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Problem child? Intervention program offers solutions

By Greg Russell

Tantrum
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 easier now.

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 period.

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 behavior.

“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 dramatic.

“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 at rwelsh@memphis.edu.

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 2001.”

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