Three ways to avoid “behave, or else” parenting

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Recently, I read Turn This Ship Around by L. David Marquet, a former commander of a nuclear submarine who turned one of the poorest operating submarines in the fleet into one of the highest performing in a variety of different ways. Interestingly, he did so by enacting many procedures that were in direct conflict with the standard operating procedures of the military.

I think there are a lot of things parents can learn from his experiences.

One realization he had early on was,

“The reward [for good performance] was no punishment”

The way they handled performance was to punish the bad and reward good and even optimal performance by carrying on as if nothing happened-

basically hoping the avoidance of punishment was enough to maintain optimal performance.

He found a variety of side effects of this strategy (with the obvious fact that it resulted in a very poor performing ship):

  1. the men on board did not know what they did correctly when they did things well
  2. there was ZERO morale amongst the crew
  3. the men were so controlled by the “follow the rules or else” strategy that they did not make good common sense decisions for the ship.

This lead to failures, which led to punishment, which led to deterioration of morale–you can see where this goes.

What does this have to do with parenting and teaching better behavior with children?

I think a lot of parents adopt a “behave or else” strategy–and it fails.

1. Think about your child’s behavior-is the reward avoidance of punishment?

If so, you need to turn your ship around. You may be in the nasty cycle of punishment and not able to get out of it. Think differently about this. Do not let good behavior go unnoticed just because “he should behave,” “she should sit quietly,” or “he should be nice to others.” (see my earlier post about what kids should do).

2. Specifically recognize the behaviors you want and tell your kid about it.

Tell them exactly what they did right when they do it. Be immediate. It costs you nothing. Pay attention. This is especially true if they do something well in a situation when they have previously struggled. For example, if your daughter consistently interrupts you while you are on the phone and, by some unimaginable reason, she is quiet one time when you take a call, let her know that it was awesome that she waited and was quiet! Do it in a positive way (“thanks for being so nice and quiet and letting me talk”). Don’t pass up the opportunity.

3. Be impulsively positive.

When the kids do something special or behave in a way you want them to, or have been exceptionally good, be impulsively positive by allowing extra time with the iPad, a chance to pick the movie or TV show, a popsicle on a hot summer day or pick a song for the ride to school. Anything. Just do it in the moment.

Please remember that good behavior is sometimes the hardest to notice…pay attention and you will not regret it. 

[Also see an earlier post about a similar effect with child behavior with a video from a favorite movie of mine: Office Space.]

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I yelled at my kids…and IT WORKED!

by Evil Erin via Flickr

by Evil Erin via Flickr

We were in a hurry… OK, I was in a hurry because I slept late and was not feeling it this morning. I dragged out of bed and didn’t feel like dealing with the kids yet, so I took a shower – a long one. When I peeked at the clock from underneath my towel as I dried my hair, I noticed I had fallen even further behind. Half-dressed, I stormed into to kid #1’s room, flipped on the light and said, “get up, get up–WE are late and you need to hurry!” As she rubbed her eyes not knowing what happened, I threw open the door to kid #2’s room, turned on the light and shouted orders like a scene from some Navy Seals training documentary. Fifteen minutes later of getting my stuff together and 45 seconds of microwaving something that even Aunt Jemima would not recognize as a waffle, I checked on the kids again. Continue reading

The error of punishment often not talked about…

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Sometimes the most harm done with punishment is the fact we often punish the wrong behavior.

As we all settled into our seats at the dining room table, we looked out the windows to see the nasty and dark Florida evening storm clouds that had popped up from nowhere. When we were all looking outside, we noticed a car driving by and then a dog leaping out the window.

Did you see that? Did they just throw that dog out?

Continue reading

Is your plan for your child’s behavior working? Are you sure??

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When thinking about something you are doing to help stop a certain behavior or encourage another one, ask yourself a very simple question:

“are you doing more of that something, or less?”

The answer will tell you if your “plan” is working.

This might sting a little, so hold on with me…this is important. Continue reading

Your kid’s “RED day” at school and what it means

photo by USAG-Humphreys via Flickr

photo by USAG-Humphreys via Flickr

One of the most common classroom behavior management systems I see in elementary schools is the traffic light level system wherein students “on green” have shown good behavior and those with not-so-good behavior are either “on yellow” or have the dreaded “red day” if the behavior is bad enough. Some teachers might still use the smiley face system (e.g., smiley, straight face, frowny face), might have more than three colors, or might use the school mascot (e.g., “a green fox day”), but they are all based on the same idea. However, they are used incredibly differently across teachers, so:

Here are some things to ask your child’s teacher and why it matters Continue reading

What is your child escaping?

photo by dadblunders via Flickr

photo by dadblunders via Flickr

The reason your kid does everything in his power to not clean his room is the same reason you do everything you can to not do the dishes. It’s true. So let’s think about “escape” or “avoidance” behavior and what to do about it. Continue reading

What to do when you have tried “everything”

(WTVD Photo/ Lisa Tyndall)

(WTVD Photo/ Lisa Tyndall)

I recently read a news story about a boy who was forced by his mother, as some form of intended punishment, to stand on the roadside with a sign around his neck that read:

“I don’t listen to my teachers. I’m suspended. This is my punishment.”

In the story, the mother commented she had “reached her limit:”

“My 12-year-old son is constantly acting up, getting trouble, and I’m tired of it. This is my last resort. I’ve tried spankings, taking his privileges away, and nothing has worked,” she said.

There are so many things about this story that turn my stomach, but I also understand the reality that many parents also find themselves in this position. Maybe not to the extent they resort to public humiliation as a form of parenting, but to the extent they lose sleep over the fact their child’s behavior is not changing despite their best efforts.

This is when a change of perspective has to take place Continue reading