Meet Olivia Gormally, a parenting coach and child behaviour expert with over 20 years experience working with children who exhibit challenging behaviour, and in some cases spectrum disorders. She works with families and schools to help develop management and coping strategies. Better know as Livvy – she is also mum to three children, so she understands the everyday challenges that parenting brings.
How did you become a behaviour consultant?
A few days after finishing my degree in Experimental Psychology, I saw an advert in the University job shop for a therapist to work with a little boy called Adam – day 1 and I was hooked. I loved working with him, seeing the positive impact that personalised behavioural and teaching strategies could have on his ability to learn, interact and engage in family life. I also loved seeing how these strategies could help to reduce parental stresses, encourage interactions and help make the day-to-day challenges less challenging. Over 20 years later and I still love my work as much as I did on that first day.
Throughout my career, I have been a huge advocate for early intervention. I ran CARD UK, a centre for autism specialising in the design and implementation of early intervention programmes helping hundreds of parents to cope with challenging behaviours, encourage academic and social development and parent more effectively. I have worked with numerous schools and education authorities advising on their behaviour programmes with the aim of helping all children reach their full potential. When I became a parent myself I realised how many of my work strategies and behaviour techniques I relied on to tackle the everyday parenting challenges and felt so passionately that these behavioural techniques should be part of every parent’s tool kit. Everyday challenges can really wear parents down, they can also mount up, cause stress, insecurities and can have a big impact on family life. I set up Let’s Ask Livvy to help parents understand their everyday parenting challenges (such as separation anxiety, tantruming, anger management, encouraging co-operation, setting boundaries, promoting sibling bonds, encouraging homework etc.) At Let’s Ask Livvy the focus is always on child and family specific strategies that compliment parenting style; strategies that help parents work out why behaviours are happening and offer step by step guidance on how to teach appropriate alternative behaviours.
How has social media changed the way you work?
The social media parenting world is amazing! Real life parenting bloggers who give insights into the high and lows of parenting are taking away the stigma of asking for help, making the everyday challenges a normal part of parenting. This is great as it means that parents don’t need to reach crisis point to say some days are really hard and a bit of guidance would be helpful. Parenting is pretty much the only thing we are expected to just get on with, no training, no reviews, no exams. So when things are tricky parents often assume it is because they are doing something wrong – parent guilt can be a killer! My background in behaviour analysis has taught me to always ask why? Why is that behaviour happening? What is the function of that behaviour for example is the behaviour due to anger, frustration, attention seeking, avoidance etc. Once parents have the tools to work out why behaviours are happening they have the tools to put effective strategies in place.
What are your top tips to help parents struggling with their children’s behaviour?
- Praise the behaviours you want to see more of
It sounds so obvious, but this really is the golden rule! It is so easy to focus on what are kids are not doing as opposed to what they are doing. Take the child who has got himself dressed for school but got distracted before finding his shoes – it’s all too easy to focus on not having found the shoes as opposed to praising the getting dressed. Praising his efforts will boost confidence, encourage independence and co-operation and gives a clear message as to what behaviours you like and would like to see more of.
- Use child specific and age appropriate reward systems to praise the little steps
It can take time to learn new behaviours, praising the little steps let our kids know they are on the right track. Younger children may need more immediate rewards to bring about the behaviour change you are wanting. Choosing a “currency” that is motivating to your child is also essential.
- Choose a strategy that you believe in
The right strategy gives you the tools to change behaviour and this helps boost confidence for both parent and child. If a strategy does not fit with your parenting style, this is not the right strategy for you. You need to believe in a strategy to be able to deliver it consistently.
- Set realistic age appropriate boundaries and try to deliver a consistent message Consistency is key to behaviour change. An inconsistent message can lead to confusion in the child and will not effect the change you want to see. Boundaries that reflect your core values will be easier to stick to and therefore more effective.
- Teach appropriate alternative ways of communicating
Just telling our kids not to do something is not enough. We need to tell them how to gain attention and communicate in order to interact appropriately.
Livvy is following…
@theonlygirlinthehouse: I really like her honest approach to parenting and how she is not afraid to put it all out there – sometimes parenting is really hard and I think her posts are a comfort to people who may be facing similar issues.
@nickyduffell: she’s a nutritional therapist. I have met her a few times and she has such a lovely nature. She offers real life and realistic advice on how to look after yourself and how to create balance and well-being in your family.
I also love the girls at @thestepupclub, they seem to have it sorted, seem to be best friends, always look fabulous, make you feel like anything and everything is possible and they offer great hacks in how to achieve good work-life balance.
Let’s Ask Livvy offers a range of packages to suit every parent or family.