The Kazdin Method: Does it Work?

Philosophy: Stop riding on the downward spiral of punishment and catch the wave of praise.

I’m open about any and all diagnoses assigned to Jack. I know what it’s like to be lost in the sea of acronyms doctors give to kids who may just be plain old having a tough time.

Currently, we’re exploring the possibility of ADHD, OCD and placement on the Austism spectrum with a definite stake in ODD and we haven’t even seen three of the five specialists yet.

Having tried every form of discipline to cope with the outbursts, anger, hostility and indifference that come with ODD, without success, I took to researching alternative discipline methods.

If anyone out there feels that a good spanking or an endless time-out or even taking away his favorite toy is the simple solution, don’t think I haven’t tried. See this post.

A simple Google search brought me to The Kazdin Method. I read the book. I tried it out. This is what I found.

Dr. Alan Kazdin is a child psychiatrist who specializes in dealing with defiant children. His method is brilliant, in theory, but I wanted to try it myself and decide how it fared in practice.

It goes like this: the best way to eliminate behavior that’s unwanted is to build an alternative behavior in its place. Focusing on punishment of bad behavior reenforces bad behavior. Focusing on praising good behavior reenforces good behavior. How do you do it, then?

Bribery, of course. Bribery in the form of a sticker chart.

The first step is to pick one behavior you want to alter. Start with one. I chose the cyclical self-repetition Jack went through every night (think: “I don’t want to go to school tomorrow. My throat hurts.” on endless repeat without being able to stop it). You might choose refusing to go to bed or thumb-sucking. Whatever.

Then you choose the behavior with which to replace it. I chose doing homework the first time I ask. This is the end goal. Make it specific. It doesnt have to be associated with the unwanted behavior either. You could replace thumb-sucking with reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. Again, whatever.

Now, for the harder part. You design the chart and decide what earns a sticker and how many stickers earn the holy grail (praise, Dollar Store junk, extra play time, ice cream…you pick, but the biggest of these is praise).

Essentially, each time Jack sat down and completed a page of homework without breaking the pencil or ruining the page, he earned a sticker. I was very specific about how he earned one. The sticker went on a calender for that day. He got a huge high five, picked his sticker, stuck it himself and got to pick out of the holiest of holies: the “Surprise Bag”.

I filled it with Kinder Eggs, Play Do, Blind Bags, coupons for Dairy Queen, chapstick, notepads…trinkets only Jack adores. Be caeful with this part, though. If they pull out a Dairy Queen coupon, be prepared to deliver on that promise like right now. Part of what’s making this work is the immediate reward for wanted behavior.

Once the chart is made, the bag is filled, the requirements are explained and they have a sneak peek at the rewards, you do a practice run. They get a sticker and reward for it too, so they know you’re serious. I had Jack get his homework out, sit at the table with his pencil and as long as there was no complaining, he got the sticker and the prize. And he did, get the prize.

I told him what to do next time in order to earn his sticker. Hs favorite part was the praise for doing what he was supposed to.

He was shocked that I noticed and he loved the praise he got for behaving. Each ime we made it through a point in the night he would usually whine and complain about school without him whining and complaining, I got very excited and he got another sticker and a high five.

As he started to get better at doing homework (maybe a week?), I gave him the opportunity to earn two stickers each night. One was for homework the other was for not repeating himself. Basically, one for doing something he was supposed to and one for not doing something he wasn’t supposed to.

At the end of the week, if he had two stickers on each calender space, he got to pick out a new board game or get ice cream.

The longer we stuck to this method, the less he complained about school and homework. After about a month, I weaned him off of the stickers and prizes down to praise for doing what he was supposed to.

There were times he did not get a sticker. No yelling, no punishment, no arguing. Most of this was because he whined about school. It’s important to be firm, explain why they lose their sticker one time and tell them thet can try again tomorrow.

This part was the hardest. Jack is a natural-born negotiaor and doesnt take no for an answer. This began to have the opposite effect and, when he lost a sticker, he started repeating himself, begging to earn it back. I tweaked the method here and allowed him one chance to earn it back if he stopped whining immediately. If he started at any point that night again, he lost it for good.

I’m still using praise for wanted behavior four months later. What’s difficult – and this is a terrible thing I realized about myself as a mom – is to recognize his good behavior. I was an expert at picking out every little “bad” thing he did and enforcing punishment. What I sucked at was praising him for everything he did right.

Once I did that, though, his behavior gradually improved. Plus, it made me start to notice all the things Jack did so well.

Th Kazdin Method is not a miracle. I think it works and I had some success with it. In order for it to work, though, you do have to be consistent and follow-through.

Oppositional Defiant Disorder: How This Mom Deals

Philosophy: No matter what acronym he’s diagnosed with, at the end of our very long days, he’s still my Jack.

