4 Tips For Improving Your Child's Behavior
“Parenting is as crazy as circumnavigating the globe without a map. . . but, oh what a journey!” ~Emily@isthisReallymylife.com
As a parent do you sometimes feel like this? You absolutely love being a parent, adore your child and all the things you experience together. Yet there are times when you feel you are about to pull your hair out with frustration. Some of those times usually involve behavioral issues. Times when your child is acting out, not the following instruction, or they have acted inappropriately in a given situation. Instances such as disrespect, not telling the truth, using physical force to solve a conflict, not doing their homework, or required chores may be some of the things you repeatedly encounter. Here are 4 tips for improving your child's behavior that can help you and your school-aged child get on track and back to enjoying your time together.
Tip #1: Your child is always watching so watch what you do.
Make sure you are modeling mutual respect. Being aware of the ways you may or may not be demonstrating respect is important. How is your tone with your child, or how do they see you resolve conflict? When addressing problem behaviors, children need to feel respected as much as they need to see respect demonstrated. For example, if you make demeaning or critical comments to your child, calling them names like lazy or referring to their actions as dumb, you are not setting an example of what respect looks like. Gone are the days of “do what I say not what I do.” Credibility with your child will be lost and likewise the ability to positively influence your child’s behaviors.
Tip#2: To feel heard is to feel understood. To feel understood is to feel cared for. Children want to know you care no matter their problem behavior.
Try to understand the circumstances that may be contributing to your child's acting out behaviors. Are there internal or external stressors that need to be taken into consideration? Internal stressors could be related to age/stage development including hormonal changes, or are their changes in diet or medications. There can be psychological stressors, such as anxiety or mood issues. External stressors could include your child being bullied, or experiencing trouble adjusting to a new environment like school, grade level, or neighborhood, a different teaching style, or more challenging schoolwork. Other external stressors could exist in your homes like competition between siblings, insecurities due to parental problems, or financial concerns.
Because any range of things could be affecting your child, to understand clearly, you need to ask. The most effective way to ask is to use open-ended and curious questions. Most parents ask ‘why’ questions that are closed-ended and often seem judgmental. Why questions, generally lead to “I don't know” responses or defensive responses e.g. “Why did you hit your sister?” She hit me first” or “I don’t know… she’s annoying me." Sound familiar. Moreover, avoid pejorative questions. “What’s wrong with you, why are you acting this way?" Questions like this will not foster cooperation and problem-solving, but, rather promote defiance. Preferably, ask how what, and when questions. For example, "How come you hit your sister when you feel upset with her or think she’s annoying?" Asking questions in this way, slows down your child's auto-response, allowing you to gain more information, helping them to process while leading to lowered defenses and opening the door to problem-solving. The more you are able to inquire in a non-demanding or interrogating manner the easier it is to address the behaviors with your child.
Tip #3: Without validating you can’t gain the cooperation of your child in changing problem behaviors.
No matter what your child's response to your open-ended questions, it's important for you to acknowledge their position. If your child says, “I roll my eyes at you because I think you never understand me." Follow with calmly restating their position. "So you believe I don't understand you?" Validating will lead to a yes response and increased potential for dialogue as your child now feels heard. This does not mean you agree. You can ask further open-ended questions as to the reason your child may believe this. I have encountered children who feel their parents don’t understand them because they think their parents are "old and out of touch." Maybe you’re chuckling because you can relate.
Tip #4: Seek to problem solve and praise instead of punishing.
After understanding and validating, express your willingness, within reason and in alignment with your value system, to come up with a solution together. Your child may request, you listen more instead of interrupting or making judgmental comments as they are talking - reasonable. Your child may ask you not to speak with them - unreasonable. If you are not able to solve together, it is your responsibility as the parent to implement a solution. Then set expectations and guidelines for the future. In the case above you can let your child know that you’ve heard and understood their upset. However, you expect them to express those feelings verbally, respectfully, and not by rolling their eyes at you.
If your child breaks the guidelines, then consequences are in order. Consequences are not punishments. Therefore, they are proactively established, fair involves input and acknowledgment from your child, and match the given behavior. Giving a consequence that your child was not expecting or is overly harsh can lead to rebellion. Realize that many problem behaviors occur because your child was not clear about the expectations for a particular situation. Just as important as consequences, is noticing effort and improvement. This is where praise and incentives come in. Incentives are different from rewards.
Rewards are not connected to the behavior of built-in sequences in a child's life. For example, giving candy for being nice and not hitting your sister or for doing a good job at school is a reward. Rather, ten extra minutes of playtime with a sibling or more playtime on a favorite electronic for putting in a good effort at school is more applicable. If you give rewards, your child will expect an ever-increasing reward for good behavior and other things. Praise any improvements no matter how small. Your child will feel encouraged to continue positive behaviors.
Simone Finnis, LMFT is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist providing ‘Positive Therapeutic Solutions’ for Individuals, Couples, Families, Teens, and Children. She is pleased to collaborate with the Bayview Therapeutic Services Team.
If you try these tips and still need help with your child’s behaviors give her a call at 954-356-2903. Visit her website www.simpletherapynow.com for more information. Simone provides parenting help with individual counseling, marriage therapy, and couples counseling in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.