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Article #0205

Articles from Mac Bledsoe's Parenting With Dignity program.

What if they don't?

Reasons to Ask Kids to Limit or Adjust Their Behavior

By Mac Bledsoe

So often when people ask us for help with their children's behavior they include the phrase "What if they don't…. ?" It seems so many parents want to jump to the consequences of failure before even considering the concept of structuring a situation of success. In a nutshell, they seem to be more worried about reacting to what their kids have done wrong rather than working in a preventative process of teaching, before their children are in crisis.

In this article we will attempt to focus on giving your children some solid reasons to adjust their behavior in a positive manner before problems arise.

  1. RESPECT FOR AUTHORITY - "Do it because society says so in formal ways." Start at the earliest of ages teaching your children that a civilized world will always have rules and laws. Teach them these rules and laws are not an annoyance; they are an aid to us all and especially to them. Rules and laws protect our rights, privileges, property, and even our lives. Explain to them the chaos that would result from a society without stop signs, property laws, and rights to privacy, opportunity, expression, and freedom from injury. (NOTE: it is almost impossible to teach respect for laws, and rules if your children watch you violate those same rules and laws! You cannot speed and then demand that your children drive the speed limit.)
     

  2. APPROPRIATE BEHAVIOR - "Do it because society says so, in less formal ways." You won't be fined or sent to jail for violating any of these rules but many times they may be just as important to obey. These rules fall under the category of manners, or social customs, but they often are the standards by which your children's character is judged. Teach your children that they can act any way they choose, but other people retain the right to their own response. And point out that these rules make most people's responses very predictable. "You can cut your hair in a Mohawk and dye it orange if you wish, but remember that many people will then discount you as a meaningless person. It may not be right for them to do so, but it is very predictable." The same goes for conduct in a public place… loud and boisterous behavior will, very predictably, be viewed as immature and will be criticized by most adults. Wearing a baseball cap at a funeral will be judged by most as being a sign of disrespect to the deceased. If you insist upon wearing one to make yourself more comfortable, then you predictably will be called a disrespectful person.
     

  3. HELP - "I can't do this without your help!" Many times a simple request for help will work wonders as a limit upon a child's behavior. Think about it . . . when you ask your kid for help you are sending very important messages. First, you are saying, "You are a very capable person. Look, I'm giving you an important task to do!" Next, you are saying, "You are a trusted person because this job requires that I trust you." Then, you are saying, "I need you, and my life would be extremely difficult without you and therefore I have come to you, of all the people I know, to ask for help." Finally, you are saying, "A family is a place where we all participate simply because we need each other!" Don't be surprised if your child starts to turn to you in times of stress and need soon after you have modeled that behavior for him or her.
     

  4. PEACE - "Do this simply because it will make your life much more peaceful and simple." Sometimes things that may seem very basic to us must be explained in detail to our children. For example, "Did you know that people who smile meet more happy people? So, if you would like to spend more time around laughing and happy people, then you need to smile, a lot!" Point out the many instances in life where cheerful people are given preferential treatment. Make it a policy to reward cheerful behavior in the home as early as possible. Let them experience, at the earliest age, their cheerful attitude gets much more attention and results. Make your home a peaceful place by practicing what you preach. Model cheerful and polite requests for compliance rather than shouting angry demands and watch their behavior match yours. (Children learn far more from our actions than from our words. "Do as I say, not as I do," may sound nice but it seldom works.)
     

  5. PRACTICALITY - "This job needs doing... by you." One of the most hirable skills in today's world is the ability to see a job that needs doing, to be able to figure out a way to do it efficiently... and then to DO IT. Give this ability to your children by giving them jobs to do (simple at first) and then getting out of their way and letting them do the whole job, start to finish. As they complete the job let the satisfaction of completing it be the payoff. It will not even be necessary for you to offer lavish praise. A simple statement from you like, "Nicely done, you did that complete job without any help. Doesn't it feel great to do things on your own? It buys you a big bunch of respect and it buys lots of freedom to do things on your own because others do not feel the need to check up on you."
     

  6. DECISION MAKING - "You have a choice to make; what are you going to do?" This should be started as early as possible. "Which pair of socks do you want to wear?" Then hand them bigger and bigger decisions like, "Here's the map. Which route do you think we should we take?" Next time ask, "Now that you have picked the road to travel what time should we leave?" Later seek their advice on tough personnel issues you bring home from work. Then give them $50.00 and ask them to buy five days worth of groceries with it. Follow with bigger and bigger jobs and bigger and bigger decisions that go with them. Continually ask for their opinion about issues that surround you in life. We learn to make decisions by making them. It's the same example you heard earlier, "Put them back on the bike!" When they make a bad decision, don't punish them. Tell them you admire their courage for making the decision in the first place, then ask, "What did you learn from that decision? What are you going to do next? How do you think that will work?"
     

  7. LEARNING "What can you learn from this? Life is one big lesson." Learning can be the goal for any adjustment in a child's behavior. When your goal is learning, the strategy often is obvious.

Remember, very little is ever learned when anger is involved, either on your part or on the child's part. When learning is the goal, anger should never play a role. If either you or the child has become angry, it is probably best to wait until the anger has passed.

"Here is how the world works, and it will help you greatly if you understand this." Often, taking the time to teach is the longest and most difficult way to change your child's behavior, but it winds up being the best way because it results in lasting behavior change. While driving in the car it is quicker and easier to simply separate quarreling children. However, in the long run, separating them really winds up teaching behavior the exact opposite from the logical goal. Separating them teaches them that when people disagree, the desired response is to separate. (No wonder we have such high divorce rates!). It is more logical to approach two fighting kids with a goal of teaching them some effective ways to deal with quarrels and disagreements. Teach them by role-playing. It takes planning, thought, time, patience, and lots of care to teach skills of compromise and negotiation but these skills last a lifetime!

If you, as the parent, choose to make learning your goal, it may take longer to bring about the desired behavior change at age four. However, when you do take the time, at age four, to teach some skills, then at age fifteen you no longer have to deal with fighting because what you taught at age four is still working. Your child learned it! At this point, remember you can never assume that a child has learned any skill until they use it in the appropriate context to bring about positive change for themselves. "Saying something" rarely defines teaching. So often we hear parents say, "I told him a hundred times. I don't know what's wrong, but he's not doing it!"

Telling does not constitute teaching. If teaching is the goal, then a change in your child's behavior must be the measure of the your success. If you use one strategy to teach a concept or behavior and the child does not change, keep the anger out and remember three key words: THAT DIDN'T WORK! Then, try again with another repetition or a completely new method; but don't give up. You may not succeed on the first few tries but one thing is guaranteed... if you stop trying to teach, you will fail. Too many parents are willing to say, "I have tried everything," after a few failures instead of simply saying, "Oops, I just found another way to teach this that didn't work, so I had better look around for another way!"


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