Sometimes it is hard to find the right words; everything takes time and practice. Speaking from personal experience, finding the right words to write in a blog or the right words to say during a webinar can be difficult. Using key phrases, terms, and scripts with your adoptive and guardianship children will build trust and familiarity. Scripts are short, verbal cues that parents use to remind a child of the desired behavior. Scripts help to communicate a sense of safety and connectedness in moments of distress or dysregulation.
Why use scripts?
When our kids are upset, it is hard to talk with them. If our child’s brain is overloaded with a perceived threat or big feelings during a meltdown, they cannot process much of anything. Even our attempts to help them calm down go unnoticed. Those big feelings are scary for our kids. Therefore, our task in their moment of dysregulation is to help them re-regulate. They need to trust us to help them adjust their behavior and emotions to a more appropriate state.
Using scripts acts as mental muscle memory to help get our kids back on track without requiring a lot of mental processing power. Suppose you’ve ever witnessed a teacher quiet an entire class with a simple call-and-response. In that case, you are already familiar with the idea. A short, frequently-used phrase like “Use your words” or “Ask, don’t tell” reminds your kids of how they’re supposed to behave without being disciplinary. People continually follow scripts that are acquired through habit, practice, and simple routine.
Dr. Karen Purvis’ book with Lisa Qualls and Emmelie Pickett – offered a few practical examples of scripts.
5 Tips for Creating Scripts
- Keep it simple.
Use as few words as possible, no more than five or six. Only address one behavior per script. Make sure you offer a specific and direct behavioral response to challenging behavior. Telling a child in the middle of a tantrum to “Behave!” is useless but telling her, “Use your words” is concrete action. Or you can say, “We need to use our inside voice.”
- Practice scripts when everyone is calm.
Remember, when your child is dysregulated, it is not time to start using a new script they’ve not heard before. Identify problem behaviors you want to target, develop your scripts, and introduce them when everyone is calm.
You could try role-playing to practice the scripts, especially if you have a younger kid who likes to engage in imaginary play. Building familiarity with the scripts and the desired behavior can increase everyone’s ease of using the scripts together. If he has heard the script before, he will be better able to remember and process what it means when dysregulated.
- Praise good behavior.
When your child behaves correctly, use those positive “cheerleader” type-scripts to acknowledge their good behavior and praise them for it. “Great listening!” or “Thank you for the kind words” are examples of positive reinforcement that helps your child associate the script with the desired behavior. It also builds your child’s confidence that she can act in praise-worthy ways. Dr. Purvis called this “marking the task.”
- Watch your tone.
Scripts are designed to remind your child of desired behavior without fussing or nagging. They will be ineffective if you say them through clenched teeth. Make sure you deliver the script in a gentle, non-threatening tone of voice. Remember, use the script as a reminder of positive behavior, not a punishment for negative behavior.
Children read our nonverbal communication, so we need to pay attention to our facial expressions and posture, and our tone of voice is critical when teaching the behaviors we want to see.
- Make your scripts age-appropriate.
A script that works great for your five-year-old might feel condescending when said to your tween or teen. You can still expect the same behavior. But as They get older, you should modify the language you use.
Your tone in age-appropriate ways is key with tweens and teens. It would be best to strive for light-hearted reminders early in the interactions that don’t feel like commands. His natural need for independence might feel triggered if he feels that you are talking to him like he is a child. When you are talking about using a tone, you can use the example, “Do you want to try that again with respect.” which initiates a redo.
Set your child up for success.
The repetition of scripts will create comfort for both the child and those around them. Scripts allow us to predict how others will behave and fulfill our need for a sense of control. When things would get chaotic in our house, my mom would make a “T” with her arms, and we all knew it was time to calm down. My son will use the phrase, “Real talk,” when he needs the conversation to be serious and not goofy. The starting points for script points will take time and practice to develop. However, to be truly useful, you need to develop your unique scripts for your family.
This blog post was written by Post Adopt Coordinator, Kim Waswick, LBSW
Lisa Qualls | One Thankful Mom