It’s the moment parents know all too well: the moment where the energy in your house totally shifts.
All was calm until you handed breakfast to your toddler on the ever-so-controversial blue plate. You know, the one he liked YESTERDAY. Somehow overnight, everything you thought you knew about your child was suddenly wrong – “I want my sandwich in triangles not rectangles!” or “I want the green cup not the red one!” or “I hate those socks!!”
“What happened to my sweet child?” you wonder.
As the energy in the house escalates and it appears your child is willing to fall on his sword over every little request, you lose it. After all, his requests make no sense to an adult, and because they don’t make logical sense, your only response is rage – “STOP YELLING!” you scream.
“JUST EAT OFF THE BLUE PLATE!” you yell.
“IT DOESN’T MATTER WHAT SHAPE YOUR SANDWICH IS IN!” you exclaim.
And then in a moment of clarity, it hits you – you yelled at your child to stop yelling. The phrase “Do as I say, not as I do,” has never held so much weight.
The list of techniques below will help you see misbehavior in a different light.
1. Get to the Root of the Behavior
Positive parenting experts worldwide can agree on this: there is always something motivating a child’s negative or disruptive behavior.
So that tantrum over the blue plate? It wasn’t a random display of poor judgment – it was motivated by something intrinsically in your child. Whether that was a lack of skills in managing his big feelings, a desire to get your attention, or a power play to assert his free will – there’s always a reason for the behavior. (Even if he doesn’t realize it – and most times he doesn’t!)
The thing to remember is the behavior itself is simply the symptom. Our challenge as parents is figuring out what’s really underneath that frustrating behavior.
It would make things MUCH easier if your child could simply say, “Mommy, I would really like some one-on-one attention with you when I have you all to myself. Is there a time we can do that this evening?” But we all know this is an absurd expectation. So instead, children push our buttons as a way to gain our attention, albeit negative. Because the truth is, if a child doesn’t receive our attention in positive ways, (when they don’t have to beg for or demand it) they will find ways to get any attention they can, even it’s negative.
Picture yourself as a detective. When a child begins to act out, ask yourself “What is this child trying to accomplish through his actions?” If he had the verbal skills and emotional awareness, “What would he be trying to tell me with this behavior?
Once you identify the root cause of the issue, you can become a more PROACTIVE parent and preempt the outbursts from happening in the first place.
For example, imagine you have to take an important call but while you’re on the phone, your children decide it’s a great time to start a wrestling match. While still trying to sound engaged in the phone conversation, you give your kids the “if you don’t stop this right now I’m going to lose it when I’m done” look – but to no avail. You continue with the non-verbal shushing as you run from one room to the next searching for quiet, but the wrestling match seems to follow you. It’s exhausting. And by the end of the phone call you feel like you just ran 5 miles.
The goal behind that wrestling match – that just happened to start the minute you got on the phone – was most likely intended to get your attention and push your buttons. They knew you were trapped on the phone and unable to intervene, so it became the perfect time to act up, getting your attention in negative ways. Use this as a learning experience and now PROACTIVELY PREPARE for the next time you need to take a call.
20 minutes before your phone call, say to your kiddos, “Hey guys, mommy has to get on the phone in 20 minutes. Before I do that, I would LOVE to play a game with you all!”
During those 20 minutes leading up to the call, give your children undivided attention. You can give them reminders leading up to the call like “Wow! I love playing games with you. Once mommy is finished with her call, I’d love to play again!”
When it comes time for the call, give your children a choice – “Mommy needs to get on her call now. Would you like to watch a show or play quietly with your legos while I’m on the phone?”
Also give them a way to “tell you something” if something they view as urgent comes up while you’re on the call. Leave a pad of paper nearby so they write or draw whatever they wanted to tell you as soon as your call is finished.
Chances are that if you fill their attention buckets ahead of time and lay out clear expectations, your children will be much better behaved the next time you need to take a call.
Note: For Positive Parenting Solutions Members, learn how to use the Attention Overload Tool in Lesson #31 in Session 4 to fend off all sorts of power struggles.
2. Be Consistent
While parents intellectually understand the importance of consistency, the truth is, life happens – school is canceled, plans change, additions are made to the calendar last-minute. While we can’t always control life happening, it’s best to maintain consistent routines, schedules, and expectations in your home the majority of the time.
How is your morning routine? If your children are expected to make their beds, brush their teeth and get dressed before eating breakfast, then maintain this routine every day.
PRO TIP: Maintain the SAME schedule on weekends and holidays. That way, you won’t have to experience the backslide that comes on Monday morning!
Do you maintain firm technology “policies?” What happens if your kids don’t respect your family rules for technology? To be the positive parent you strive to be, it’s essential that technology rules are clearly communicated and that kids know the consequence if those rules are broken. If kids refuse or “forget” to turn off the video game when time is up, follow through each and every time with the previously discussed consequence. When parents are consistent with the rules and consequences, kids are much less likely to push the limits.
