Kid’s Skills

Kid’s Skills by Dr Ben Furman is one of the tools I use in my work with children.

However, it is something that parents can use to address behaviours in their children that they are concerned about. Below I describe how I used Kid’s Skills with one of my children.

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My youngest boy is the kind of kid who develops habits. He had developed a habit of sniffing and it was going on for too long.

It started with a bout of severe hayfever. I cleared up the hayfever by removing all yeast from his diet (bread, crackers, flavoured crisps, sultanas – yeast is in a lot of foods). He is now yeast intolerant, every time he has a food with yeast in it the hayfever returns with a vengeance.

With the hayfever gone, the sniffing remained.

After much harassment from his brothers about how annoying the sniffing was, the sniffing was replaced with throat clearing. Constant throat clearing.

When my husband started to send the youngest boy out of the room and reduce his computer time every time he cleared his throat, and the effect was that the problem got worse not better, I had to step in. As the saying goes, you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.

There are 15 steps in Kid’s Skills, and I sat down with my son, and we worked through the Kid’s Skills which were appropriate for this particular problem…

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State the problem, and name the opposite of the problem, the skill to be learnt.

The problem was sniffing and clearing his throat. We could not think of the opposite, so we just left it as it was.

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Name the people who will support you to learn the new skill.

He named Mum, Dad, and older brother as his supporters. He said the middle brother wasn’t bothered by the problem.

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Give the skill a cool name.

He called it “Demond” [sic].

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Give the skill a power animal or character.

He made up a new animal called a “Spitter” and he drew it. This animal had a wolf’s head, many snake heads, a dragon’s head, and a tiger’s head , and fourteen legs.

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Ask the supporters and yourself what will be better when you learn the new skill.

Older brother: I won’t get so mad at him and shout at him.

Mum: He will be a happy boy, and he’ll be able to concentrate on other things.

Boy: People won’t nag me anymore. I’ll stop being sad because Dad won’t send me out of the room.

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Ask the supporters and yourself the reasons why you will learn the new skill.

Older Brother: I don’t know (in a ‘this is weird and embarrassing’ tone).

Mum: Because he is strong and clever.

Dad: Because he is clever.

Boy: Because I am a good learner. I learn quickly and easily.

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Provide a code word so that if you forget your new skill your supporters can remind you by using the code word.

He said his code word will be “devil”.

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How will you celebrate the acquisition of your new skill?

He said he wanted to make a chocolate cake with strawberries on top, and share it with the family.

We agreed that if he didn’t sniff or clear his throat for two days, we would have the celebration.

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My oldest boy, who had really given the youngest boy a hard time over his habits, was heard gently saying  “devil” to his brother. My husband didn’t like our boys’ choice of code word, but if it is chosen by the child there is a greater commitment to it.

From the first day, the habit was reduced by about 80%.  At times he said “Mum, I haven’t sniffed for hours” or “I’ve been good at using my Demond skills today”, and at other times he said “that doesn’t count because I can’t hear myself”.  Sometimes I had to call him in for a hug to bolster his resolve. In the first few days, he asked me to talk him through what we had written down for his kid’s skills. He started doing a low level grunting, and when I talked to him about it he said it was singing, so I suggested he make it sound like humming and he gave me the ‘thumbs up’ and a wry smile.

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With kids with habits, I think there is a lot of value in paying no attention to the habit. They frequently go away in time, only to be replaced by another habit. Interestingly, my oldest boy was a habit kid too. Only this year, has he relinquished his need for a habit and he will be twelve years old in four months time.

What Kid’s Skills does is give the people around the child a different focus, one on building a skill rather than harping on the problem. The child is given a lot of agency and support to help build the new skill. It took two weeks for my son to kick his habit. He helped to make his cake and he was a very proud boy.

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Categories: Encouraging Desirable Behaviour

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