April 30, 2007

Getting Children to Adjust Their Behavior Part #7

LEARNING "What can you learn from this? Life is a lesson."

In this article I will bring to a close this series of articles on getting children to adjust their behavior. Hopefully, these techniques will get your children to do most of the things that you want them to do simply because they have learned the value of making good decisions.

The Big Difference

The difference that I am attempting to communicate to you is that you are attempting to get the child to adjust behavior but not just out of obedience but rather because they choose to! This is a huge difference. Adjustments made out of choice are most often lifelong changes while adjustments made in obedience often last only as long as the one asking for the obedience is present.

Keep the Anger Out!

Remember, very little is ever learned, either on your part or on the kid's part, when anger is involved. In the past articles I have not even mentioned anger, but when we are asking children to adjust their behavior by their choice, anger must never play a part. Most definitely, when learning is the goal, anger should never play a role. If either you or the child has become angry, it is probably best to wait until the anger has passed to try to teach!


Learning can be the goal for any adjustment in a child's behavior. When your goal is learning, the strategy often is obvious.

"Here is how the world works, and it will help you greatly if you understand this."

More Time Now, Means Less Time in the Long Run

Often, taking the time to teach is the longest and most difficult way to get your children to adjust their behavior right now, but it winds up being the best way because it results in lasting behavior change. When a child chooses to adjust their behavior they understand the “why” behind the change!

While driving in the car it is much quicker and easier to simply separate quarreling children. However, in the long run, separating them really winds up teaching behavior that seems the exact opposite from the logical goal. Separating them teaches them that when people disagree, the desired response is to separate! (No wonder we have such high divorce rates!)

A Logical Approach

It sure seems to be more logical to approach two fighting kids with a goal of teaching them some effective ways to get along and ways to deal effectively with quarrels and disagreements. Teach them by role-playing. It takes planning, thought, time, patience, and lots of care to teach skills of compromise and negotiation but these skills last a lifetime!

If you, as the parent, choose to make learning your goal, it may take longer to bring about the desired behavior change at age four. However, when you do take the time, at age four, to teach some skills, then at age fifteen you no longer have to deal with your children fighting because what you taught at age four is still working! Your child learned it and will use it forever!

A Lesson in an Airport

A few weeks ago we were flying home from a trip, we were sitting near and elevator in the SeaTac airport. While we were sitting there a young family came up to the elevator to go to the next floor. The mother knelt down and said, “When you come to an elevator, you must stand back after pushing the button so that when the elevator gets here, the people on the elevator can get off before we get on. It always works that way,” the mom said in an instructional manner. “The elevator must empty first, before loading for the next trip up!”

I watched as the children gladly pushed the button and then stepped back to wait. Sure enough, when the elevator arrived, about ten people got out as the children stood back to politely let them off before getting on themselves. It was so simple, watching that mother take the time to teach in such a clam manner. She could have just grabbed the kids and said, “Stand back!” with no explanation. And at that point she could have had a battle on her hands as her kids pushed back at the command.

It might have been quicker to just make a command, but the teaching approach would be long lasting. That mother would probably never have to deal with that issue again. However, had she taken the quicker route of giving a command, she might have had to give the command for years to come.

It was interesting to sit near that elevator for the next half hour and just observe. There were lots of people using that elevator that day; and lots of adults could have used the mother’s lesson!

Children need adults to TEACH THEM the “rules of the world.” Once they learn the rules, it becomes so much easier for them to play the game.

At this point, it is so key to remember… you can never assume that a child has learned any skill until they use it in the appropriate context to bring about positive change for themselves.

Behavior Change Is the Measure of Success

Saying something rarely defines teaching. So often we hear parents say, "I told my son a hundred times. I don't know what's wrong, but he's not doing it!" Telling does not constitute teaching. If teaching is the goal, then a change in your child's behavior must be the measure of the your success!

It would have been foolhardy for that mother to assume that her job was finished if, after explaining the rule about letting an elevator empty before crowding in front of the door, her children had crowded in front of the door anyway. At that point she would have needed to re-teach the concept until it resulted in a change in the child’s behavior.

If you use one strategy to teach a concept or behavior and the child does not change, keep the anger out and remember three key words: THAT DIDN'T WORK! Then, try again with another repetition or a completely new method; but don't give up. Remember our Rule #3 that learning takes repetition!

