Monday, February 15, 2016

What I Learned From A Sweater

Sometimes I get it all wrong.

When Jaycee is refusing to leave the van because I have parked somewhere different at church, I don't always know what to do.

When she drops to the floor and won't move because she's done shopping, I feel myself getting red with embarrassment.

As a speech-language pathologist, I know that all behavior is communication. This is especially true for Jaycee as her verbal speech is extremely limited. I know what some of her behaviors say but other times I am just at a loss.

Recently, I took a short professional developmental course on analyzing behaviors for their communicative intent. The next day, I had a chance to practice my skills.


Jaycee is not a morning person (like me). She has 1 goal in the morning: Stay in bed as long as possible.

I have 1 goal in the morning: Get Jaycee dressed as fast as I can to get her 50 minute medicine regime done before the bus arrives.

We have conflicting goals. See the problem?

Some mornings are worse than others. This particular day was one of them. As I tried to help her pull her polka dot sweater on, she kept fighting against me. Usually, I wrestle the thing on her. It's very cold outside, she needs to wear a sweater, and this sweater is fine.

"Just put this sweater on!" I plead.

But on this day, I think about her behavior as communication. I walk to the closet and select another sweater. I then hold the two sweaters up and say, "It's cold. You have to wear a sweater. Which one do you want to wear?"

The poor unwanted black and white sweater

She points to the unicorn sweater and proceeds to promptly put it on. That was easy!

Hooray! I got something right!! She wasn't being combative. She just didn't want that sweater.

That led me to think about my conversations with my 6 year old son. He and I negotiate all the time. I don't think about how often it happens. I tell him to do something and he asks why before complying. I tell him to get dressed; he says he will in a minute. I give him applesauce and he asks for oranges. There's a give and take happening all the time. He can ask for things or for more information if he doesn't like what I say or do.

Jaycee doesn't quite have this ability. She has behaviors. I tell her to get dressed. She could shake her head "no" but instead fights my efforts to tell me no. She can't ask for a different sweater because that spoken vocabulary isn't there.

I learned something from the sweater incident. Instead of getting frustrated with behaviors, I need to look harder for their intent. We'll both be happier for it!


  1. What a nice lesson you learned. Thanks for writing about it. And thanks for linking to my blog.

  2. Such a great lesson! Giving choice that leads to your desired outcome is the best lesson ANY parent can learn. Do you want to jump or hop to the door. Eat with a green spoon or yellow one... Crossing the street, hold my right or my left hand... A little choice can go a long way!


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