If you’re experiencing a lot of nagging and negotiating from your child because of inconsistency in the past, you can end it with 3 simple words, and get back on track.
Note: For Positive Parenting Solutions course members, refer to Session 3, Lessons 25 & 26 for everything you need to know about implementing effective consequences in your home. Also review the advanced training module included in your enrollment: The Family Technology Contract.
Join Amy for a FREE class
3. Say No to Rewards
Parents who are unfamiliar with positive parenting techniques are often surprised when I discourage them from using rewards. After all, rewards sound positive, but the truth is they do more harm than good and can lead to a major dose of entitlement down the road.
Parenting is a marathon, not a sprint. When making discipline decisions for your kids, it’s important to keep your long-term goals in mind. Rewards are ineffective because they only offer short-term gain.
Think about it..maybe today you rewarded your child with a cookie for behaving well in the grocery store, but what will she expect next time? At least one cookie, right? Maybe even two? Will a similar reward be expected during the next doctor’s office visit or trip to the mall?
Or perhaps you bribed your picky eater to eat their vegetables by offering ice cream for dessert? Now that he knows vegetables can be sold for the price of ice cream, it only makes sense he would hold out on eating his greens until he’s offered ice cream or another equally appealing sweet reward.
Using rewards as a bargaining chip for the desired behavior is a slippery slope to an attitude of entitlement.
Further, many studies have shown that kids who are rewarded actually lose interest in the activity they’re being rewarded for – coloring, reading, practicing piano, doing their homework, etc. Hold your ground, my friend, children don’t need rewards to behave appropriately.
Related: When Treats Turn Sour: 3 Things to do Instead of Offering Rewards
4. Focus on what you can control – YOURSELF
Oh my friends, this one is tough, especially in the heat of the moment. But, if you remember that there’s always a REASON for the behavior AND your children have free will, then you can begin to respond appropriately.
After all, there is a level of emotional freedom that is found when parents realize “I can’t always control my kids, but I can control my responses.”
Sure, some parents might be able to scare their kids into behaving properly or threaten punishment to achieve a short-sighted goal, but at the end of the day – each child will grow into an adult who has full control over their life decisions.
So instead of overpowering children, or bribing, or shaming them into making good decisions, I encourage parents to reframe their perception of the child. Instead of thinking of him as a misbehaving child, view him as a little person who simply hasn’t been equipped with the right tools to behave appropriately in a given situation. By doing this, parents will be better prepared to handle the misbehaviors.
One way parents can control their responses is to decide what you’re willing to do AHEAD OF TIME. This works great for getting kids to take on responsibilities they’re perfectly capable of or you nag them about, but they normally just don’t do – emptying backpacks or lunchboxes, putting laundry in the hamper, cleaning up toys, etc.
Let’s use lunchboxes as an example.
Start by deciding what you’re willing to do, and what age-appropriate responsibility needs to be on your kids’ shoulders.
In a calm moment, reveal in advance, “I’m happy to make you a lunch every morning for school, as long as your lunchbox has been emptied out, and it’s on the shelf in the pantry or on the counter. If the lunchboxes are clean and in their place, I’m happy to make your lunch. If it’s not cleaned out or not in its place, it’ll be up to you to make your own lunch.”
Then ask, “Is there anything you’d like to do to help yourself remember to unload your lunchbox and put it in the pantry?” (He might want to make a sign in pictures or words to remind himself since you will not be reminding.)
And of course – make sure everyone has a clear understanding: “Just so we’re on the same page, can you repeat back to me your responsibility for lunchboxes and what I’ve decided I will do about making lunches?”
At this point, you’ve trained and empowered your child, you’ve revealed what could happen, and you’ve told your child what you are willing to do.
The next step is to follow through. This part will be hard – but please don’t remind them or nag them – otherwise this becomes YOUR problem again. If the lunchbox is clean and on the shelf – great, you’ll make the lunch. If not, it will make a wonderful learning opportunity for next time.
When you can proactively PREPARE your responses to potentially sticky situations and clearly COMMUNICATE your expectations beforehand, you’ll find yourself having to react to situations in the heat of the moment less frequently.
5. Discipline, Don’t Punish
One of the biggest differentiators between positive parenting techniques and other parenting methods is the focus on discipline over punishment.
Discipline means “to train by instruction and exercise” while punish means “to inflict a penalty for (an offense, fault, etc.)” or “to handle severely or roughly.”
By teaching our children the appropriate ways to behave without using blame, shame and pain forms of punishment, we equip and empower them to be competent and capable young adults.
When you are considering a response to an offense – just like with rewards – think long-term.
Does sending a child to time-out as punishment really help change a behavior?
Does spanking a child for hitting a sibling encourage a child to stop hitting?
In both examples, I’d argue the answer is “no.” Sure, time-out and spanking may seem to be effective in the short term, but if kids aren’t taught (aka disciplined) on how to behave appropriately, parents inadvertently put a band-aid on a long-term problem
Article: Positive Parenting