You may not succeed on the first few tries at teaching a concept. But, one thing is guaranteed... if you stop trying to teach, you will fail. Too many parents are willing to say, "I have tried everything," after a few failures… instead of simply saying, "Oops, I just found a couple of ways to teach this that didn't work, so I had better look around for another way to teach that idea!"

Way back, years ago, I started making a video to the song “Teach Your Children” by the Eagles. Maybe I need to go back and finish that video!

April 28, 2007

Getting Children to Adjust Their Behavior #6

"You have a choice to make; what are you going to do?"

Decision-making should be started as early as possible. "Which pair of socks do you want to wear?" “Do you want a red Popsicle or a green one?” “Do you want to play this game or that one?” “Which shirt do you want to wear, the red one or the blue one with the collar?”

Everyday Opportunities to Teach

Every day there are opportunities to give children decisions to make. Give them a chance. I am not talking about decisions that involve danger or decisions that can result in bad outcomes. Just give them everyday decisions.
A Tale of Two Families

The other day I watched two families getting on the airplane that I was riding. As I followed one family on board they had given their three-year-old the tickets and asked her to find their seats. The little girl could easily recognize the letters and numbers on the tickets. The Mom just showed her where the seat numbers were on the bottom of the overhead bins and asked the girl to find their seats.

A few moments later a family followed them into the plane with two teen-age children. In this case the overly controlling mother held the tickets and was rather rudely directing the children to their seats and was giving them no credit for being able to make any decisions.

It was not surprising to me to see that the first family was having no trouble with their children while the second family was having some pretty good arguments about who would sit where! The one family was letting their children get experience in making simple decisions and it was reaping rewards and the other mother was making all of the decisions and was having trouble with her children.

Now, I know that this was not a controlled study and there were lots of other variables at play but I feel quite certain that the dynamic of the parents giving decisions to the children played a part!

Give Your Children Opportunities to Choose

Give children decisions to make! If your children are older and you have not already made this one of your common tasks in your home start today. If you have young ones, start now. The key is to give your children the gift of allowing them to progressively make more and more critical decisions every day.

Learn from What Works!

We can learn by looking at how almost every person in America has learned to ride a bicycle. We have taught almost every single person in America to ride a bike! Probably, none of them learned how to ride a bike by listening to their parents talk about riding bikes or by watching their parents ride one. They learned when someone put them on the seat, put the handlebars in their hands and gave them a shove!

Now, most parents did not just shove the kid and let them just fall over. Most parents ran along side helping to steady the child. But the point is that children learn to ride bikes when someone lets them ride one!

Children Learn to Make Decisions by Making Them!

Children will learn to make good decisions when someone gives them some decisions to make. Just like teaching a child to ride a bike, we do not start with the most difficult decisions. We can start out with some simple decisions and build up to bigger and bigger decisions.

Start Small, then Build Toward Larger and Larger Decisions

Continually hand them bigger and bigger decisions to make. "Here's the map. Which route do you think we should we take?" Next time ask, "Now that you have picked the road to travel what time should we leave?"

Later, seek their advice on tough personnel issues you bring home from work. Spell out the situation and ask their opinion. You do not have to take their advice but the discussion tells them that they are important enough to be included! The simple fact that you asked will give the children a sense of their own value. They might have some great ideas too!

At another time, give them $50.00 and ask them to buy five days worth of groceries with it. Follow with bigger and bigger jobs and bigger and bigger decisions that go with them. Give them real decisions to make and live with their decisions.

Continually ask for their opinion about issues that surround you in life. You might be totally surprised at the great advice and point of view that your children bring to many a decision making process.

Learning by Doing

We learn to make good decisions by making them. It's the same example you heard earlier, "Put them back on the bike!" When they make a bad decision, don't punish them. Tell them you admire their courage for making the decision in the first place! Then ask, "What did you learn from that decision? What are you going to do the next time? How do you think that will work?"

Good Decisions often Come From the Experience of Bad Ones

Many of life’s great decisions come from learning from some earlier decisions that did not work out exactly as anticipated. Give your children the opportunity to make some decisions even if they may seem like bad decisions from time to time. They need the experience. They will learn from those bad decisions!

Then when they get to the big decisions in life they will not cower away from making a decision! Most likely they will make a great decision because they have experience in making decisions!

