Part four of our summer series on behavior:
- Behavior…one of the most common concerns
- Nutrition’s link to behavior and the brain
- The Mirror: 7 Behavior Principles for your Child’s Development
My last post, The Mirror: 7 Behavior Principles for your Child’s Development, will take you and your child a long way on the road to success when it comes to behavior and social skills. But let’s face it, no matter what you do or how well you do it, there are going to be bumps in the road. After all, you and your children are human and there are bound to be situations where everyone feels tired, frustrated, and upset. So, let me give you my 4 Top Tips for those times when things are getting out of control.
1. Avoid Power Struggles!
Why? Well, don’t tell your child this, but it’s because your child will always, and I do mean always, win! When we enter into a struggle with a child with whom you can not reason, the child will always win the battle. So, avoid this by physically removing her if you are in a situation which can be disturbing to others or by removing yourself from the room if you are at home.
Actions speak louder than words, especially when you are dealing with a child who is developmentally immature. An 18 month old to 3 year old does not have the understanding or the maturity to listen to an explanation of why her tantrum is frustrating you. Trying to explain your frustration while she is upset is useless because it will just prolong the tantrum and frustrate you even more. You are better off doing one of three things – ignoring the tantrum, holding your child quietly (if allowed), or leaving the room. During those times you need to take a step back, count to 10 (or 100!), calm yourself, and practice patience!
Remember, it takes 2 to tango! Sometimes you just need to know when to retreat. If you withdraw yourself from the conflict, there is no longer a conflict. Leave the talk and teaching for later after everything is calm and your child is no longer upset. Only then is your child in a place to listen and learn better ways of dealing with situations.
Sometimes the best way to deal with an upset child is to use diversionary tactics. Change the subject, talk about something or someone else. Last summer, when Juliana and Jack moved to California their lives were very stressful because so much went wrong with the move. One day, I was traveling with them and after a couple of hours in the car 2 year old Adeline began to cry. We tried singing, changing the music on the radio, giving her a different toy, telling her that we were almost there, but nothing was working. All of a sudden, her 4½ year old brother Jack said in a lively voice, “Adeline where is Ceci (her friend from back in Chicago)? Is she in San Francisco?” Immediately Adeline stopped crying and with a big smile she said “No!” and he continued, “Is she on the top of our car?” and she repeated “No!” and that went on until we got home. We had a good 15 to 20 happy minutes at the end of the trip because Jack knew what to say. He diverted her attention by making up a fun guessing game using the name of the little friend she had just left a few weeks prior. We all thanked him for his help with his sister.
2. Use Natural & Logical Consequences, Avoid Punishment & Reward!
Punishing a child for “bad” behavior or rewarding a child for “good” behavior is not the way to go. Remember, children want attention and will do what is necessary to get it. They will not learn what is right or what is wrong by being punished or rewarded. When we punish or reward a child we are teaching them that we have control over them. Instead, we should teach them that their actions, their choices belong to them. At least that is the ultimate goal, right? We want our children to learn that their actions, their choices, have consequences and they are responsible for those consequences.
There are two types of consequences – natural consequences and logical consequences.
A natural consequence is something that is the natural result of an action or choice. Here’s a good example – if you touch a hot iron you get burned. Natural consequences are extremely effective! All you have to do is touch that hot iron one time! You get the message loud and clear and you know that the pain you feel is a direct result of something that you did. So you should use natural consequences whenever you can. Unfortunately, as you can see, many natural consequences are also often dangerous. So, although they are really effective, they are not always useful with children. That’s where logical consequences come in.
A logical consequence is something that logically follows an action or choice. You have to make sure that the logical consequence is a)enforceable, b) appropriate to the offense, and c) imposed with love and empathy.
Let me give you an example of what I mean by a logical consequence. Let’s say your toddler is playing with building blocks and she decides to throw a block. She knows that is not allowed. You first remind her that she must not throw blocks because she could hurt someone or break something. If she doesn’t listen and throws a block again you should pick up all the blocks and put them away where she can not reach them. No screaming, no “I told you so”. You simply, calmly, and with great empathy explain that because she threw the block she lost the privilege of playing with them. That is a logical consequence. This teaches your child a direct relationship between her actions and the result of those actions. You throw blocks, you lose the blocks.
