It Is the Parent's Attitude That Is Critical
The other day I was talking with a very frustrated mother about her daughter who was driving her crazy. She told me she was at wits end and she wanted to know what to do to change her daughter. She described her daughter's annoying behavior to me in great detail. “She is argumentative, stubborn, defiant, surly, rude, and she throws fits!” the mother said. I listened as the frustrated mother described in detail each of these annoying attributes of her daughter's behavior. After a few minutes of ranting, she paused long enough for me to get in a word and seeking more information, I asked, “How old is this child, fourteen, sixteen?”
I was shocked when the mother told me, “No, she is two and a half!” Her answer hit me so suddenly I must say that I broke out laughing. I know the mother must have been offended by my laughter but I could not contain myself. This lady had just told me she was being totally dominated by a two-and-a-half-year-old child! Whoa! Who is the adult in this situation? Which person in this interaction is capable of anticipating future conflicts and developing some effective strategies and plans to deal with the situation in a dignified and constructive manner? The mother seemed to be more guilty of just REACTING to circumstances than the child.
After regaining control of my laughter, and apologizing profusely, I attempted to give the lady some guidance. As I meet parents all across the country, I find this mother’s dilemma to be common. Her situation was so similar to the difficulties that many parents express to me. Instead of just reacting, parents need to develop a plan of action. They must develop a plan for teaching the desired behavior.
I meet so many parents who are so focused on what their children are doing wrong, that they fail to see that the child is simply responding and reacting to the actions and expectations of the adults in their world! I know this parental attitude is an easy trap to fall into. My gosh, for my first eight years of teaching, I too was caught in the trap of just REACTING to children! Then I learned to change my attitude. I began to develop a plan for teaching the students what I wanted them to do and everything changed.
Parents Must Have a Plan
Our attitude toward our children and our role in their world is so critical. We must be the ones who are controlled. We must be the ones who have the plan. We must be the ones who devise the guidance for them so they can learn to behave differently; to behave in a productive manner. we cannot just react... we must ACT with a purpose.
The Vital Role of Parents Cannot Be Denied
Let me make myself clear here. I am NOT saying that all children are the same. I am NOT saying that the same technique will necessarily work for all kids. Most truly effective techniques are individually tailored to each child. Some kids are born to be more stubborn than others. I am NOT saying that the only determining factor in a child’s development is the action of the parents. What I AM saying is that regardless of the child's genetic makeup, parents have a vital role in teaching their children appropriate behaviors for dealing with their world. The parent’s attitude is critical! The behavior of children is a direct reflection of the expectations of adults in their world!
So what advice did I give this mother? I simply told her that she first needed to decide exactly what she wanted to teach her daughter and then she needed to go about teaching that behavior to her daughter! The change that the mother needed to make was her ATTITUDE! If she wished for her daughter to ask politely when she wanted something instead of "whining, crying and throwing a fit," she needed to teach that behavior very precisely to her daughter. I told her that she needs to teach her daughter what words to use; what tone of voice to use in asking for things; what her body should look like; what her face should look like when she is asking. I explained to the mother that the one time when it will most likely be impossible to teach this desired behavior to her daughter is when she is using the undesirable behavior! If the mom waits until the daughter is screaming, yelling, crying, and acting out, it will be almost impossible to teach. I explained to the mom that she needs to teach her daughter the desired behavior BEFORE the daughter is misbehaving. (To learn some effective skills for teaching the desired behaviors I referred her to our Parenting with Dignity Video Series and to my books, Parenting with Dignity and Parenting with Dignity the Early Years.)
The attitude of the parents must be the controlling element in the process of effectively raising kids. This mother had come to me for advice on changing her daughter but received advice on changing herself! If her child knew how to behave differently and get the desired result (the toy, the cookie) she would use that behavior because it works! The mom needs to explain to the daughter that using words like "please" and "thank you" will be more effective in getting what she wants from the world and then let her own actions show her daughter that those words do work! When the daughter uses the words, meet her requests. When the daughter whines and crys, she needs to let her actions do the teaching by ignoring those inappropriate actions. It is almost always the case that when parents come to us for advice on changing their kid's behavior they almost always get advice on changing themselves! Once the parent changes the child will respond to the more effective plan. The attitude of the parent is the first change that must take place.
I visit schools all across the country. During those visits, I hear school personnel make statements about the conduct of students and from my point of view the statements sound almost ridiculous. I hear statements like, “The kids in this school just won’t listen.” Or I hear, “There is just no respect among the kids in our student body.” I also hear statements that sound equally ridiculous to me like, “Oh, we just have such great kids in our school. They just behave so nicely!”
What do I find to be ridiculous about these statements, you ask. Think about those statements for just a minute. Both are saying that somehow the behavior of the students has nothing to do with what the adults have taught them. I believe that the students who behave respectfully have been effectively taught to do so! And, I believe, likewise, that the students who behave disrespectfully have been also been taught to do so (even though the adults did not intend to teach them that.)
Kids Will Give Us Almost Exactly What We Expect of Them
What each of those statements is telling me is that the adult making the statement believes that the behavior of kids is somehow determined by factors other than the attitude of the adults who are teaching them! No one will ever convince me that one geographic area will produce a collective group of misbehaving kids nor will anyone ever convince me that one geographic area will produce a collective group of polite, considerate kids.
The behavior of children is not geographically determined: kids’ behavior is determined by the attitude of the adults who are teaching them!