When working with your child, you must become the boss, the rule maker a "sphere of influence." This is someone who has the power to make things happen. It does not always mean you will give him orders and he will follow them. Rather, you need to be the type of person who can exert influence in a situation to achieve appropriate results. You are a person who has the answers for every problem your child needs to solve. You are the problem solver, not just the problem causer. You will need to be this type of person in order to use many of the techniques and strategies in this book. This doesn't mean that you are in a power struggle. Instead, you engage in interventions that are effective and efficient and do not cause additional harm.
When you are trying to deal with any situation, you need to be the one in control. By being in control, you will reduce your child's anxiety, obtain compliance, and expand his repertoire. As his repertoire expands, he will also become more normalized, and, as an added bonus, he will have greater freedom from the rules that bind him. And in the end he will be a happier person.
We all know that, as a parent, being in control is not as easy as it sounds. If you are not in control, you need to learn how to be. To be in control, you always begin with small situations. Those that are small are much more manageable. Never choose the big battles to start with. Always begin with small events. However, one person's small situation is another's major disaster. Choose something that does not usually result in a major upset.
For example, where to do homework or pushing in the chair after getting up from the table may sound minor, but they may be good-sized situations with which to start. Begin with one and work through all the details, refining it as you go along. Never pick situations where there is a time factor or when you are in a hurry. Always remain calm but persistent in your direction about what needs to be done. Your child must also be calm when you are doing this. That is why you always give directions before the event occurs. After completing many of these small successes, you can begin to move to events that are slightly bigger, but still discuss them prior to an event and always in a calm and direct manner. It is important to realize that your attempts at being the boss will vary according to the age of your child. What works for a five-year-old won't work with a ten-year-old.
Here is an example: Billy, a seven-year-old, shows many of the typical behaviors we may see. He is a bit impulsive and anxious. Waiting his turn is not a favorite activity, so when he comes into my office waiting room for the first time and finds my office door open, he just walks right into my office. This becomes a small situation that I will use to become the boss. I ask him to come out into the waiting room with me and sit in a chair that I have designated. This is done in a direct but relaxed manner. Billy comes out and sits in the chair I have selected. I sit down next to him and ask him if he has ever heard of "office etiquette." He says no, and I begin to explain to him what it is.
"When you come into my office you are supposed to sit in a seat and wait for me to come out for you. You read a book or magazine, play with something you brought with you, or just sit and wait. Then I will come out of my office and say, 'Hi, Billy. How are you?' You will say, 'I'm fine. How are you, Dr. Sohn?' I'll say, 'I'm fine, too.' You'll then ask me if I'm ready for you. When I say I am, you can come into my office. Let's try it."
He says okay and I go into my office and come back out and we reenact the above scenario, prompting him where necessary. This scene is repeated, each time I see him, usually without much further need for prompting. I call it "office etiquette" as my shorthand way to communicate to him what he needs to do and also as a way for him to generalize this to other situations by just mentioning the phrase. Notice that I gave him very specific directions about what to say and do and then we practiced it until it was done right. Sometimes I've had to practice it two or three times to make sure it was done right. If I had accepted his incorrect completion of the task it would not have helped him get it right a week later when I saw him. I have given him new behaviors to replace the old ones and have subtly let him know that I am going to be the rule maker. I have also introduced some flexibility into his behavior since he has always entered others' offices in the same manner. Finally, because the issue was so small, it never became a battle.