Updated: Aug 4
Rob Scalise, MS, MBA & Jonathan Blann, MS
Now more than ever, it's up to parents to facilitate their children's education and social activities. A quick search for bestselling parenting books offers hundreds of choices, and psychologists, influencers, and well-meaning friends (even the snobby ones you tolerate!) all seem to have their two cents to contribute. The rabbit hole that is parenting advice is a colossal and ever-growing industry that can leave anyone twisted in knots.
Every parent, kid, and family is unique and, inevitably, only some of this advice will succeed. How can you tell what's best for your child and your situation, particularly when so-called parenting experts can't see your day-to-day life or understand your child's unique needs?
We have over 20 years of combined experience helping parents of neurodiverse kids on the autism spectrum. We’ve been tasked with guiding kids and parents through a variety of very difficult situations and teaching skills that lead to a more independent life. This usually means we spend multiple hours a week with that family, and often in their home. Most of the parents we've worked with have already tried every piece of advice under the sun.
Here are some simple guidelines that can provide you with the needed tools to sift through the hot takes and testimonials to choose a healthy plan of action for you and your kid that can apply to your lifestyle. No matter if you want to get better at helping them with homework, teach them a new skill, or stop them from picking their nose.
The first point to remember is that you don’t need to be a child psychologist to know what your kids need – nobody knows them better than you. You’ve likely run across a high-profile parenting tip and decided it would never work with your kid. Cookie-cutter plans will leave you guessing; inclusive and individualized plans are the instruments of success. Toward that end, remember to:
Think upfront. Try to imagine how the approach fits in with your child’s lifestyle and routines and, most importantly, yours.
Break it down. To allow for changes, goals should be spelled out in smaller more achievable tasks.
Be sure. Look for plans that define ways to teach, model, practice, and give feedback.
Simple is good. Watch out for suggestions that use language you can’t understand or require you to spend lots of money on extra materials. Your time is invaluable.
In your quest for advice and ideas, you may encounter detailed daily schedules that seem easy to follow and promise you more freedom to go about your day as your children busy themselves with reading and cleaning their rooms like good little boys and girls. Please beware! Changes in routine often come with growing pains – whining, rebelling, constant repeating, maybe even the dreaded tantrum – we all throw one from time to time. Building consistency into any new activity can be tedious and time-consuming, and setbacks can make any parent want to give up. But don’t despair, there are some simple ways to help you establish a consistent routine to keep you and your child on track.
Enlist help. Ask family members, friends, neighbors, whoever, to support you and encourage you to keep you going.
Set aside time. Building structure into the day will ease the growing pains by providing more certainty.
Be realistic. Don’t expect your kids to meet standards you might not meet yourself. If you can’t follow through, they won’t either.
Celebrate small victories. When you find your child doing something you want, find the silver linings and allow both you and them to feel good.
Social validity means building socially essential skills for your child that lead to self-sustaining development. Whether your motivations are your child’s success or general education, any advice you get should consider the long-term impact on your child’s life. A comprehensive plan will allow them access rewards independent of your control. Token economies like point systems, sticker boards, and money are effective, but you should be looking for more.
Consider natural rewards. Increased access to preferred activities, social activities, less work requirements, convenience, access to new environments, and new skills applications will push your kid to bigger and better places.
Fight the good battles. Avoid advice leading you into micromanaging the little things. You can hinder effectiveness with other more impactful skills that you could be teaching.
“Ok, Boomer” is now a mainstream phrase for a reason. Methods and skills taught by your parents don’t always adapt to the demands in your child’s everyday life.
The world changes quickly, and regardless of the method, an empathetic approach to choosing recommendations for your child will lead to more independence and success.
Effectiveness is the most valuable feature of any advice. Family structures, job schedules, and personal preferences are just some of the factors that can turn a brilliant suggestion into a waste of time. To take the subjective nature out of any recommendation and validate its effectiveness, we all have a powerful tool at our fingertips: data. The numbers don’t lie, and taking the right steps might be easier than you think. Here is a basic look at how you can use the scientific method to save yourself time, effort, and disappointment with any advice.
Define the behavior. Pick out something tangible you can change, then find an easy way to measure it.
Take a baseline measurement. Before you start a new practice, take a brief measurement to set a baseline standard that you can use as a point of comparison. This measurement will typically be the behavior you want to change. Examples can include baselines for your own behavior: how often you raise your voice, how often they raise theirs, or how long they spend doing independent activities without complaining.
Collect data. Don’t overburden yourself. This can be easy with the right tools and may involve something as simple as an old-school clicker, keeping tallies on your phone, or a worksheet.
Compare progress with your baseline data. Make small incremental changes if needed to isolate successful and unsuccessful elements of your plan.
This approach adds value to any advice by providing feedback for your behavior and keeping you consistent and effective. It also lets you see precisely what is effective for your kid and your situation.
Taking on the wealth of parenting advice out there can be daunting. But equipped with these four key guidelines: Adapting, Consistency, Independence, and a Scientific Approach, you can go at it confidently. Each stresses the importance of understanding the uniqueness of every child and situation. Parenting is not a one-size-fits-all journey, and it's crucial to remain flexible, consistent and focused on fostering your child's independence. And when all else fails, a data-driven approach can bring objectivity to your decision-making, helping you test the validity of various suggestions. Remember, nobody knows your child better than you do. So, arm yourself with some tools to navigate your parenting journey with greater confidence and success. You got this!
Learn more about Rob Scalise
Jonathan Blann is a board-certified and licensed behavior analyst (BCBA, LBA) from San Angelo, Texas. He is also the author of the first Help Self Book: Life in Chains: A Behavior Science Guy Sets Out to Do the Unthinkable, Change His Own Behavior.