Two errors parents make when behaviors do not improve

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by Alec Couros via Flickr

Sometimes one of the most important parenting decisions we can make when it comes to our child’s behavior is admitting when something we are doing simply is not working.

If your kid is giving you fits with a specific behavior and you just cannot seem to make it better…you may need to swallow your pride and head in a totally different (and often un-natural feeling) direction.

Here are 2 common errors when things are not working:

1) Harder-faster-stronger-louder

I have written about this before in reference to punishment “strategies” (quotes used there because a lot of punishment is more of a reaction rather than a response, which makes it a fly by the seat of your pants, you’ve just really ticked me off explosion rather than something you have thought about and unemotionally strategized). This happens when you try to punish something and it does not work. Maybe it is harshly speaking with your teeth grinding while holding both arms and going nose to nose (I’ve been guilty of this at my weaker moments…yep, I admitted it).

When the behavior continues, this often signals to parents the punishment must not be powerful enough…not enough umph! behind it, so they resort to harsher words and tones, a tighter grip, and maybe more threats. When that does not work, it gets more intense and more intense – until it gets ugly.

HINT: If you are doing this, your punishment is not working and is (by this point) probably making it worse. Stop and reassess because the side effects of punishment can be serious and lead to more and more parenting challenges.

2)  Motivation mystery

OK. This one just happened at our house. A while back, we focused on meal time behavior: eating new stuff, not being completely ridiculous and loud, and finishing in a decent span of time. It got better because the schedule of our home had the kids watching (or sometimes not) an “episode” before going to bed.

So, the mealtime motivation was: eat right, be decent people and don’t take too long to eat and you will be able to watch your “episode.” We started it at a specific time whether or not they were finished. If they finished on time and met the goal – good for them. If they did well, but did so slowly, then the faster they finished up those fish sticks and choked down that last carrot, the more of the “episode” they could watch.

All was good with the world-until recently when the behaviors came back with a gusto.

What was wrong? We (mostly me) even failed and resorted to the gritting of the teeth and the “you need to finish in 5 minutes or you are going to bed” strategy, amongst other typical failures.

At least we realized it. We also realized the motivation was not there anymore. Our schedules have changed. The episode does not exist anymore. They don’t even have a show they are really into anymore.

The fix? We now declare (have kids declare) a choice of activity they can do if they finish by a certain time. It is the activity they want – not the TV time. If they finish what we tell them to by that time – go for it! If they finish everything (affectionately known at our house as, “plean clate club”) by that time – they get dessert and activity. YEE-HAW.

Most importantly, we do not talk about it during dinner anymore (which was definitely NOT WORKING). We remind them of the time, and talk about how fun the activity will be (occasionally, but not a lot). If they get it – great. If not – no big deal. We are not wasting our time and emotions going back and forth at the table, and there has only been one miss so far.

There are more things in this area, but think about these two for now.

Are you only upping the punishment ante to try to get better behavior? How does that make you feel? Change it. Think from the positive side.

A lot of times we are too quick to dismiss the positive strategies as not working, but will damn sure hold onto punishment strategies way too long.

Are you missing the motivation? Declare it early. Declare it often. Have them choose.

Cheers,

Baker (be sure to check out our new family pic! – Happy New Year)

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