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!