Douglas A. Riley, EdD, has worked as a clinical psychologist with children, parents and adolescents for more than 30 years. His new book, "Dr. Riley's Box of Tricks: 80 Uncommon Solutions for Everyday Parenting Problems" came about as he saw frustrated parents doing the same things over and over again in an attempt to change their children's behavior that were just not working. "It made no sense for me to tell them to do the same old things again," Dr. Riley explains." I had to come up with something different." In this interview, he shares some very humorous, yet effective ways to get your kids to pay attention and change their behavior.
Here Dr. Riley explains one of his tricks for a child who refuses to clean their room:
"In Dr. Riley’s Box of Tricks I talk about a trick called “The Family Laundry Hamper.” With this one, you explain to the messy child that since they are satisfied to use their floor as the depository for dirty clothes, now everyone in the family gets to throw dirty clothes into their room. This usually gets a rapid turnaround in behavior."
Commitmentnow.com: How did you come up with your 'box of tricks' for parents?
Douglas A. Riley EdD: Three things collided to get me to create tricks. First, over the years I’ve met tons and tons of smart, frustrated parents who by the time they got to my office had already exhausted conventional techniques like talk, reason, logic, rewards, punishments, consequences, limits and timeout. (Most of them, like most of us, had also moved on to the techniques that no one really wants to publically admit to using, like yelling, screaming, and threatening, again all to no avail.) Their families were in turmoil, with no solutions on the horizon. It made no sense for me to tell them to do the same old things again. I had to come up with something different.
It made no sense for me to tell them to do the same old things again. I had to come up with something different.
Second, lots of the kids in these families were funny and likeable, and simply caught up in that stage where they believed if they ignored their parents long enough, their parents would simply leave them alone.
My tricks are humorous, easily learned methods designed to get your child’s attention and to show him or her that ignoring you is not an option.
Third, I’ve always believed that humor is more powerful than muscle when it comes to getting children to change. There’s no way of talking me out of that belief.
Commitmentnow.com: As a child psychologist, what do you feel are the five basics every parent should understand about kids?
Dr. Riley: First, they are bound to ignore the rules and limits that you set for them at some point. Don’t take this personally – it’s healthy for children to try to become powerful and potent. However, just as you would not consider allowing your six year-old to drive you home from the supermarket (even though they insist they can), you have to put some common sense into how much freedom you give them at any particular age.
Second, your child is guaranteed to try to pull you into an argument about those rules and limits. If you take the bait, you’ve already lost. You’re much better off saying “Sorry, it’s not my job to argue with you. I am, however, willing to sit and have a polite discussion about what I expect of you.”
Third, if you have that discussion, remember that when your child repeatedly says “But I don’t understand,” what they are really saying is “But I don’t like this rule.” Don’t fall into the trap of explaining yourself twenty times in an attempt to get your child to understand. Simply say, “I believe you when you say that you don’t understand. All you have to remember is that I’m the parent, and I will do what I think is best for you. Over and out.”
Fourth, while your child is guaranteed to drive you nuts at times, you will none-the-less remain overwhelmingly in love with him or her due to the mysteries of the parental bond. Do not let this blind you into believing that unless they have all the latest electronic gizmos, two hundred dollar tennis shoes, and cruise boat tickets that their childhood is somehow lacking. They need love, not stuff.
Fifth, don’t worry so much. Children can go through every worrisome behavior you can imagine as they progress from kindergarten through high school. There is a much larger probability that they will turn out just fine than there is that they will end up on an FBI poster.
Commitmentnow.com: What advice do you have for Moms and Dads worn down by the everyday battles of parenting?
Dr. Riley: Several things: You must maintain a united front, which means telling your child that if mom says “no,” it also means that dad says “no.” Spend some of your time and resources on yourselves. Go for walks together. Go to your favorite restaurant without your children. Make sure each parent is strong enough to stay with the kids alone while the other one gets out for mom’s night out or dad’s night out.
The most important thing to remember is that they don’t have any realistic chance of actually defeating you because you own all the stuff and all they own is their attitude. If they truly value having contact with the good life, they have to eventually make themselves more pleasant to be around.
Commitmentnow.com: What 'trick' can be used for a child who is constantly fighting with their siblings?
Dr. Riley: One of my all-time favorite tricks is “The Failure to Spend Enough Time Together Program.”
Here’s what you can do:
Sit down with your children and explain that the reason they fight so much is because they have failed to spend enough time together. Say you intend to fix this, so on this coming Saturday you will get them up at 7:00 in the morning so they can get cleaned up and have breakfast. At 8:00 they will go into a room together, the door will be closed, and they will not be allowed to come out until noon. They will be allowed to take a couple of books, paper, and a pencil into the room in case they want to spend their time reading, writing, or drawing. Nothing with electrons will be allowed. No video games, no toys, no music, no Legos, no Barbies, no nothing but books, paper, and pencil.
As long as they get along well and do not yell, scream, argue, or fight, their time together will be over at noon and they can come out and get on with their day. However, if they get into a fight, you will come in and break it up by sending each of them to their own room for a thirty-minute time-out.
After the thirty minutes is over, they will go back into the “togetherness” room. An additional thirty minutes will then be added to the amount of time they have to stay together, which will mean their exit time will now be 12:30, not 12:00. If you have to intervene again, they will get another thirty-minute time out, after which they will go back into the room together again, with their exit time now being 1:00. It can go on and on like this for the entire day if they continue to squabble.
