Hi and welcome to Ask Missy Mondays where I respond to email questions from readers who have questions about behavior. Today’s question comes from Shannon and Gary who write:
“This feels like an odd question because we know there are many families who work hard to help their child(ren) learn to maintain appropriate eye contact when communicating. Our child has decent eye contact while requesting things, but when we speak to him, not only is his eye contact very poor, but he won’t stand still! He’s constantly rocking back and forth from one foot to the other (sort of like walking in place) or walking away. Sometimes he will maintain some eye contact while moving around, but we would prefer to have him stand still and look around the room than to have proper eye contact and have him wiggling.
Is it appropriate for us to expect a six-year-old to stand still while we give him directions? If so, how can we target that behavior? Should it be targeted separate from maintaining eye contact and listening to directions? Eventually we would like him to be doing all three at once.”
Thanks for writing Shannon and Gary! This is a great question and it is not unrealistic to expect your child to stand still. However, it may be impossible for his body to be still. One of the things we have learned as behaviorists is that the foods we eat may affect our bodies and behaviors. So, the first thing you need to do is get a good nutritionist to take a look at your child’s dietary habits. We know that artificial food coloring causes big wiggle problems. This includes dyes of blues, reds, oranges, and yellows. It is fairly easy to cut out the artificial colors when you cut out artificial foods. So the next step is to move to a whole foods diet. While the store Whole Foods is helpful for this, you will find it more affordable to shop locally. Aim for foods that are grown or killed (fruits, vegetables, meats and fish).
Once you rid your child’s body of harmful ingredients that may be causing all of the movement, then the next step is to teach him step by step how to stand and attend. You do this by working on his focus and attention using principles of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA). We usually start by having your child focus on something for a very short period. We use a simple laser pointer and shine it on the wall. When your child stands still for 5 seconds (you may need to start even shorter–at 3 seconds), then reinforce his behavior by providing him access to a preferred item or activity.
When your child can successfully focus for 5 seconds, then increase the goal time to 10 seconds and so on. When your child can stand still and focus for one minute, then you add distractors like noise, music, and people. When your child can focus for a minute with distractors, then you start adding information for your child to remember while remaining focused.
There is a great game on the Wii for this under the balance games. It is called the Lotus Flame. It requires the child to sit but that may also be effective at teaching your child to focus. Good luck! Please let us know how it goes.
If you have a question about behavior, please email me at askmissy at appliedbehavioralstrategies dot-com.