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How Long Does It Take To Change My Child’s Behavior (and my own)?

Behavioral changes and consistency take time – far more time than I like to admit. So why do I always feel so much pressure and rush to see progress? How long should it take to change my child’s behavior (and my own, for that matter)?


I saw a pamphlet in my son’s doctor’s office yesterday.

It was all about how to effectively parent challenging behaviors and had all the usual recommendations – consistency, firm boundaries, limiting screen time – you know the drill.

I usually completely ignore this type of thing. None of it was what worked with my child anyway. I don’t fault anyone for trying, nor do I think it is a bad idea. I just know that most of the standard parenting advice out there was the absolute worst for my child.

What kept my attention however, was a heading phrased as a question – How long does it take to change my child’s behavior?

The answer given was this:

It can take up to 2 months to work. Being patient and keeping a diary of behavior can be helpful to parents. Choose 1 to 2 behaviors you would like to change (for example, bedtime habits, tooth brushing, or picking up toys).

I felt like throwing up.

How Long Does It Take To See Change My Child’s Behavior?

“Up to two months? Are you freaking kidding me?” I thought as I wished my son’s appointment would end so I could get some fresh air.

There was a time, when my boys were much younger, when I would’ve grabbed onto that 2 month promise and ran. Desperate for answers, for some way to help calm down our days, I would’ve loved the idea of a 2 month solution to our problems.

Then, I would’ve felt ashamed when 2 months, 4 months, 8 months and a year had passed. I would’ve assumed I was failing my children.

Why Do I Expect My Child To Change Any Faster Than I Do?

I expect this of myself too, in my own behavior.

I want to be a better mom, a better person, a better businesswoman, a better writer.

I would like that in 2 months please, thank you very much.

But the past year has taken it’s toll.

2020 began with me thinking I would be traveling and speaking all over the country. I thought my children were in a more stable place, and better able to allow me the time.

It ended with me barely able to focus on the dishes.

There are so many reasons for this, most of them not related to a virus.

One of the biggest changes was in my youngest son’s treatment plan.

He began steeply declining in the spring. By summer, he had lost almost 40 pounds and was barely able to get out of bed each day.

The solution was a miracle. A miracle that cost a lot, but an absolute miracle just the same.

We began sub-q infusions once a week at the end of June.

Learning to essentially be his nurse, in addition to all the other roles I play, was really, really hard. While managing his medical anxiety, I also had to manage my own, and make sure I didn’t mess up the prep, the careful administration, and the recovery.

I have been honest here about the C-PTSD I experience surrounding much of my son’s hospitalizations and overall care. The infusions certainly act as a trigger sometimes. The smell of the alcohol prep pad, the needles, and my son at the center of it all can make me gasp for air at times.

Add trying to keep two immunocompromised children alive in the midst of a global pandemic, my husband doing everything he could to try and figure out how to keep working (with very little energy or time left for anything else), and the general sense of chaos in the world, and by the end of the year I was left feeling like a shell of my former self.

There Is Purpose In The Waiting

In a session with my therapist a few weeks ago, she introduced me to a type of breathing pattern that we can use when we feel anxiety and panic taking over.

She called it “box breathing” and it’s essentially this –

  1. Breathe in through your nose for 4 seconds.
  2. Hold the breath for 4 seconds.
  3. Breathe out through your mouth for 4 seconds.
  4. Hold for 4 seconds, before taking another breath.

As I practiced this with her, I noticed the tightening in my chest loosening in steps 2 and 4. Not in the breathing in and out, but in the waiting.

When I told her, she nodded and replied, “Sometimes, it’s the pause between that matters most.”

Sometimes, time is what we need. Not another action plan.

I can’t stop thinking about it.

Sometimes, it’s the pause between that matters most.

It’s been true of just about everything in my life. The waiting, the pause between, the space between one milestone and the next, that’s what has really made a difference.

It’s been true in my marriage, in my son learning to read, in figuring out medical and behavioral concerns, and in learning how to give myself the chance to breathe.

I want to rush healing, for myself and my son.

I want change to happen now, without delay. 2 months sounds amazing.

But then I’d miss that release, that letting go, that sense of peace, and eventual confidence, that comes from leaning into the wait, no matter how long it takes.

I’d miss the real healing.

My son’s infusions, weekly, took almost six months to really make a difference in my his overall health. Because this is a lifelong treatment, those six months are only the beginning of a lifetime of pausing between one to the next, week in and week out, all to create progress and health in his life.

For The Mom Who Won't Be Sending A Holiday Letter This Year

Behavior, especially that of our young children, is exactly the same.

If you are struggling with your child’s behaviors right now, this may frustrate you. You may prefer advice with a 2 month window for change.

I just don’t think that’s how it works.

All of the progress, the real progress, my children have made has come from the pauses.

Behavior, ours and our children’s, is not a race. It is an ebb and flow, a figuring it out and then figuring it out some more.

It is a pause between, until you’re ready to take the next breath.


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3 Comments

  1. Thank you so much for this! I needed it today in so many ways. Towards the end of each school year, I tend to get very anxious over how much progress we didn’t make instead of how much we did. It’s easy for me to set these arbitrary expectations and fictional deadlines in my head that say, surely we won’t still be working through xyz by this time, and when we still are, I throw out all the progress and feelings of failure set in. Your reminder of waiting and growing in the pauses is just what I needed.

  2. Thank-you. I have so often been overwhelmed by these glib promises that everything can be fixed if I would just be firmer. In just 2 months all our troubles will be solved. This kind of cheap parenting advice does far more damage than good, quite frankly. Thank you for being real about the struggles to raise children with special needs.

  3. Wow. Shawna, thank you for writing and sharing this article. It hits home for me.
    I have 3 kids with ASD and a bunch of other issues. And it affects them each differently, so what works with one, doesn’t work with another. And sometimes nothing works. I find myself perpetually frustrated. You are right, there is no fast fix for any of it.
    However…..
    “It’s the pause between that matters most”.
    Thank you for this nugget of wisdom.

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