If you decide to use this trick, or any trick, be sure to give your kids an out. Tell them that if they simply knock it off with the fighting, you won’t have to use tricks at all.
Commitmentnow.com: What is an effective way to deal with a child who is disrespectful and constantly oppositional?
Tell your arguer that you intend to give him a taste of what his constant challenges and debate feel like so that he can get his eyes open about the impact he’s having on others. Warn him that you intend to argue with him sporadically throughout the day about senseless and silly issues.
Here’s one way to do it:
Child: “Is it ok if I go to the movies tonight with Joe and Jerelle?”
Mom: “What’s playing?”
Child: “That new cartoon movie about aliens from Mars.”
Mom: “What’s the rating?”
Child: “It’s rated G, mom. Joe’s dad is taking us.”
Mom: “I can’t understand why you never wanted me to take you to see Twilight. That was such a popular movie with kids your age.”
Child: “Knock it off, mom! That’s a girl movie.”
Mom: “Well there’s certainly nothing wrong with going to a girl movie. You might learn something about how to talk about your feelings.”
Child: “I just want to go to the alien movie. Sheesh!”
And so on.
You can see where this is heading. At some point you’ll ask your child what it was like to be pulled into an argument over something pointless. Tell him if this leads to a change in his arguing, that’s a great outcome. Tell him if it doesn’t, you’ll just keep trying.
Commitmentnow.com: What 'trick' do you have for parents frustrated because their child refuses to keep their room clean?
Dr. Riley: In Dr. Riley’s Box of Tricks I talk about a trick called “The Family Laundry Hamper.” With this one, you explain to the messy child that since they are satisfied to use their floor as the depository for dirty clothes, now everyone in the family gets to throw dirty clothes into their room. This usually gets a rapid turnaround in behavior.
I also explain to parents that it is ok to ground their child from their room if they are not keeping it within human standards. It won’t hurt them to sleep on the couch for a few nights.
Commitmentnow.com: What do you feel is the best way to deal with a whiner and complainer?
Dr. Riley: Never ever manage to understand what the whiner is whining about. Tell them that your ears are just not tuned to that frequency. If they whine something like “Why don’t we have anything decent to eat around here?” you are likely to hear this as a request to be allowed to clean the cat box. Tell the whiner that he or she will have to do what you thought you heard.
As for complainers, explain to them that they will have to pre-complain prior to going with you to the beach or to a restaurant or to a museum. This way, they won’t wreck it for everyone else once you get to your destination.
Pre-complaining will entail having them sit in their room for fifteen minutes prior to leaving, during which time they will have to repeatedly say such things as “I hate this place. Why did we have to come here? This is no fun.” Of course, you will give your complainer an out. Tell him or her that they will not have to pre-complain once they learn to keep their dissatisfactions private and stop ruining the trips for others.
Commitmentnow.com: What are five rules of parent reprogramming?
Dr. Riley: Prior to using tricks, there are certain rules you must absolutely accept if you want things to go well between you and your child:
1) Stay calm. Rid your mind of the thought that turning up the volume will enhance communication.
2) Stop arguing! Arguing with kids deludes them into believing they are your equal. The more you argue, the more they will too.
3) Don’t continue to try to reason with a child who is obviously not listening. Get over the fact that you can’t rely on the same type of reason and logic that makes you so successful in all the other areas of your life.
4) Make it fun. Having fun together always leads to fewer problems and better relationships.
5) Keep it light. If you don’t have a sense of humor about all the things your kids have done and will continue to do to drive you nuts, go rent one, buy one, or get yourself into humor restoration therapy.
Commitmentnow.com: How important is listening and why do you call this "the biggest trick in the box"?
Dr. Riley: Each of the chapters in the book is framed by a pertinent quote. I love this one, attributed to Paul Tillich, the philosopher and theologian: “The first duty of love is to listen.” Once you think about it, the most loving thing we can to for anyone is to listen to them intently, and do our best to see the world through their eyes. It does not mean that we have to agree with them. It simply means that we have to understand their viewpoint.
Taking the time to listen intently makes children feel safe and respected, and removes the roadblocks to problem-solving. I’ve seen this over and over in my thirty-some years of working with children and teens.
Commitmentnow.com: From your work with children, what do you think are the biggest mistakes parents make that cause a lot of problems in their relationship with their kids?
Dr. Riley: The prime mistake is the failure to remain “parental.” A parental parent has their child’s best interest at heart, and works actively to see them be happy and productive.
A parental parent does not cave in to a child’s fits or threats, remains calm and does not escalate upward into screaming and yelling and threatening just because a child has launched off in that direction.
A parental parent is very aware that it is not their role to be their child’s best friend or buddy, and that power and authority in the house is not shared with a child or teen.
A parental parent maintains a sense of humor about all the mistakes and gaffes that come with childhood, and remembers that they made the same mistakes when they were of a similar age.
A parental parent maintains a deep respect for the things that their child is interested in, and joins them in their fascination. All of this requires that you spend time alone with each of your children, regardless of how busy or tired you might be.
To Purchase Dr. Riley's Box of Tricks click here.
About the Author: Douglas A. Riley, EdD, is a licensed clinical psychology with more than thirty years of experience working with children, adolescents, and parents. He is also the author of The Defiant Child, The Depressed Child, and What Your Explosive Child Is Trying To Tell You. He practices in Newport News, Virginia.