Another example. Many can relate to this, especially now that it is summertime. You are at a party at a friend’s home playing in the pool. You explain the rules to your child – only walking around the pool because it can be slippery, no rough play in the pool because children can get hurt. Your child completely ignores your rules. Here is what probably happens most of the time. You keep telling your child over and over again not to run or not to play rough. Then either someone gets hurt or you lose your patience and grab your child for a serious talk. Then, as soon as your talk is over she is back doing whatever she wants. Sound familiar?
Well, what would the logical consequence be in this situation? Removing the child completely from the pool, right? Of course the only guaranteed way to keep your child from the pool if she is being really defiant is to leave the party. This is a hard thing for parents to do because they are enjoying the company of their friends. But I promise you, unless your child has a developmental difficulty and neurologically does not understand consequences, you will not have to leave many more times before your child learns. You should not own her choices. It is for her to pay the consequences.
If you use natural and logical consequences and use them consistently your child will learn to own their actions, their choices, their behavior.
3. Practice Emotional Detachment!
This one is not always easy. The more you can detach yourself emotionally when imposing logical consequences, the better. Anger, lecturing, “I-told-you-so’s” dilute the power of logical consequences because the child stays focused on us rather than on the lesson the consequence is meant to teach. Think of yourself as a police officer pulling someone over for a traffic violation.
“License, registration, and proof of insurance, please.” No screaming, no tantrums. What you want to teach your child is that she lost a privilege because she chose to break the rules. It’s not because you are mean or frustrated or stressed. If you allow yourself to become emotionally involved and you scream or go on and on lecturing her, you are in fact owning her actions and making yourself the “bad” guy for punishing her. Do you see the difference?!
4. Empathy Wins The Day!
Empathy is the capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within their frame of reference, which is to say the capacity to place oneself in another’s position. We were all children one day. We all misbehaved, broke rules, made mistakes. We all know what it feels like to be reprimanded, to lose privileges, to be punished. So, we’ve been there and, therefore, it should actually be quite easy for us to place ourselves in their place when our children mess up. And it is so unbelievably powerful and effective. Why? Because empathy is an act of love. Our love for our children takes precedence over everything. Our relationship with them is of the utmost importance. A screw-up in behavior, even a big screw-up doesn’t change that. Our children need to know that little fact about us and how we feel about them. We need to tell them regularly. So, when they do mess up we really need to let them know how much we “feel their pain”. When we show sincere empathy while imposing consequences it tells them that we understand, we’ve got their backs, we love them no matter what. That then allows the consequences to do the teaching.
If you apply our 7 principles and 4 tips and you are still struggling with your child’s behavior please contact us to schedule a 30 minute online consultation which we offer free of charge.
Behavior – noun – the way in which one acts or conducts oneself, especially towards others.
Perhaps no subject causes more grief for parents than how to deal with behavior. In our two previous blog posts on the subject we looked at two aspects of the behavior question – how a child’s level of neurological development and brain organization can affect behavior, as well as the effect that nutrition can have on brain function and, therefore, behavior.
As you can see from the definition above, behavior involves how one acts towards other people. Obviously, there are always two sides to that coin. As the saying goes, “It takes two to tango!” When we are guiding parents in how to raise their children to be cooperative and responsible we always eventually get around to the role that they (the parents) play in the dance of behavior. So, today we’re going to look at the parental side of the equation.
Mirror, Mirror on the Wall!
Since you, as a parent, are an integral part of the dance of behavior it is essential that you take an honest look at how you are behaving. We call that “the Mirror”. Looking in the mirror is important for several reasons.
First, we are all influenced by our parents and that influence includes how we deal with behavior in our children especially when we are under stress! Ever get that feeling that “Oh no, I’m turning into my mother (or father)!” ? Sometimes that influence is constructive and sometimes it is not.
Second, some approaches to behavior are more effective than others. It’s important to evaluate what is working and what is not.
Third, it is important to establish right off the bat that we are only human and that means we are going to make mistakes. We will make mistakes no matter how well intentioned we are and no matter how well thought out our approach to behavior is. We all, at one time or another, feel overwhelmed or stressed by everyday life and lose our patience. Life is full of ups and downs. How well you handle the down times is what really matters. That is when you are teaching the most important messages to your child. So, the first order of business is to cut yourself some slack! Looking in the mirror is not a blame game… no need to feel guilty.
