Parenting with confidence makes a difference
One of the things I have to ask a lot of parents to do when we are making changes with the way they interact with their children is to have a sense of confidence. Many have a hard time doing it.
It makes sense. Over the years, there have been many ways they have tried to help their children behave better, follow directions, do their homework, be more independent, and lead overall happier lives. Unfortunately, for many parents with whom I work, those efforts have been met with continued tantrums, challenging behaviors, and hurtful words. Essentially, the kids have punished their parents’ efforts to do better and it weakens resolve and makes them question themselves. This leads to more inconsistency and more problems.
This is very natural. Every parent experiences this at some point or another.
Sometimes all I have to do is tell parents they are doing the right thing: “Hang in there, you’re right. He’ll be fine, just hang in there for a bit.” Yes, they might have made some mistakes in the past, but their current efforts are simply going to take time.
Just because your son screamed at you does not mean you should have cleaned his room for him. Just because your daughter fell to the floor crying does not mean you should have given her that last piece of candy she wanted. Learning takes experience over time…trials…to really sink in.
Stirring the Kool-Aid
Think about this: you have just added the water to your two packs of Awesome Berry Blast Kool-Aid powder mix (after you licked your finger and tasted a bit of it out of the packet) and you get the trusty wooden spoon out to stir it in. You stir, first in the counter clockwise direction. The water gets spinning in that direction. Kinda looks like a tornado. Then you reverse the direction of your stir. The neon blue water splashes a bit, you feel some resistance, but you keep stirring. Clockwise now, you start to feel less resistance. There are still some ripples and disturbance, but the ripples fade and the direction of the water is now with your stir. You have changed the direction of the flow.
Now, if you just went back and forth without maintaining your direction for any length of time, there is no direction. Often, there is more splash…more disturbance. Harder to maintain any sense of order.
Changing behavior is not that different.
When changing the direction of a behavior, especially one that has some momentum, you might get splashed a bit at first. But, maintaining your direction over time will get things heading in the right direction. Going back and forth without any consistent direction will often cause more problems, more disturbance, more challenging behavior.
Lets say your daughter has been whining a bunch, and you are trying to get her to ask nicely to get things she wants. This is a new behavior. Not only are you trying to teach her that she needs to “ask nicely” and that is the correct way to get things she wants, you are also teaching her the old way isn’t going to work anymore…the way that has worked a good bit in the past. That is not going to happen all at once. She will likely react a bit as she learns the “old way” does not work anymore. It does not mean you are doing anything wrong. In fact, you might be doing something correctly!
Give her plenty of opportunities to learn the new way…prompt her, role play, practice and praise her when she does it so she knows and has experience with what “asking nicely” means.
The path to confidence
If you are having a problem with a specific behavior, think about what you want to do to change it. What is the new behavior you want to teach in place of the old (always teach a “to-do” when you are teaching a “not-to-do”)? Talk to your spouse. Consult professionals. Do some reading. Make an educated decision about what you are going to do. Then do it. Be confident.
Your children can smell hesitancy and uncertainty. Even if afterwards you wish you would have done something a bit differently, just do it differently next time. At least you were paying enough attention to know what you should have done.
The time to make decisions about behavior and how you are going to respond to it is when you have your wits about you, when you can think with an open mind, while you are not hampered by the emotion of the moment. Think it through, then be confident.
Do it. Hesitancy leads to inconsistency, which will likely lead to more challenging behaviors.
If you are really interested, measure your results. Is your child doing more of the “to-do” behaviors and less of the “not-to-do” behavior?
Pay attention, be informed then be confident and consistent. You’ve earned your Kool-Aid.