. There are behaviors that irritate us, embarrass us and exasperate us, and ones that present a safety issue at times. And then there are those unique, repetitive behaviors that children with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) often present with.
The best case scenario is to stop negative behaviors before they even start but many just seem to sneak up on you when you least expect it or they suddenly appear after you have just eradicated another. A previous article, Replacing Negative Behaviors in Children with Habit Training, addressed how you can control negative behaviors by training your child to substitute a replacement behavior that meets with your approval. This article provided you with four easy steps to habit train your child to acquire more appropriate behaviors. Unfortunately these steps are not fast acting.
Yes a magic wand or some fairy dust would be welcome by many parents when trying to change annoying behaviors but reality leaves no possibility for quick fixes. Instead you must forge ahead with consistency and determination even when you feel as if you have hit a roadblock despite your best efforts.
But sometimes lack of progress has less to do with effort and more to do with mindset and attitude. If you have been diligently trying to shift a negative behavior your child has developed and are making no progress, don’t be too hard on yourself especially if you know you have been doing your best.
We all know there are no shortcuts in life and all good outcomes require large amounts of patience, persistence and energy. If you have been applying all of these ingredients for sometime now and improvement is at a standstill, maybe “the wall” you are hitting is a signal that it's time to stop and evaluate how your perspective might be impacting your situation? Might a new attitude or intention serve you better?
Here are some of the mindset traps that are easy to fall into when trying to parent your child:
- Making excuses. “He doesn’t realize what he is doing.” or “She really doesn’t mean it, I know she cares for her brother.” It is your job as a parent to make your children realize the consequences of their behaviors. Justifying or dismissing behaviors may temporarily relieve you of your responsibility to guide your child’s behavior but it will do nothing to change it.
- Hopeful thinking. “She is only two, she will grow out of it.” But this simply is not true. Children do mature with age but only in the direction of your guidance. Wishful thinking such as this will not produce positive results, whatever is ignored and left to continue, will only grow in strength. You need to realize your child will not grow out of many of his faults if left to his own devices.
- "My child is so adorable." Yes, your little one is often very cute when she does something wrong but you cannot afford to laugh at naughty words, ugly tempers or disobedience with impish grins. This type of reaction will only reinforce the behavior as acceptable, giving your child unintentional permission to behave in this manner. Encouraging a child on this path will only serve to keep roadblocks in place.
- "My child is too young." Thinking your child is too young when he really is old enough or seeing her as incapable will only come back to haunt you. Developing good habits to help your child succeed can never start too early – it is much easier to instill good habits right from the start! Directing the formation of good habits in your child early on will prevent bad habits from forming. Waiting until your children are older only makes it harder to undo the negative routines that were created by default. So make your future easier and address it now.
- Using unclear directives. “Stop that.” or “Be kind to your sister.” is too vague and does nothing to benefit the sender or the receiver. Telling a child to “be nice” and “do good” is just not specific enough. Young children with Autism tend to be concrete and literal thinkers, and visual learners as well. They need a picture painted of exactly what is expected. Without clear instruction, your child will flounder or pick things up from other sources.
Whenever you want to develop new habits and ways of relating to your child, you need to make it easy for them to remember and hard for them not to do. Train your child with clear prompts and reward the behavior you want to see more of. An example may be, “Instead of screaming for what you want, you need to use your inside voice.” Make sure your child knows what an 'inside voice' is, post visual reminders for him to use his ‘inside voice’ all around and praise him immediately when he speaks appropriately.
If you are hitting a brick wall in attempting to change a behavior in your child, try taking an honest assessment of your mindset and attitudes and make sure your thoughts are not hindering your efforts to create change. We all want our children to succeed. Unfortunately, children do not see where the road to success lies and they need the helpful guidance of a parent to steer them in the right direction. So let’s not allow our own way of thinking to get in the way.

Author's Bio: 

Connie Hammer, MSW, parent educator, consultant and coach, guides parents of young children recently diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder to uncover abilities and change possibilities. Visit her website to access Happy Parents, Happy Kids - Overcoming Autistic Behavioral Issues at, a program to help you change behaviors, and get your FREE resources - a parenting e-course, Parenting a Child with Autism - 3 Secrets to Thrive and a weekly parenting tip newsletter, The Spectrum.