Obviously, we parents should not offer children decisions to make that might have them being hurt or damaged. That is our job, to protect our children and to act as an occasional filter to prevent a calamity. However, by giving them decisions to make that are easily within their experience and capability level, they will gradually learn… sooo… when the big decisions come along, the experience of other decisions will serve them well.

April 23, 2007

Getting Children to Adjust Their Behavior #5

PRACTICALITY - "This job needs doing... by you."

One of the most hirable skills in today's world is the ability to see a job that needs doing, to be able to figure out a way to do it efficiently... and then TO DO IT.

Give your children the gift of this unique skill of identifying jobs that need doing and the ability to do those jobs cheerfully with little or no supervision! You can give this skill to your children by giving them jobs to do (simple at first) and then getting out of their way and letting them do the whole job, start to finish.

Start early. If your children are still just toddlers give them simple chores to do and then let them do them. Do not start out by saying, “My kids will not do work because they are lazy!” or anything like that. Hold high expectations for them to complete the jobs and then work beside them or near them so they can imitate your manner of working at a task to completion.

As a child I learned more about how to do a task by watching my father work than I did from any explanation he ever gave me. When he did give instructions they were far more ideas about my capability to work independently than they were about how to do the job. I remember when I was first given the job of raking hay on our ranch. On my first day on the job within the first few hours I had the tractor and rake stuck! I had the front wheels in a ditch and the hind wheels of the rake caught in a fence. When Dad came into the field to see what was keeping me from raking, I will never forget what he said to me.

A Lesson From Dad

He walked over to me and said, “Huh, I thought a little feller with your intelligence would have figured out how to get this tractor unstuck! In case you didn’t know it… you are the brains in this outfit! If this tractor had the smarts to run itself I would have left it out here to work by itself. The next time you are in a fix… THINK! You can figure out situations like this!”

Give Your Kids a Gift... "Think!"

Then he said, “Watch this!” He picked up an old fence post lying nearby and put it in the ditch behind the front wheels. Then he began to back the tractor up while shouting over the noise of the engine, “See how those wheels of the rake are dropping as the front wheels climb onto the post? The next time you are in a pickle use your head!”

I find myself doing that even today. My dad’s words echo in my head as I write this article. “THINK!” Dad gave me the amazing gift of believing in my ability to think and reason things out for myself. He knew how to fix the problem but what he wanted for me was for to be able to figure out how to solve the problem. Those are such different things! Teaching a child how to do something verses teaching a child how to figure out how to do something for themselves!

Let Jobs Be Self-Rewarding!

As your children complete a job, let the satisfaction of completing it be the payoff. It will not be necessary for you to offer lavish praise. A simple statement from you like, "Nicely done, you did that complete job without any help. Doesn't it feel great to do things on your own? It buys you a big bunch of respect and it buys lots of freedom to do things on your own because I do not feel the need to check up on you."

If your children are older and do not seem to be able to do any job on their own and also seem unwilling to do any job on their own, do not become discouraged! Just like them, you have a job to do. THINK! Reason out some ways YOU can start teaching this child how to figure out a way to do a job! You can do it. Your job may be a little tougher since the child is older, but start today. Every day you wait just means the job becomes more difficult!

Decision Making!

Following are some ideas to get you started. First off, with an older child, explain to them what you are trying to do. Tell them the truth! “I have waited too long to begin to show you the amazing abilities you have but I want to start today. I would like for you to organize your room today. I will be available to help you but I want you to organize your room so that it works for you.”

Just think about this from your child’s point of view. Imagine how different it will sound to the child. Rather than saying, “Your room is such a mess. I often wonder how you can stand to live in there!” Think about how your child will feel when you express your confidence in their ability to organize their room.

Ask your children to change or limit their behavior because you have the confidence in their abilities. It is practical and it is very wise to be a positive wizard in your child’s life by showing them how to use their own abilities!

April 19, 2007

"Reasons to Ask Kids to Limit or Adjust Their Behavior" Part #4

Subtle Ways to Ask for kids to Alter Behavior

Well, now let’s move on to some more subtle but also very viable reasons to offer to children as they choose their behavior. Please notice that I am saying “choose” their behavior. Children do choose their behavior! There is no getting around it. The older they get the more it becomes a conscious act of picking a behavior from their repertoire of learned and innate behaviors.
Teach Young Children with Actions

When children are very young they do not have many behaviors to choose from. In the beginning, they pretty much react by choosing to cry or laugh about just about everything that happens.

