Nearly every parent I’ve ever met has said they’d like to shout less. When we canvassed parents at The Parent Practice about their top ten issues, cooperation was top of the list – but it’s obviously not easy to achieve.
When cajoling,negotiating, threatening and punishing your kids doesn’t work, how do you get your kids to do what you need without shouting?
In my book, Real Parenting for Real Kids, I share the seven essential skills that we teach in our parenting classes and number six is positive discipline. In skills one to five, we look at ways of setting our children up for success by encouraging healthy self-esteem and good behaviour.
But of course, nothing can completely eliminate the possibility that your children may occasionally get something wrong or behave in a way you don’t like, so we still need effective ways of responding to poor behaviour.
When I say ‘effective’ I mean tools that really work by teaching your child how to behave even when you’re not around, not those strategies we’re conditioned to use because that’s how we were raised or because everyone else says it’s the right thing to do.
So, how do we handle bad behaviour?
Firstly, take time to cool down. This may take just a few minutes or even a few hours, depending on what has happened and the strength of the emotions involved. This is NOT a punishment but a chance to cool off, and it’s a vital step to take before we turn to problem-solving. Cool down time doesn’t have to be spent in isolation – don’t withdraw if your child needs you – and it doesn’t need to be uncomfortable.
Let your child know that you will address the misbehaviour later (but not too much later for young children) and explain that this is because you can’t deal with things effectively when you’re upset.
Next, connect with the child.
Describe the feelings that you think were behind her behaviour and how you believe she is feeling now. Assume that she will be feeling remorseful; children usually do when they understand that something was wrong – but only when they are not faced with judgment and blame and anger. The adults need to bring the emotional temperature down and connect before the child’s frontal lobes will be engaged for learning.
Finally, take constructive steps to address the behaviour.
When something goes wrong, our aim is to work out how to avoid it happening again, and to learn something from the episode. Our job is to teach our children and to support them to do better next time. When we only have punishment to deal with misbehaviour, parents sometimes feel reluctant to act – which means we hesitate, or try to ignore it, and then feel compelled to do something in a panic. Instead, try one of these constructive strategies for handling poor behaviour: The Mistakes Process, Consequences and Problem-solving.
They are all based on the assumption that your child wants to get things right and has made a mistake. That doesn’t mean there wasn’t some element of intentionality about his actions but what was his goal? He needs to be shown another way to get what he needs.
Strategy 1: The Mistakes Process
1. ADMIT what happened, and that it was a mistake
Let your child say in his own words what happened. Children need to learn that people can admit responsibility and come out unscathed and, even better, that their acceptance of responsibility can make them strong. Descriptively praise them for the courage it takes to own up to something and empathise with the feelings of embarrassment they may have.
2. MAKE amends – set wrongs to right
The child may need to fix someone’s upset feelings. This might include an apology but not unless the child is ready – that is, she really does regret what she did. A consequence may be required to help the child not do the same thing again. Ideally, involve the child in coming up with an appropriate consequence.
3. ALTER – what can you learn from this, and do differently next time?
Involve the child in working out what changes could be made to a situation to avoid the behaviour happening again.
4. ACCEPT – forgive yourself
We want to teach our children to think: “When I make a mistake, I know how to clear it up”. Parental behaviour is a huge influence on children so practice what you preach and show them how to behave when you make a mistake.
There are usually plenty of opportunities in the average day for parents to model handling mistakes, to show that we are not diminished by them and that we can accept responsibility without losing face.
Kids are the worst kind of embarrassing. Post continues below.
Strategy 2: Consequences
Consequences are not just a euphemism for punishment. They are designed to help the child make amends for poor behaviour, and to get things right next time.
1. ALLOW the child to experience the effect of their behaviour
We often make it hard for children to see the outcome of their actions because we tend to swoop in and sort the problem out for them, or remove them from a situation entirely. Where it is safe to do so, let them experience the natural consequences of their actions – the guilt, regret or worry about what they have done – and empathise with their feelings while taking steps to help them sort out what went wrong.
2. HELP the child put things right
Consequences should be as immediate and relevant as possible, and directly connected to the behaviour. When something has gone wrong, it needs to be put right. When our children make a mess, or break something, or lose something, they need to be involved in sorting it out – as much as possible given their age and abilities.
Being made to miss a birthday party on Saturday because they didn’t help put the shopping away on Monday will appear to the child like a mean-spirited whim rather than a direct consequence of their actions.
3. USE Take Twos
Take Twos are a useful consequence for minor misbehaviours – we simply require that the child do what he needs to in the correct manner here and now.
It’s a second chance to get things right.
Sometimes you’ll need to address the feelings behind the behaviour before a Take Two. You may need to acknowledge the emotions that prompted the rudeness before asking them to rephrase their comments more politely, for example.
Strategy 3: Problem-solving
Problem-solving means the matter is discussed calmly and without judgment, from the assumption that the child wants to get things right and made a mistake.
It may take the form of a Family Meeting or with an individual as part of The Mistakes Process.
Extract from ‘Real Parenting for Real Kids‘ by Melissa Hood, 26 August ($29.95)
Melissa Hood is a parenting educator, co-founder of the UK’s The Parent Practice, a volunteer with the Mt Druitt Learning Ground in Sydney and author of Real Parenting for Real Kids, which describes the seven essential parenting skills Melissa teaches in her courses.
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