What do these things have in common? They are all things kids do for attention. Maybe it is to tick you off, make the little sister laugh, or get the friends hooting. BUT, what is also important here is these things are also very naturally funny and exciting to kids (and most adults…let’s be honest). Because these things are naturally funny/entertaining, it changes how we need to respond to them to make them less likely to happen in the future.
I have written multiple times about how behaviors that are fed by attention need to be ignored rather than “punished” because the primary reason they occur is for the attention, sometimes regardless of the type of attention it is: positive or negative. You have seen this happen: kid does something for attention, a parent calls them out, “don’t you make that face at me young man!” and the kid laughs and walks away fulfilled. Winner.
But, there are behaviors that are fueled by attention, but also are naturally/automatically reinforced. For example, I have heard many children (including my own) do things without others around that make them laugh or that are appealing to one of their senses. Funny noises, bad words, bodily noises, etc.
My son likes to hear himself burp. My daughter likes to hear herself say “poopy.” They will both do these things in front of people, but also in isolation. This is problematic because even if you do ignore these behaviors, they will fuel themselves and will continue to be funny or entertaining for an undetermined period of time. They will also be intermittently reinforced by the attention from others, which will also give the behavior a bit more strength.
So, there are two things you need to do with these behaviors:
1) Make up your mind as to what consequences you will use for such behaviors when they occur. This could be one of the “three strikes” types of systems I have discussed before, or some other way you can respond to the behavior without getting caught up in the moment. This might be something like, “if you want to watch your shows tonight after bath time, you need to go without making that sound with your mouth at dinner.”
The reminder or the rules should be exact and simple and should be stated positively. Another example, “Danny can stay over to play as long as you use kind words and do not say potty words. If you do, he will have to leave.”
The important part here is not necessarily the consequence (although that is pretty big), but is the fact you are thinking about it, making your decision and talking to your kid ahead of time…before the behavior happens.
2) Specifically and appropriately reinforce the absence of it. If you are having a lot of trouble with dirty words or with body sounds, etc., then make a consistent and concerted effort to apply a little extra emphasis on the non-occurrence of the behavior. For example, “if Danny comes over and you can play until dinner without using potty words, we can order a special pizza” or “you can have a special treat when we get home if you don’t make those noises at the park today.”
This is important because you have to overcome the power of the natural reinforcer (i.e., the word “poopy” is naturally funny) with something else. Doing this will not only allow you to focus on something positive (i.e., earning something), but will also help you get traction on the behavior not occurring for a bit so it will have a chance to die a natural death.
Good luck…poopy pants. BWWAHAHA