© Nagy-bagoly Ilona | Dreamstime.com
For Shannon Royer, every interaction with her young son was a fight, from potty training to simply telling him to pick up his room. After she gave birth to her second child, Royer decided it was time to do something about her son’s behavior. Her pediatrician referred her to RIP.
Mary R. sought refuge at RIP after her daughter’s preschool withheld her contract for the upcoming year until her volatile behavior improved.
“My child stood out as the kid to watch out for, epic tantrums, running away, not listening to adults,” she says. “A counselor said I should give RIP a try.”
The nationally acclaimed Regional Intervention Program (RIP) transforms defiant behavior by working with families as a whole, not just the child. Parents who attend the program receive help for a host of issues, from separation anxiety and tantrums to aggression and bedtime struggles. Such behavioral challenges can have serious consequences, even in the early years, getting children dismissed from day care and preschool programs. Parents are relieved to learn that the professionals at RIP do not shy away from tackling any problem, no matter the severity of the child’s behavior.
“The key to our program is implementing ‘positive consequences’ for appropriate behavior, and diverting attention from negative behavior. A parent becomes a therapist, of sorts, to their child,” says Robin Stevens, RIP program director.
How RIP works
Since RIP is activity-based, families commit to two-hour sessions twice a week at the University of Memphis’ Park Avenue campus. Here, parents undergo one-on-one training with their child and professionals, as well as classroom instruction with other families. These classes, taught by parents who have completed the RIP program, give new parents the chance to correct ineffective communication in a controlled environment. Professionals like Stevens sit behind a one-way mirror to provide feedback on their interactions.
“The classroom is a great setting for parents to really hone these communication skills. We teach them to behave neutrally toward the child and to go in as a teacher,” Stevens says. “The classroom can be eye-opening for parents whose child only exhibits negative behavior in a school environment.”
The class includes a session that trains both parents and children on social skills. Learning how to share is an important one. Parents are present to intervene but the point is to help improve interaction between children in the classroom.
For many, the camaraderie and empathy offered by parents like themselves provides encouragement in moments of doubt.
“I liked that it was a program with parents going through similar situations,” says Royer, “It made me feel like I wasn’t alone.”
In addition to feedback from professionals like Stevens, each family is assigned a case manager and classroom trainer to help with questions along the way. Parents must also fill out questionnaires and watch instructional videos on different behavior modification techniques.
“Our program is very individualized and thorough, we always go over the questionnaires with the parent to see what they struggle with,” Stevens says.
Remain calm and carry on
Communication strategies are one of the first aspects of the child-to-parent relationship RIP professionals analyze. After orientation, parents are put in behavioral skills training sessions. Their child is faced with various toys and told which toys to play with. This session allows professionals to see where parents lack assertive skills in giving instructions to their children.
Staying calm and giving non-open-ended commands are solutions commonly employed. Stevens emphasizes that parents must have a confident, unwavering tone when telling a child to do something.
The professional instruction in the RIP classroom is based on a consequence-reward system of behavior. Cleverly referred to as the ‘ABC model’, this method works by correcting defiant behavior before the trigger situation begins through firm communication by the parent.
“If, for example, a child has chronic trouble with throwing temper tantrums in the grocery store line, a parent would talk to him before they got in line and inform him that there will be a positive consequence for not acting out,” Stevens says. “The idea is to praise the child on what he or she does well, and divert attention when they behave inappropriately.”
Rewarding can be verbal praise. “One thing we focus on is the importance of catching your child being good, especially families whose children have inappropriate behavior. They forget to tell the child when he or she is doing something good.”
“One of the things I found most helpful for me are the ‘when-then’ statements,” Royer notes. “Saying ‘When you finish dinner, then you can have a treat,’ makes my instructions clear.”
“The diverting attention aspect was hard at first, because my child’s behavior kept escalating,” Mary says. “With some persistence and not giving into her tantrums, it started paying off.”
Continuing change at home
The parent-to-parent model helps keep costs down by providing professionals with important data collected by parents involved in the program. This data is used not only to develop helpful tools to use at home, but to educate social service agencies, educational institutions, and pediatricians.
“The home program is important because it gives parents something to use on a 24/7 basis,” Stevens says. “Parents can keep a log on certain problem behaviors like tantrums and see if they see progress.”
The RIP program is opposed to any form of physical punishment. Stevens says if a parent hits a child, then you’re modeling that aggressive behavior is okay. It is not.
The program has transformed Mary’s relationship with her daughter. “As a parent, I am much more patient and focused on not attending to my child’s negative behavior,” she says. “I am no longer clueless and can set goals that I know will bring about positive change in my family. That, in itself, is priceless.”
History: Founded in Nashville in 1969, the program was one of the first behavior modification programs for preschoolers to implement parent-to-parent classroom instruction in conjunction with professional feedback.
Funding: RIP is funded through a grant from the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse.
Areas of specialty: Separation anxiety, tantrums, meal-time issues, aggression, and bedtime struggles. RIP works with any child from ages 3 to 6, no matter the severity of the behavior.