Rapidly they begin to experiment with other behaviors that they see or hear. Kids will start to whine or maybe throw tantrums (basically more dramatic crying). They will use anything that works! If crying results in getting what they want, they will begin to use it for a wider and wider variety of situations and as a response to more and more situations where they are uncomfortable.
Teach BEFORE a Problem Arises

The thing that seems to happen to so many parents is that they start trying to teach appropriate behaviors by waiting until the child chooses an inappropriate behavior like crying! Like I have said many times before, waiting until the child has made a bad choice is foolish and usually results in a failure to teach!

The dignified way to go about teaching children is to start teaching them desirable behaviors BEFORE they are in a difficult situation. With very young children you must keep in mind that the absolute worst way to attempt to teach them is with words. The teaching must involve actions and demonstrations.

Our younger son, Adam and his wife Courtney are perfect examples of this technique. They taught their son, Mac (don’t you love it? I have a grandson named after me!) to use sign language to indicate when he wants more of something and to give a sign when he wants up and a sign when he is finished eating and wants down. It has been so amazing to watch that little guy, from the age of about six months, make the choice of using some simple little hand movements to get what he wants and to communicate his needs with his parents. And man, you cannot believe how peaceful it makes their house at meal times. Their house is peaceful most other times too because the signing has made crying pretty much useless by comparison!
Teaching Kids to "Sign"

If you are interested, here are a few websites where you can learn to teach signing to an infant. (Please know that I have nothing to gain from any of these sites or programs. They are just some sites that I have heard of in my travels and interactions with parents across America!)



What you are doing with this kind of approach is you are teaching your children actions that bring peace and satisfaction into their lives simultaneously.
This all brings me to this fourth in the list of reasons to ask for your children to alter their behavior. For a little 10-month old child to be able to ask for more food at dinner, rather than just crying, brings peace into that child’s life and an amazing peace to the parents and the entire family!

As the child gets older it can become increasingly more important to teach the child to alter behavior because it brings PEACE into their lives.

PEACE - "Do this simply because it will make your life much more peaceful and simple." Sometimes things that may seem very basic to us must be explained in detail to our children. For example, "Did you know that people who smile often meet more happy people? So, if you would like to spend more time around laughing and happy people, then you need to smile, a lot!" Point out the many instances in life where cheerful people are given preferential treatment.

I communicated this just yesterday to a group of high school age students that I was asked to speak to. These were sophomores and juniors who are enrolled in a “school within a school” where some pretty amazing teachers are team teaching a group of kids who have had some difficulties with school. I gave them an assignment. I asked them to go home and vacuum the living room and take out the garbage every day for the next week. I asked them to do this with a smile on their face and without having to be asked.
Then I asked them to ask for permission to do one thing that they normally would not get to do before coming back to class after a week of cheerfully helping out at home. What I want them to experience is that doing things to help others, in a cheerful manner, without being asked to do it will work out well for them.

Structure learning situations like that for your kids!

Make it a policy to reward cheerful behavior in the home as early as possible. Let them experience, at the earliest age, their cheerful attitude gets much more attention and much better results. Make your home a peaceful place by practicing what you preach. Model cheerful and polite requests for compliance rather than shouting angry demands and watch their behavior match yours. (Children learn far more from our actions than from our words. "Do as I say, not as I do," may sound nice but it seldom works.)

April 06, 2007

Getting Children to Adjust Their Behavior #3

"Help! I can't do this without you!"

Ok, we are ready for the third of these articles about getting children to decide to act in appropriate ways and to choose to adjust their behavior to suit your expectations for them. Now let’s remember that as parents we are never in control of our children’s behavior. They are!

With that understanding we then must view any change we attempt to make in their behavior to be a process of teaching children to choose the behavior we deem to be desirable. Their change in behavior will be the result of our efforts to lead them to appropriate and approved choices.

Now, please do not misinterpret what I am saying here. I do believe that parents have the right to ask for children to simply be obedient and do what their parents ask them to do. However, obedience also must be taught. Children can learn to simply obey their parents but obedience is dangerous because it does not teach children what to do when there is no one there to make their decisions for them and tell them what to do!

So here we go with the third reason to give children for them to use in choosing to adjust their behavior to match with our expectations.

HELP - "I can't do this without your help!" Many times a simple request for help will work wonders as a limit upon a child's behavior. Think about it . . . when you ask your kid for help you are sending very important messages.

