Family by Family

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How do I get my child to actually change their behaviour?

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Should we use punishments? Is talking to our kids enough? How do we set boundaries?

There’s a lot of confusion on how to change our kids behaviour and a lot of conflicting advice!

So what do we do? Here are some of the options I’ve tried:

  1. Physically moving them away from a bad behaviour (eg. picking them up and moving them away from hitting a brother or sister). This has worked temporarily in some situations but it’s definitely not a long term option. What happens when my child is stronger than me? And it’s not helping my child to become the kind of person I want them to become, eg. kind, considerate, helpful.
  2. Control our kids environment so they’ll be more likely to do what we want.This can be a great option when our kids our young. For example, we can baby proof our house so our kids won’t break our valuables. Or we can give them good routines so that they have enough sleep and are less likely to have tantrums. But again, this option doesn’t seem to work as well when kids get older. As they grow up we have a lot less control over their life and their environment.
  3. Bribing. Yep, I feel guilty about it but I’ve used it and it worked. However, again bribing only ever seems to work for the short term and not the long term. It’s got me through some tense situations (eg hospital visits, formal occasions) but it hasn’t really changed any behaviour for more than an hour!

All of these options have their place but they don’t look like great options as kids get older.  So what does? I think it comes down to having a good relationship with our kids. Science is proving that our relationship with our kids is the single most important factor in their development. When we have good relationships with our kids they care about what we think. They don’t want to disappoint us and they’re far more open to our advice and guidance.

Over the past week I’ve been lucky enough to see an inspiring mother and daughter relationship in one of our sharing families. When I arrived at their house last week the 14 year old was telling her Mum about what had happened at school that day. As you can imagine this involved lots of teenage girl drama! What interested me was the mother’s level of interest in her daughter’s story. She put down what she was doing and truly listened to her daughter, asking her questions about what had happened.  She went on to point out her daughter’s strengths in tough situations and reassured her that she was handling the situation well.

Afterwards the mother and I stepped outside and I made a flippant comment about the dramas of being 14. She replied “Yeah but if I listen and care now, hopefully she’ll come to me about serious things too”.  I’m guessing she’ll also be far more willing to take on her mother’s advice. Too often we don’t have time to listen to the ‘drama’ or uninteresting stuff going on in our kids lives. But this stuff is important. It’s important to them and it’s important if you want a good relationship with your kids.

PS I also came across some great tips by Dr Laura Markham which point out the real problem behind some of the common behaviours that drive us nuts!

  • Kids who whine usually feel powerless and like they can’t cope; they often just need a chance to cry.
  • Kids who are bossy and controlling worry that they won’t get their needs met.
  • Kids who taunt or compete with siblings often need to feel more valued for who they are, and more connected to parents.
  • Kids who “don’t listen” often don’t feel their desires are acknowledged.
  • Kids who are always rebelling usually need a chance to feel more powerful and competent.
  • Kids who disrespect you are always showing you they don’t feel connected enough to you.
  • Kids who are cranky or have a chip on their shoulder usually have an emotional backpack stuffed with tears and fears that they need your help to empty
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