Make sure your child’s new “phase” doesn’t stick around

photo by Heather Ruiz via Flickr

As I talk to parents of children of all ages, it seems we are all concerned with some new “problem” or “frustration” in parenting. Whether it is getting a newborn to sleep in his bed, getting a 5 year old to clean up her room, or getting an elementary child to be organized and complete homework without having to threaten loss of life or limb.

I think it is fair to say parents should expect changes all the time and be responsive to those changes.

I am often nervous when parents sit back, considering the newest rendition of misbehavior as part of a “phase,” thinking things will get better automatically, without intervention or some re-calibration on the parents’ part.

Unfortunately, sometimes these “phases” become a part of the child’s behavior pattern that last much longer than anticipated. Not good.

I say this because the sooner you can identify a particular behavior that is troublesome to you, the more successful you will be changing the behavior quickly.

The longer you wait, the stronger the behavior will be and the harder it will be to change it.

Avoid the common mistake of relying first on punishment.

This is a common problem that can backfire and, at the very least, be least effective in changing a new behavior. For example, if your daughter has started using bad language, do not attack this behavior by waiting for it to happen then punishing it. You will waste opportunities to reinforce the times when good language is used.

Begin with the positive.

Think of what you want instead of the misbehavior (the behavior you want to replace the current one). Create situations when that behavior is most likely to happen. Set up specific rules about the behavior you want and move forward, pouncing on the opportunities when the correct behavior occurs.

For example, if your 5 year old is using a bad tone of voice and being really rude when he does not get what he wants, let him know you are looking for times when he can “handle it.”

Give it a name (e.g., “handling it”) so you can talk about it the same way over time.

You might even want to have a checklist on the fridge to check off times when he “handles it.”

Then, practice it. Take snack time, for example. Let him know what you are doing and say, “we are going to practice ‘handling it’ so ask me for something you really want, but might not get.” When he asks for it, say, “nope.” Then give him something to say, like, “say, awww man! That’s OK.” When he does this, say “you handled it! Nice… thats what I am talking about. I like it when you can ‘handle it’ when you dont get exactly what you want.”

By doing this, you create more opportunities for the correct behavior to occur and to create some momentum towards the good (see my post on behavioral momentum here).

The quicker you can get to these changes in behavior, the quicker your positive efforts will be rewarded.

Stay on your feet, stay positive and don’t be discouraged by changes in behavior. Just make sure these changes “phase out.”

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