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.)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Amen!!! My home is sooooo much more peaceful since I took your Parenting with Dignity class here in Arizone. I think it is more peaceful because I am more peaceful. I have some tools to use now. Loved your idea of the sign language. I am trying it with my 2 year old. I know he is not an infant anymore but we are doing a sign for "I love you" so we can do it across a room. He does not seem to recognize when he is hungry--just gets irritable--so we are doing a sign for hungry too.