So here is a one-question survey for all the parents out there. How many times a day have you heard your kids say: “I’m telling mom (or dad)”?
We hear that a lot here. That, and “Are you going to tell dad (or mom)?”
But lately a new phase is being uttered frequently in our home. “I’m telling Noah,” I say to my 10-year-old son Evan.
Yes, it’s a case of a mom threatening to discuss her son’s bad behavior with his 11-year-old brother. I know it’s a strange thing for a parent to say, but it’s a hugely powerful discipline tool right now.
What’s the deal with that, you ask?
Well, it’s kind of a long story, but here goes. Over the years we’ve had to address a lot of negative behaviors with Evan. For example, when he was younger, he demanded that every light in the house be turned on, and he had serious tantrums when they were not. He went through a phase where we couldn’t use the gas stove without him freaking out. There used to be a note in the childcare center at my gym expressly stating that the area was not to be vacuumed while Evan was there. It took several years and a lot of professional intervention to help Evan get over these issues.
More recently we had been dealing with swearing and lots of it. When Evan got angry or frustrated the four-letter words came flying off his tongue. At first we secretly celebrated his somewhat appropriate use of language, but the novelty wore off very quickly. It wasn’t very funny when he dropped the F-bomb at school or screamed the S-word at Target. Fortunately, Evan was able to curtail his potty mouth after a few years and lots of behavior charts. While he’s still known to use inappropriate language, it’s not nearly as bad as it used to be.
One of Evan’s more challenging behaviors lately is his dislike of very specific (and random) words.
George Carlin had seven dirty words on his list. My son has at least seven things on his list of what you should not say around him.
That’s the way
Every time he hears these words, he yells and screams and sometimes can’t quickly recover from his hissy fit. He could never explain his dislike for these words, and it didn’t matter who said them. He’d yell at the TV, the computer and, even worse, complete strangers for saying something on his list of banned words.
“Stop saying_____,” he likes to yell.
Evan, with his bionic hearing, has no problem approaching strangers to admonish them for their choice of words.
We pulled out everything from our bag of tricks – from behavior charts with the promise of great rewards to making up the “bad word of the day” – to get him to stop. Each morning Evan would ask us what the bad word of the day was and if he said it, he got “in trouble.” It was a fun game, but it didn’t work consistently.
We tried desensitization techniques because they worked in the past. He grew to like the Barbra Streisand song “People” but never tolerated “Imagine” by John Lennon.
His teachers tried. His occupational therapist strategized. His tutor/behaviorist implemented a plan. We all came up empty – all of us but an 11-year-old brother with no formal training but a lifetime of living alongside someone with autism.
Evan loves destruction, but he doesn’t cause too much of it. Noah capitalized on that. He promised Evan he would “cause destruction” if Evan stopped telling people to “Stop saying…”a word he didn’t like.
Noah’s plan worked as quickly as ice cream melts in the summer. Evan almost immediately stopped telling people to stop saying the words he didn’t like. All Noah had to do was remind Evan that he’d “cause destruction” if he stopped saying “stop saying.”
Months went by, and the behavior was almost completely gone. And the best part of it was that Noah never destroyed anything. Until one day he came to me and said “Mom, I keep promising Evan destruction and I should probably do it for him since he has been so good. Can I break a light bulb?”
We put a light bulb in a Ziploc bag and the boys took it outside. Noah hit it with a baseball bat, and Evan laughed and enthusiastically shouted “destruction” as it shattered in a million pieces.
That was all it took an older brother with a brilliant plan and a younger brother – by 14 months – who admires his sibling. We thought about putting Noah on the payroll, but he already gets free room and board.
It’s been several months, and occasionally Evan will utter “Stop saying,” but mostly it’s when Noah isn’t around to hear, and that’s when you’ll hear me say “If you don’t stop saying ‘Stop saying,’ I’m telling Noah.”