Kristen McNeely

consulting & family Counseling, INC.

Kristen McNeely

consulting & family Counseling, INC.

Nuance Over Noise

If only parenting were as simple and fun as a family set of Star Wars figurines…

Have you ever been asked to use a strategy that didn’t sit well with you?  Was the recommendation made only in the name of evidence-based practices?  Or maybe it was that if you didn’t use the strategy, your child’s emotional development would be stunted at best, and oppressed at worst?  How do you know then what to do and what not to do?

One of my favorite strategies to prevent challenging behaviors is choice-making strategies.  Choice-making creates shared control – you have some control (choosing) and I have some control (I give what the options are).  My 5 year old, however, struggles with choice-making.  It seems to actually cause her stress – she will whine and cry and tell me she doesn’t know, and by her body language, and what I know about my daughter (nuance), I can tell she genuinely does not know what to choose. 

Another favorite strategy of mine is a visual timer.  Timers are an excellent way to give kids a visual of how much time is remaining in a task, especially for young children who struggle with the concept of time; however, I’ve had more than a client or two who were seriously stressed by timers. “No timer, no timer!”  they’d tell me as soon as I let them know I was going to set it.

In these situations, I have two options.  I can follow through with the strategy, which really runs the risk of being a very negative experience.  Or I can change my strategy.  For my daughter, instead of being so direct with options, I come in a little more casually – instead of “do you want the red dress or the pink dress” I’d say something like “hmm, it looks like we have a red dress and a pink dress, I’ll leave them here for you to look at and come back to check on you in a minute.”  For my clients who have struggled with timers, I increase my verbal reminders of remaining time, and may choose another visual to support them, for example, “when the clock says ___” or “when this show ends.”  

A few things we know – 

1) Evidence-based practices will not often steer you wrong.  practices are evidence-based for a reason – they have been tried and replicated, typically many times, and demonstrate a positive, causal relationship – meaning, the positive change is because of the strategy. This does not, however, mean all evidence-based strategies can be implemented the same way with all children.  Because, nuance.

2)  Starting with an evidence-based strategy that feels manageable is a great place to begin.  Oftentimes the best strategy is the one you can follow through with – so if a strategy is supported by research and feels doable, that’s a great thing!  

3) You will make mistakes no matter what strategy you use.  We are human.  And there is power, tremendous power, in repairing with your child after a mistake has been made.

Here’s the thing.  Good behavior intervention and social-emotional supports are more than evidence-based practices.  They take into account the personality and temperament of the child and parents.  They consider culture and socio-economic factors.   They are full of nuance and contextually appropriate. Anything less is really just unapplied research.

Looking for more help?  Head to the Contact section, I’d love to support you.

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