Oppositional Defiant Disorder looks like Jack. It looks like a pink octopus stuck to my kitchen ceiling. There are no distinguishing physical characteristics that make him markedly different from any other 6 year old boy. What makes him different is his sheer will to oppose. It’s an iron will.

He is short in stature and has trouble gaining weight, but that’s why his pediatrician referred us to the endocrine specialist. They also referred us to the genetic specialist. An intervention specialist referred us to the psychiatric doctor who, in turn, referred us to the Autism clinic as well as the neuro-developmental specialist. So many specialists, so many referrals, so few answers.

In an effort to neutralize ADHD, which one specialist diagnosed while another did not, he was prescribed an amphetamine. He was also prescribed a low dose of an adult blood pressure medication to help with his outbursts and anger. The jury is still out on whether they work.

Symptoms? Behaviors? Yes.

Anger, aggression, irritability, inability to focus or sit still, uncooperative, defiant, hostile toward authority, restlessness, impulsivity, obsessiveness, compulsions…to name a few.

All of the symptoms present at one time or another; sometimes in tandem. Hostility phases out, but obsessiveness takes its place. If you have the unique experience of sitting down with a medical professional and trying to explain behaviors or to bubble in the referral paperwork next to “Always, Often, Sometimes, Never”, you can understand the difficulty and frustration.

It’s not easy to verbalize what goes on at home because I’m often flying by the seat of my pants when we’re in the midst of a full-blown, psychedelic tantrum. All I know for sure is that I tried every last single solitary bit of discipline I could, and none of it works. None. Of. It.

That much, at least, convinces me this is a disorder (or one of several) and it’s somewhat out of my control.

What drove us to seek professional help was kindergarten.

Jack took great joy in poking, hitting, pinching, swearing, blurting out words, making disruptive noises, taking things and hiding them, taking things and breaking them, tearing books, etching desks, lying about behavior, refusing to do work, cutting things into itty bitty pieces, throwing food and name-calling. I’m sure there was more, but that’s all I’m aware of. In his first year of school, he went to the principal’s office three times (again, that I’m aware of).

We tried two different counselors. He refused to speak. He didn’t utter one peep in six visits.

Enter: the intervention specialist and psychiatric referral.

If I thought I was the only mom whose child exhibited these kinds of behaviors, I would shut up and chalk it up to bad parenting. But, I know that I’m not the only mom. Of course kids defy their parents. It’s what they do, but this is a whole different animal.

When I tell Jack not to do something, I’ve learned the hard way that thing is precisely what he’ll do, and he’ll do it as he looks me right in the eye. That’s oppositional defiance.

“Jack, I”ll give you the ‘squishy’, but just keep it off of the ceiling or you’ll lose it for good.” He gave me eye contact, a grin and an immediate shot straight to the ceiling.

I leave it there because it makes me smile when he’s at his dad’s. It’s so Jack.

The more angry I am, the happier he gets. Ignoring it won’t work either. Ignoring his behavior only leads to repetition of it to get my attention. Most of the time, I get the added bonus of shrill noises to accompany the repetition. The more irritating the noise, the better.

Time-outs beg for destruction and more noise. Anything he can possibly pound on or break while he’s sitting there is fair game. The time I tried spanking, when I was at the tail end of my rope, he responded by laughing and asking me to do it again because it was “fun”.

There was a time I literally threw my hands up in surrender. My white flag was flying and I actually laughed. And you know what? He laughed too. And he stopped.

Against all the medical advice and books by people whose names have an alphabet after them, I literally just gave in and let it go. And it stopped. Mind you, it didn’t stop forever, but once I quit trying so hard to push back, so did Jack.

I put all of the charts, stickers, redirection, loss of privileges to the side. For the time-being. I turned to plain and simple reasoning. No threat I ever made or punishment I enforced ever got his attention anyway. What gets his attention is my attention to him.

All I do is take the time to tell him exactly what he did and ask why. Most of the time he doesn’t have a reason and I believe that’s truly the case.

He doesn’t know why he does what he does. But if he knows I’m aware and I’m paying attention, he becomes eager to please and the negative behavior becomes almost non existent.

This is only what worked for me when nothing else worked. In fact, it didn’t work at all until Jack was able and willing to listen to me without interrupting or blowing up. And this probably won’t work forever. That’s the beauty of ODD/ADHD/OCD. It keeps you on your toes.

All these acronyms are taking the place of my little boy. ODD, ADHD, OCD. They’re easy to get wrapped up in and to forget that what I have at the end of every outburst is still my Jack. Whatever else may be associated with him in the way of a disorder, he’s still my Jack.

What he is isn’t symptoms. Those are secondary. What he is, is kind, lovable, thoughtful, imaginative, eager, creative, funny, innovative.

What he’s diagnosed with, we’ll work through.

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