Basic Principles to Guide Behavior
What follows is the result of many, many years of guiding parents of children and young adults with a wide range of functional ability. That experience has taught us a lot about the dynamics of human behavior and some of the best practices for helping children. My hope is that the following principles will give you some inspiration and confidence as you guide the development of your child’s behavior towards the objectives of harmony, cooperation, and civility beginning in your family and eventually extending to the communities in which you live and the wider society. Along the way you will find that these principles will lead to good communication with your child and the establishment of a healthy lifelong relationship.
1. Model the Behavior You Hope to See
Warning! Your child is constantly, and I do mean constantly, watching you and taking cues about behavior from you. All children, for better or worse, mirror their parents behavior. So, when your child is behaving in a way that is concerning to you, you must first ask yourself, “Is she behaving like this because of how I am behaving?”
2. Listen to Your Child
When you listen to your child and seek to understand, you are showing her that you care about her opinions and feelings. You are teaching her that what she says matters. You are telling her that you respect her. This is important because if you want her to listen to you, you must listen to her first.
3. Consistency, Consistency, Consistency
The most common mistake we see parents making when dealing with the behavior of their children is inconsistency. If you want to avoid behavior problems it is extremely important that your approach be consistent. What do I mean by consistency? I mean that, however you approach a given behavior, it is essential that 1) both parents be on the same page and 2) their approach be applied consistently from day to day. Why? Because children need consistency in their lives to feel secure and comfortable. The younger they are the more this is true because young children (i.e. toddlers) have brains that are not yet organized and mature. Consistency helps the young child learn what to expect in any given situation. If the approach is constantly changing then the child does not know what to expect and that leads to problems.
4 . Set Limits and Establish Rules
Children need to know where the boundaries are. They want to know where the boundaries are. Children who are given clear boundaries have better social skills, are happier and can more easily make friends. Having boundaries gives them a sense of respect for things and for people. The younger your child is the more limits she needs because a young child does not know what is right or wrong and they can be in danger when limits are not set. As she grows you should ease up on the limits imposed by you. As her understanding, awareness, and self-discipline develops you can allow her more freedom to set self limits. We all learn from our mistakes and, unless the mistake puts your child or others in physical danger, you should allow her to make mistakes and learn from them.
5. Teach Responsibility and Encourage Independence
Responsibilities should be developmentally appropriate and age-appropriate but you can start at a very young age. As soon as your child can walk you can begin asking her for help with carrying things, putting things away, little things to give her a sense of responsibility. Increase the level of responsibilities according to her growth. Giving children responsibilities encourages them to be independent, which in turn makes them proud of their accomplishments and helps them feel good about themselves. This is true self-esteem! Plus they learn at an early age to become problem solvers. Our society needs people who are independent and who feel comfortable solving problems.
6. Teach Manners
Bullying amongst children is almost constantly in the news these days. When one looks at the overall decrease in civility throughout our society it should come as no surprise. Civility is a word that derives from the Old French and Latin for a good citizen. Far from being a quaint concept, it enables us to live in community and is the glue that holds a society together. It may seem old fashioned and outdated to talk about manners but that is where the seeds of civility are planted. Using words like excuse me, thank you, you are welcome, please, and so on all the time when speaking with your child and others will teach her manners and the polite way to treat others.
7. Recognize Positive Behavior
Children need and want attention and they will do whatever works to get it. We often ignore children when they are “behaving” because that is what we expect but as soon as they begin to misbehave we are quick to reprimand them. This teaches children that the best or fastest way to get our attention is to misbehave. If you want your child to have positive behavior you must recognize it. Give attention to your child when she is being nice, polite, patient. Get in the habit of pointing out and complimenting your child when she is listening or doing anything positive. I guarantee that if you recognize your child when her behavior is positive and give less attention to negative behavior you will see a decrease in negative behavior and an increase in positive behavior.
These seven principles are guideposts to light the way. In the next post I will develop these seven principles further by providing concrete examples of how you can apply them in everyday life. For now I hope this post helps you to set up a positive and healthy relationship with your child so that you can help her get ready to take her place in society.
Behavior is a complex subject. If you are experiencing struggles with your child remember you are not alone. We’d love to have you comment below and feel free to send us a private message or email.
Now go be positive! Cheers!!