As parents, we have all experienced days with our young children that we thought were NEVER going to end. No one has listened all day long, toys are everywhere, and now one of them is whining for cookies as you’re about to start making dinner. Multiple attempts have been made to fix bad behavior, but nothing is working. We can get trapped in an endless cycle of asking our child to clean up their toys, reminding them and repeating ourselves with no results, until eventually we lose our cool, yell at everyone in sight, and send everyone to bed. We’re left with feelings of guilt and questioning ourselves as parents. “What am I doing wrong, how can I make this better, and WHY WON’T ANYONE JUST LISTEN TO ME!?”
One thing I can assure you is that you are not alone. Parents all over the world find themselves in the same situations day in and day out. Our instincts to love and nurture our children come completely natural to us, however, dealing with a tantrum in the middle of Target isn’t so innate. Whether it’s the first tantrum we experience, or just another Tuesday, we are not alone.
Consider three main behavior issues your child is struggling with right now. Be very specific when you think about it. “No one listens to me” is a very typical struggle, but also a very general one. Bedtime hassles, whining, and time spent on devices are some examples of common, yet specific obstacles parents encounter every day. Experiencing troublesome behavior can be difficult. We can brush it off as just having a child that is headstrong and deal with it, but when we take responsibility for our actions, we can see perhaps our behavior is triggering them, or making matters worse. When it comes down to it, every child has an inherent need for attention and power.
ATTENTION & EMOTIONAL CONNECTION
Each day, children must have a sufficient dose of positive attention and an emotional connection with their parents. If their needs aren’t met in positive ways, they will utilize negative or undesirable behaviors. For example, if your child is whining, clinging to you, and acting helpless, it is common for us to give in to a request of theirs. However, we just rewarded the behavior by giving them the attention they were looking for. Children will continue to work in the behaviors that work for them. If the whines and clings worked, you will see them show up again and again. In the case of bedtime battles, we’ve all been there for another kiss, another bedtime story, another glass of water.. “WAIT! I have to go to the bathroom!” We want them to get to sleep so we try and do as many things for them that we know they will want so they’ll just get to sleep. However, the little geniuses realize we’re spending more and more time with them.. Negative behavior wins the bedtime battle yet again.
Maybe you’re saying to yourself right now, “There is no way my child could possibly receive any more attention or have more of an emotional connection than I already provide.” Your situation has likely escalated to a power struggle. Children and adolescents live their life under our boundaries and timelines. We tell them when to eat, when to get dressed, to do their homework; we call the shots. The need for control is a universal feeling all people have, no matter their age. When children don’t have a sense of age-appropriate independence, they start to act out using negative behaviors to gain power over their own lives.
An example of power struggles in younger children are problems with mealtime & potty training. They actually have legitimate power here because no matter how much you beg, plead, or bribe, you cannot make them eat or go to the bathroom. They are in charge, and they know it! It becomes the perfect opportunity to stand their ground and prove who’s really in control.
Every single one of us is born with free will. Whether your child is 18 months or 18 years old, the decision to listen and cooperate is completely up to them. It can leave us parents in an endless cycle of power struggles for years. Often our first reaction is to try and reason, and when that doesn’t work, we punish. Punishment may work temporarily, but it is by no means sustainable for the long-term behavioral changes.
PUNISHMENT VS. DISCIPLINE
There is a distinct difference between punishing and disciplining your child. A punishment can leave the child flooded in emotions of shame, blame and emotional pain. When those feelings arise, it can cause them to shut down and put a wall up, which blocks any real lessons to be learned… except for one specific unfavorable behavior. It creates an environment that almost guarantees lying.
Children do much better when we use strategies that give them the power that they need, that us as parents feel good about. Discipline teaches children to make better choices for the future instead of exposing them to blame, shame and emotional pain for mistakes that were made in the past. Listed below is a positive discipline tool that can be used to teach your children sustainable discipline to create positive behavior in all types of situations. We can establish new, positive behavior by effectively replacing negative behavior with consequences followed in the format of The Five Rs. It can be used over and over again to gain a much more ideal living situation for your entire family!
THE FIVE Rs
Consequences must be:
–RESPECTFUL. Although it’s highly possible for us to lose our temper, we now know it’s possible to break out of the habit of “remind and repeat” which can lead us to frustration. When we deal with consequences in a calm and respectful way, we don’t leave any room for shame, blame, or emotional pain
–RELATED. If your child refuses to brush his teeth and your consequence is taking his device away, it can come off unfair to them and they won’t learn the necessary lesson or see the point you’re trying to make. A fair and related consequence would be, “If you’re not going to brush your teeth, then you are not allowed to have any sweets. For the consequence to be effective it has to be related.
-REASONABLE. Consequences should last a reasonable amount of time. If your child is throwing toys around the room, explain to your child that those things need to be packed up and put away for the rest of the day.
-REVEALED. Consequences should be revealed in advance. When your children know what kind of behavior you expect beforehand, they have the power to make a choice between appropriate behavior and the consequence.
-REPEATED. Allow your child to take time to understand the fact that they have choices. Once they understand the repercussions of their actions and repeats them back to you, a verbal agreement is formed.
You have to be willing to implement the consequences. If not, you’re only proving to your children that your rules do not have to be taken seriously. Show your child how much autonomy they have by explaining they have the ability to keep all of their privileges based solely on the decisions they make. They have power within the boundaries you’re comfortable with. Positive discipline encourages parents to fill up their child’s need for attention, emotional connection and power. By doing this, we minimize situations where we as parents feel burnt-out and the need to react. Kids will be kids and there will always be an opportunity for them to misbehave. When that happens, instill confidence in them and let them know you are confident they’ll do better next time. Keeping these ideas in mind and applying these techniques, we can spend less time yelling and more time enjoying life with our children.