First, you are saying, "You are a very capable person. Look, I'm giving you an important task to do!" So many people have gotten a much distorted view of the term self-esteem. If you have read or listened to much of the Parenting with Dignity material you have most likely noticed that I very rarely use the term and there is a sound reason for this… I do not use it because of the many distorted and varied definitions that so many parents have of self-esteem!

That being said, I honestly believe that almost nothing will allow a child to hold a wonderful opinion of themselves than being treated like they are valued people! Asking for help says that loud and clear to a child!

When I was a child my father took me out in the hay field and he told me that he needed my help. I always reflect back on that day as a pivotal day for me. My dad needed my help. I don believe that I had ever felt so important or valued. Dad had a way with words. I will never forget what he said that day, “Kid, you are the brains on this job! I need you to think!” It was pretty nasty work but I eagerly attacked it because it was a sign that my contribution was important! Give that feeling to your children.

Next, you are saying, "You are a trusted person because this job requires that I trust you." Give your children a job and then let them do it. Buck Minor, the cowboy on our ranch, did this repeatedly with me as I grew up. He would give me a job to do and then he would leave and let me do it. Sometimes I would make a mess or leave part of the job uncompleted. He would not come unglued or angry. He would just give me a pointer, let me know that he really needed me to do the job and then let me try again.

I can tell you that I draw on that confidence I was taugh as a child by having people like my Dad and Buck let me know that they needed me. I believe that there are so many children in today’s culture who have never been told that they are needed. Telling them that you need themj and actually treating them like they are needed are really two very different things.

Then, you are saying, "I need you, and my life would be extremely difficult without you and therefore I have come to you, of all the people I know, to ask for help." Asking a child for help confirms for them that in your family, everyone has value. Letting children know that their family needs them will be a springboard for the rest of their life.

Give your children this feeling of being a valued part of the family often. Giving children tasks to do can be just work if it is presented that way. However, if a job is presented as something that needs ot be done and the child might be the only one who can do it well the job can be fulfilling and it confirm self-worth!

Finally, you are saying, "A family is a place where we all participate simply because we need each other!" Don't be surprised if your child starts to turn to you in times of stress and need soon after you have modeled that behavior for him or her. Treating them like valued people in a tight and mutually dependant family will build trust in the child to share difficult times with you.

If you want your child to trust you, it is necessary to trust them first. Trust s a mutual event! Going to your children and telling them that you need them is a great first step in showing that you trust them.

Let your children know that you need their help. Do not be surprised if you find that you actually do! Most parents who experience difficulties in getting children to do jobs around the home suffer from a lack of trus in their children to do the job!

April 04, 2007

Getting Children to Adjust Their Behavior


"Do this because society says so, in less formal ways." You won't be fined or sent to jail for violating any of these rules but many times they may be just as important to obey as laws. These rules fall under the category of manners, or social customs, but they often are the standards by which your children's character is judged. Teach your children that they can act any way they choose, but other people retain the right to their own response and their own opinion.

Point out that these rules make most people's responses very predictable. "You can cut your hair in a Mohawk and dye it orange if you wish but remember that many people will then discount you as a meaningless person. It may not be right for them to do so, but it is very predictable."

The same goes for conduct in a public place… loud and boisterous behavior will, very predictably, be viewed as immature and will be criticized by most adults. Children will rapidly begin to get the picture. Children are fully capable of seeing cause and effect in these situations.

“Wearing a baseball cap at a funeral will be judged by most as being a sign of disrespect to the deceased. If you insist upon wearing one to make yourself more comfortable, then you predictably will be called a disrespectful person.” Kids need this type of advice.

Think of this like you would think of teaching your child to use a computer. They need some help in learning the commands to get the computer do what they want it to do. In life they need guidance in learning and choosing the actions and behaviors that result in the outcomes that they desire from life. You are the guide but they hold the power to choose their actions.

Give your children some great ideas to choose for the job of ruling their world.

Treat people in a manner that you would like to be treated.

If you are feeling sad try to make someone else happy; it will usually cheer you up.

It does not matter how deep or cold the water, if you have to go through it anyway. Get your feet wet.

A “Thank You!” will open ten times as many doors as a “Please!” and hundreds more than a “Gimme!”

Happy people meet more happy people.

Give your best and that is all the world can ask. Set your own standards.

Your family ought to have lots more of these types of ideas that your child can use to make their life more complete and that can lead them to make wonderful choices for themselves.