Specific strategies for cultivating good behaviour from your children vary between age groups, however, there are some overarching approaches applicable to all ages that I’d like to share.
Spot your child doing good things- A positive approach is going to be the most effective. The research evidence is strong, and in terms of behaviour, humans respond and retain lessons more when they are rewarded and praised for making good choices. Even when you feel behaviour is mostly negative, there are always moments of good. You have to put your detective hat on, find these shining moments (no matter how small), and give them authentic, genuine PRAISE!!! It can be as simple as “I love how you came when I asked” or “wow, you got organised really quickly today”, or “I am very proud of how nicely you played with your brother/sister just now”, or “I’m really impressed by the effort you have put into your assignment” etc. Getting praise can be a reward in itself, however, the addition of a reward schedule can be highly effective in nurturing change for more challenging behaviour's.
Be calm, firm, and consistent- respond to your child’s argument or tantrum ONE TIME, but then no other response is required. This is known as extinction. For example, you have said “no” to the lolly at the store register, or your teenagers request to go to a party. Your child asks “why”? You give them your reason. Your child starts to whine, argue or cry. DO NOT engage in any further conversation about it. Pretend you cannot hear them contesting, it does not bother you, and…. do not change your mind. If further information comes to light and you realised you made a mistake in saying no, at a time when all is calm, acknowledge the information you have learned, and that you have changed your mind. Sometimes, I myself will respond to my own children’s requests with… “I will think about it and get back to you”. This gives me time to ensure how I feel, and that if I am going to say no, it will mean no.
Help your child succeed- pick your battles; consider your child’s emotional state. For example, 10pm at night is not the time to ask them to clean their rooms); have realistic expectations, eg. taking your 3-year-old shopping for 6 hours may not go so well; create a reward schedule and be consistent…. if your child has earned it, make sure you deliver your promise.
Include your child in cultivating an environment of good behaviour- This is the same philosophy as many of you may have previously heard…. If you include your children when cooking, they are more likely to eat it. Spend time talking with your child about your expectations, and listen to their feelings and ideals on these expectations. Collaborate on how you can foster positive results with these behavioural expectations.
Use positive language- rather than saying “you’re such a naughty boy/girl”, a better approach would be “that behaviour is not acceptable”. This externalises the behaviour, or separates it away from the child, so they don’t grow up with the identity that they are a bad person. Also, addressing the behaviour separately gives the child self-belief that the behaviour is the problem, not them, and therefore the behaviour is viewed by all as something changeable.
Be a positive role model- Apologise or acknowledge when you as the parent/carer have made an error, show them that accepting mistakes is a sign of strength not weakness; follow the family rules yourself (i.e. don’t buy a chocolate for yourself at the register if that is a problem behaviour for your child); listen to your child; treat your child with respect and trust; articulate your feelings like “this behaviour has made me feel upset”, as this shows them that they can express how they feel without needing to have engage in a tantrum or argument.
Above all else…… spend time enjoying each other’s company and really connecting.
This creates mutual respect, creates positive moments for you to both realise how awesome each of you are, and show’s your child they are important and loved by you!