Children misbehave I probably don’t need to convince you of that…we all know it. Children need us to teach them proper behavior. That’s what discipline is all about–“training to ensure proper behavior: the practice or methods of teaching and enforcing acceptable patterns of behavior.” How do we train children in proper behavior? How do we teach them acceptable patterns of behavior? One of the first steps a parent can take is to separate behaviors into three categories: behaviors you like, behaviors you will tolerate, and behaviors that have to stop. Then, treat the behaviors in one category differently than you treat the behaviors in another category. Let me explain category by category.
· Encourage those behaviors you like. Encourage your children to engage in the behaviors you like. Behaviors you encourage tend to continue and even increase. So, pay attention to those positive behaviors. Acknowledge them when they occur and thank your children for behaving so nicely. Children love to get our attention and hear that we take pride in them. So, when they engage in behavior you like, acknowledge that behavior. Let them know that you appreciate that positive behavior. Whether you simply acknowledgement their positive behavior, praise their effort to behave well, offer a simple description of behavior, or thank them for a behavior, the behavior will likely increase. Here are some specific things you might say to acknowledge some positive behavior:
o “I like how you set the table so neatly.”
o “I appreciate how quietly you are playing while your brother sleeps.”
o “Thank you for taking the garbage out.”
o “I see you turned put your toys away. Thank you.”
· Ignore those behaviors you can tolerate even though you don’t especially like them. This is the category where parents “pick their battles.” You know…those behaviors that irritate you but do not pose a risk—physically, emotionally, mentally, or spiritually—to your child. Actions and words you can put up with even though you don’t especially like them. Behaviors in this category will vary from family to family but might include hairstyles, music preferences, dress styles (within reason), teen lingo, or how neat a child keeps his room. Remember, children love our attention and behaviors that we acknowledge or pay attention to will increase. So, in the case of behaviors you can tolerate, ignore them. Give them no attention and no energy. The behaviors you tolerate will likely decreases as you ignore them and invest your energy in acknowledging positive behaviors. Once again, ignore those behaviors that you can tolerate…behaviors that pose no harm and really don’t matter in the broader scope of life. After all, your child can live a healthy, respectful, and righteous life while living a slightly different lifestyle than you.
· Consequence those behaviors you simply cannot tolerate…behaviors that have to stop. This category includes behaviors that pose a risk to your child or other people. Behaviors in this category can include staying out past curfew, disrespect to others, rude behavior, not completing chores, or dangerous behaviors to name a few. A parent must address these behaviors to protect his child. In this category of behaviors, consequences play an important role. Our children need to learn that positive behavior is actually more convenient and enjoyable than negative behavior. The negative behavior has to result in some discomfort or inconvenience to the child. For instance, a child who stays out past curfew may not be allowed out for a few nights. Or, a child who is disrespectful toward others may lose out on an opportunity because of their disrespect. When a parent offers a consequence for negative behavior, she has to allow the child to suffer that consequence. Don’t save the child from the consequence…let them suffer. They can suffer now, for a little while under your supervision, or, suffer with no safety net for the same behavior when they leave home. Let them learn now…at home, under your supervision. Also, consequence a behavior while offering as little emotional energy as possible. Remember, children like attention and energetic interactions. You do not want their negative behavior to elicit the energetic attention from you that they desire. So, offer the consequence with as little emotional intensity as possible.
Acknowledge positive behavior, ignore behavior you can tolerate, and consequence negative behavior. Sounds kind of simple, but it can prove deceptively difficult at times. Still, these three principles can work wonders when you apply them with your children on a consistent basis.