We all know that raising children comes with no hand book or how-to guide. And as completely delightful as children can be, they are also, at times, total terrors. When trying to get a grip on behaviors, there are 4 strategies that I have found to be consistently helpful. They are outlined below.
1. Make your expectations clear and measurable with your Children
I recognize this might seem like an obvious first step, but notably, it is often overlooked. When your child knows what your expectations are, you are giving them a gift. Now, they may not necessarily see it that way, but truly, you are offering them very clear data regarding what you expect of them. This sets them up to be successful, which then allows for seeing and praising their successes. Which leads us to strategy number 2.
2. Catch Your Kids being good
As parents, it’s incredibly important to notice and offer feedback for positive choices and behaviors. This reinforces the good choices our kids are making, and communicates that you see them and appreciate their efforts at following directions, playing kindly, being respectful, etc. There’s value in noticing and naming positive behaviors in the moment, but it can also be nice to reflect on these positive choices at meal time, as a family, or during an evening check-in prior to bed.
A wonderful added benefit to this strategy is that we see what we look for. If we’re looking for the positive choices our kids are making, this perspective begins to shape what we are attuned to, what we notice. And that actually feels pretty great for all of us, huh? It’s nice when others notice our efforts, and are looking for our successes, not just our failures.
The other piece to this strategy is that we want to reinforce positive behaviors more frequently than we’re paying attention to negative behaviors. Generally speaking, our kids want our attention. And unfortunately, if positive choices and behaviors don’t elicit praise, feedback, or connection, then they are more than willing to try the negative ones. Let’s face it, hitting a sibling is often far more effective at getting a parent to engage than playing quietly by oneself. Now of course we need to address and redirect significant behaviors, such as those to do with safety, but often times, precious time and energy is spent on minor issues. Let’s not do that.
3. Ignore minor Behavior issues
This one’s pretty simple. It goes back to an oldy, but goody; Pick your Battles. Address issues of safety. Boundaries are important. Basic respect in interactions with others. These things are non negotiable. From there, you are always assessing whether the behaviors and issues that emerge in day to day life are big things or small things. Generally speaking, don’t spend a lot of time and energy on the small stuff, because if you do, you will only fuel them, making them bigger issues.
4. Use consequences consistently and sparingly
There are two keys to using consequences well. As much as possible we want to use natural consequences, and the outlined consequences for a given behavior need to be utilized consistently. Natural consequences are those that might be an organic result of a particular behavior, and or, a logical consequence given the behavior being exhibited. For example, a logical natural consequence might be, “You hit your brother over the head with your truck. You’ve shown me you can’t use that toy safely and as a result, I’m taking it away. When you apologize to your brother and show me that you can play safely with your toy, you may earn it back.” The organic natural consequence built into this example is that the brother that got hit, may in fact want nothing to do with the sibling that did the hitting, and as a result, the child who misbehaved now has no one to play with.
Recognizing that natural and organic consequences often emerge as a result of behaviors allows for teachable moments that can be really powerful for kids, especially if done with care and connection rather than a “that’s what you get,” attitude.
The other piece of this strategy is consistency. Following through on outlined consequences consistently is essential in decreasing negative behaviors. If your responses are inconsistent, kids learn that sometimes they are able to get away with something, get what they want, etc. This inconsistent reinforcement is powerful and will typically create an uptick in the negative behavior.
The reality is that kids really do want boundaries. Clear and consistent limits allow children to know where the line in the sand is, which creates a sense of safety. When first holding that line, kids will bump right up against it and push those limits, but if you are consistent in how you respond, those limit pushing behaviors will subside.
It’s always important to remember that our children are young. They haven’t been on this earth all that long and are still learning what it means to be a good human. In addition, their brains are not fully developed, and they don’t yet have higher functioning skills like demonstrating empathy, understanding cause and effect, managing big feelings and impulse control. There’s nothing wrong with having high expectations of our children, but we do want to make sure that our expectations are developmentally appropriate and achievable.
The use of these 4 strategies will support you and your family in getting a grip on some of the challenging behaviors you may be facing. Though no strategy is one size fits all and guaranteed to work every time, generally speaking, these tools are consistent with a parenting style in which our children perceive us to be fair, reasonable, consistent and predictable. This dynamic fosters connection, which in turn helps decrease unwanted behaviors.
If you’d like to learn more about these strategies or others, please reach out. Our providers are experienced in working with kids and families, and are here to help get you and yours back on track. Information regarding the child and family counseling services we offer can be found on our website.