By Greg Russell
The Regional Intervention Program hosted by the University of Memphis is an award-winning
program that helps parents who have unruly children.
Clay and Angie felt like they were the ones doing something wrong. Their 4-year-old
child had become a terror: he had been kicked out of daycare once, and advised not
to return a second time.
“He would knock over vases, he would hit teachers, he would throw chairs,” said Angie
(last name withheld at request). “He had a problem controlling his anger. If he felt
threatened, he would go on the defensive and explode and hit someone or throw something.
“I have two other children but I had never seen anything like this before. We were
disciplining him like we had disciplined our other two, but the more we tried, the
worse it got. Our initial reaction was that we were doing something wrong as parents.
We had lost all hope.”
But thanks to a program hosted by the University of Memphis, Angie and Clay can rest
The award-winning Regional Intervention Program (RIP) housed on the U of M’s Park
Avenue Campus offers help to parents whose children have mild to severe behavior problems.
“We are a parenting program and we are here to help families who have children under
the age of 6 who are having any kind of behavior issues,” said Dee Wimberley, resource
consultant for RIP. “A lot of our children come to us with non-compliant behavior,
tantrums and aggressions. We also deal with bedtime issues, mealtime issues, separation
anxiety – anything a parent is having a problem with.”
RIP began in Nashville in 1969, but has only been associated with the U of M for four
years. The free program is funded through the Tennessee Department of Mental Health
and Developmental Disabilities. Parents sign up for intervention for a six- to eight-month
No matter how large the tantrum, there is no case too big for RIP.
“Some of the children who come here have been kicked out of daycare centers multiple
times; kindergarten teachers have said they can’t handle this child,” said Wimberley.
“Often when people come to us, they don’t know who to turn to and they feel helpless.
“I talked to a mom on the phone and she was crying the entire time. She said, ‘I don’t
know what else to do. I am the worst parent or else my child wouldn’t be acting this
way.’ Parents blame themselves, but (we see) parents as the solution. We offer help.”
The parents and their children attend sessions on the Park Avenue Campus two nights
a week for two hours during the six-to-eight-month intervention. Children attend classes
where they undergo activities designed to help with social and behavior issues.
Parents learn, practice and implement positive behavior management skills, strategies
and techniques in dealing with their child’s issue. They in essence learn to become
therapists for their child.
Parents are in the classroom very little for the first three weeks other than for
an observation or assignment.
“During this time, we are teaching the parents positive behavior management strategies,”
said Wimberley. “We teach them ways to address a wide range of problems both at home
and at school.”
Parents eventually lead activities in the program’s classroom that are designed to
teach social skills.
“During a class, if a tantrum comes along, we teach the parents to initially remove
attention from that behavior because they may be attention-seeking behaviors,” said
Wimberley. “The kid throwing the tantrum has most likely been told ‘no’ they can’t
have something, ‘no’ they can’t do something or something didn’t go their way so a
tantrum ensures. We remove attention from those behaviors, but we are sure to ‘Catch
them being good’ or give lots of specific positive attention when the child is behaving
appropriately. We teach parents the things they can’t remove attention from with their
child and things they can. Hurting somebody else, that is something the parent should
not remove attention from. The removal of attention is a starting point for reducing
the tantrum behaviors. Other strategies will be used in the event that the removal
of attention is ineffective.”
Wimberley said that children with attention deficit disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity
disorder, autism and other disabilities have gone through the program.
“All are welcome. A parent just has to call and say they need help with their child.”
Wimberley said that each child is different and thus may require a different management
plan. Situations can sometimes be severe.
“There was one case that involved an aggressive child — it wasn’t unusual for us to
go home with bruises. However, this child went on to graduate from the program and
is now doing a wonderful job in his kindergarten setting.”
An important part of the process is finding a way to motivate the child toward a better
“We have to find what motivates your child. What does your child love that they will
work towards? Once you find that out, you use that as a reward.”
Wimberley said the transformation of a child who has gone through the program is often
“You see these perfect little angels come through the door and they are just as sweet
as they can be and then you see them hitting or kicking,” she said. “But they graduate
and leave here and are little angels again. Your child may still throw a tantrum, but they are few and far
between. Nobody is perfect.
“It is better to deal with the issues early, before the age of 6, rather than trying
to deal with the child when they turn 15 or 16.”
Parents who have gone through the active treatment phase of the program return to
provide payback support to newer families. The “payback” families can learn new skills
themselves while offering peer support.
For Angie and Clay, RIP was a “godsend.”
“I don’t know what we would have done without RIP,” said Angie. “It is amazing at
the end of the program at how different your kid is. Our son is in kindergarten now.
No phone calls and no incidents. It is like night and day.”
To learn more about RIP, call (901) 678-5258 or e-mail RIP coordinator Robin Stevens
The Regional Intervention Program has had much success for the past four decades.
RIP has received seven national awards and has been featured in more than 70 professional
publications. The American Psychiatric Association and the President’s Committee on
Mental Retardation have honored RIP for its unique service delivery system.CHADD (Children
and Adults with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), an international organization
for families dealing with ADHD, named RIP the “Innovative Program of the Year for