When I was a single man, yet to be married, and yet to be a parent I thought I had a pretty good grip on what it would take to “discipline” my future children.
Yes discipline was the word and it seemed pretty simple. Be stern, stand your ground and they will ultimately comply. No results, yell a little louder, get a more serious looking face. Maybe growl a little.
Now as a parent of two things appear very different. I have my wife to thank for my openness to change regarding behavior correction. We don’t always “win” every battle, but we’re trucking along fairly well.
There are certainly the hellish mornings of “No.” “NO.” “NO!” “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” coming from my two year old. His shoes and coat looking like a straight jacket and cement boots in his young eyes. We dig deep, take a breath and usually find a way. Sometimes it feels like a hostage negotiation. Yet, in the end we get him dressed, settle his behavior and have him and his brother settled into the carseat for the ride to the sitter.
So what’s the big deal then? It’s not as easy as it might have once seemed. Behavior modification is a science it takes a bit of finesse. You can be stern, you can “stand your ground,” but ultimately you have to find a reason for the child to want to comply.
Here are the ________ things we use on a regular basis to curb behavior issues.
Extinction – This can be best described as “the silent treatment.” It has a very specific purpose and must be used properly however. Imagine a child is intent on having a certain snack and has begun a meltdown of behavior when told they won’t get it. Instead of trying to redirect, negotiate or otherwise ‘push’ them harder you just stop and try to end their outburst through silence. Sometimes this is in the form of “I will talk to you when you are calm,” and other times this will look like hardset ignoring. I mean no talking, no eye contact. They become invisible to you until they calm themselves down.
The idea here is that you are not acknowledging the bad behavior and “rewarding” them by responding.
This / Then That – This one is great for diaper changes, snacks, TV time, and toy time. If there’s something the child wants you basically withhold it until they complete a task you wish them to comply with. For instance, “Diaper change first, then you get snack.” or “Eat two noodles from your plate, then you get milk.”
The key here to to NEVER CAVE IN. If they don’t comply with the desired behavior you do not award them the item. EVER. Set this precedent and then you will see compliance as consistently as you use this method.
Regular Positive Reinforcement – Always acknowledge good behavior. ALWAYS. Thank them. Say, “Thank you for eating your food nicely,” “Nice job letting me change your diaper. What a big boy!”
Do this even after that horrible knock down drag out screaming tantrum. Once they settle and you get your desired outcome, acknowledge that they’ve finally done the right thing. It’s going to be hard. VERY HARD. You’ll be exhausted. You’ll possibly be angry. Set that aside and say “Good job!”
This is the best way to build intrinsic motivation. When they feel good, feel appreciated and feel acknowledged for finally settling down and completing the desired activity, the tantrum times will begin to shorten.
Just remember the ultimate goal of all actions you take regarding child behavior. You want the child to change their behavior. Being punitive for the sake of being punitive is ridiculous. Then you’ve simply reached a point of playing a game of “I’m stronger than you.”
It’s like making an exam for a math class. What should the goal of the teacher be? For all the students to know as much as they can about the math topic. It is not about seeing how many questions you can stump them on. “You got 85% of them right and this what was wrong and why,” and not “You got 15% of the questions wrong. Did you even study?”
We want our children to be receptive to correction and be open to change. I certainly would like my boys to be more worried to disappoint me with their behavior than to fear having something taken away. Once they lose the privilege they have nowhere else to go. Zero incentive to rebound back.
I will not utter the words: “That’s it you just lost your dessert. That was sassy.” In that case I would end their opportunity for change and for learning. They would not be able to make a correction and move forward positively.
Think otherwise? Tell me about it. I’d love to hear someone else’s take on this.