Modelling behaviour and normalising

When you have children you expect to have to teach them everything. This is true, children do have to learn a lot and it makes sense to do this by showing them, explaining to them and teaching them how to do these things. There are also things that children will pick up, either naturally, instinctively or by copying others or using existing skills to work things out by themselves.

There are so many different ways humans learn.

When it comes to PDA though, parents often find some of these ways don’t quite work. For a starter, PDAers don’t do well with instructions and direct teaching methods. Saying “you need to do this now” is usually met with resistance. And since PDA is an Autism sub-type, they won’t learn as much from copying and instinctual learning techniques either.

So what’s a parent of a PDAer to do?

Many parents turn to PDA strategies to teach. Offering choices, explaining the whys and hows, linking teaching to hobbies/interests, letting them figure out things for themselves, etc.

Two teaching methods I have found helpful are modelling behaviour and normalising.

Modelling behaviour is basically only displaying ¬†behaviour yourself that you want your children to copy. For example, rather than teaching a child to say please and thank you, you make sure to always say please and thank you yourself, especially when dealing with said child. If you don’t want your child to swear then you yourself will never swear. This method isn’t foolproof, many children pick up negative behaviours elsewhere that are never displayed by the parents, and many children never pick up on modelled behaviour despite the parents constant displaying of them. It doesn’t hurt to try though.

Normalising is where you don’t call attention to the behaviours you want your child to display. This, when used alongside modelling behaviour, should work rather well for PDAers. Normalising works best when every source of teaching performs the same, sadly our society tends to prefer direct instruction as opposed to normalising so the techniques may not work if there are many other sources contradicting normalising.

Let me give you an example of normalising: a family has four children, the youngest, Amy, has grown up watching the elder children going about their day and so has copied everything they have ever done. One day Amy, who is now 8, is asked by a friend, Sally, staying over for the night, why every night after Amy has brushed her teeth, she runs her hand across her forehead. Amy thinks for a moment, then says “I don’t know, it’s what I’ve always done”. She then realises that every member of her house does it after brushing their teeth. She’s never questioned it because she didn’t know that other families didn’t do it. To her, it was just something that everyone did after brushing their teeth.

This is what normalising is, performing a behaviour regularly without calling attention to it, explaining it or changing it. Amy’s parents never told her to swipe her forehead, nor did they ever explain why they did it, nor did they ever not do it. To Amy, it was a normal thing to do.

Normalising is usually used in conjunction with modelling behaviour. If you want your child to learn to always say please when asking for something, then if you, as a parent, always say please when asking for something, without ever explaining why you say please, without calling attention to it, without forcing your child to say please, then there is a good chance they will automatically start saying please when asking for something too, and they will think it’s normal. Sadly society is full of people insisting on teaching certain behaviours using direct instruction and force. Something we know doesn’t work with PDAers. There are some behaviours which the normalising techniques will work with.

I used normalising and modelling behaviour to teach my eldest son to say please and thank you, for a few years he always said please and thank you. That was, until he started school and learnt that those behaviours were ‘optional’. Now he doesn’t say them as much. But for a few years I had the politest child.

Teaching PDAers isn’t easy. Teaching any child isn’t easy but the way the PDA brain works makes it harder for both the teacher and the learner. There are some techniques which will work great for some and not at all for others. Finding what works best for you and your child may take time and energy but it can be work it.

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One thought on “Modelling behaviour and normalising

  1. This post is amazing. It sums up the best strategies. If school and family work together, it all works better and quicker. We used a lot of modelling. I would advise this any day over attempting to label a PDA child’s emotions. They are not easily defined and mistakes takes ages to rectify. Thank you for writing this x My daughter is very scientific in her learning. She experiments with things, trying them, choosing not to use things and when she is satisfied it is right for her she does it. I give her space to experiment. It has made the world of difference.

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