A parent’s job is rarely easy. It’s a wonder how we ever accomplish anything at all on such little sleep and with the demands of work, raising children, finances, our relationship with our significant other, and household duties like cleaning and cooking. But each and every day we wake up and we do our best. We feed, bathe, and give attention and love to our children. We typically feed ourselves and sometimes have the time and energy to bathe ourselves, and if they are lucky, we may have just enough energy to give some attention to our significant other or maybe even squeeze in some minutes (gasp!) for ourselves. Generally, our children come first and are our first priority. We want what is best for our children and ultimately for ourselves and our household. We also know that life runs a little smoother when our children behave, at home and in public.
Children ultimately have the desire to do the right thing and to please their caregivers. Children thrive on a positive, supportive, and encouraging environment. Children also thrive on acceptance, love, and approval. Research has shown that most children want to and will comply with adult requests. Children will learn to comply with your requests and routines when they are directly taught, reminded, and are given clear boundaries for acceptable and unacceptable behavior.
Teach and show your child what walking feet look like. Teach and show your child what a quiet voice sounds like. Teach and show your child what an apology feels like. When you take the time to teach and show your child the correct way you want them to behave, they will be more likely to comply.
At home, give your child the opportunity to behave appropriately and correct their behavior before a consequence is given. I suggest parents do not just give a consequence out of the blue or on a whim. Pulling the carpet out from under your child will typically only make your frustration and job more difficult and their behavior much worse. Plan in advance and make a list of appropriate consequences for minor and major misbehaviors. Make sure your child knows what these consequences are in advance. When you observe your child doing something you do not want them to do, calmly and respectfully approach them, get on their level and use eye contact, use an attention signal if needed, and follow these steps as best as you can.
STEP 1: Tell your child the behavior you observed: “I noticed you are jumping on the couch.”
STEP 2: Tell your child why jumping on the couch is not an acceptable behavior: “Jumping on the couch is not safe and you could get hurt.”
STEP 3: Remind your child of the rule around the behavior: “The rule is we sit on the couch. The couch is not for jumping.”
STEP 4: Offer your child a choice to correct the behavior and comply or receive the consequence and then walk away: “You can either sit on the couch like you are supposed to OR you will have to get off the couch and help me with the laundry. I’ll give you a minute to decide.”
STEP 5: A child may respond immediately and that is fine. If not, walk away for a moment and give your child time to process what you are telling them. Wait about 1-2 minutes and then walk back to your child and ask them what choice they are going to make.
STEP 6: If your child complies and sits on the couch as you requested, praise them and thank them for making a positive choice and for following the rules. If your child does not comply or gets defiant and continues to jump on the couch, then gently remind them of the consequence and follow through.
**Please keep in mind the motivation behind your child’s defiance. Are they hungry? Are they tired? Are they sick? Were they deprived of your attention today? Has it been an unusually busy, boring, or stressful day? Have you been arguing with your significant other? Has any new changes to their environment occurred recently (new sibling, spousal separation, caregiver deployment, new routines/schedules, new school, new home, etc). Knowing the motivation behind your child’s defiance does not necessarily make the behavior acceptable; but it will be able to give you empathy for your child and why they are behaving poorly in that moment. Making a bad choice does not make him/her a bad child.**
One of the biggest aspects to effective parenting is following through with what you say and being consistent. This doesn’t necessarily mean between siblings, as each child and their needs are different. Fair does not mean equal. Consistency also goes for consequences and for rewards. If you tell your child they get no TV for the evening, please do not let them watch TV that night. On the other hand, if you promise them you will take them to the park for doing their chores, then please follow through and take them to the park. Try not to promise anything to your child that you will not be able to follow through on. This will only lead to confusion, resentment, and distrust.
In public, give your child a pre-correction. A pre-correction is used to set your child up for success before they have the opportunity to get in trouble. Follow these steps to ensure your child has the opportunity to behave and respond in a positive way in public. I highly suggest you do not go out in public to run errands when it is right before or during your child’s mealtime and or naptime. Expecting them to behave when they are hungry, tired, and irritable is a recipe for unsuccessful behavior for the both of you.
STEP 1: Tell your child the exact plan so they can mentally and emotionally prepare. “We are going to the grocery store today. We are only getting what we need on our list, then stopping by the bank, and then we are coming home.”
STEP 2: Offer your child to add something to the grocery list so they feel invested and empowered. Both of these will help them behave more positively. I suggest getting that item first or last on your trip. If you get it first, maybe they can snack on it at the store. Save it for last so they have a reward at the end of the trip!
STEP 3: Let your child know exactly what behaviors you expect of them at the store and give them support and encouragement. “I know you will be a good listener, use your quiet voice, use walking feet, and follow directions!”
STEP 4: Define what the behaviors are that you want them to follow and practice, practice, practice (especially what a quiet voice is and what walking feet are). “A good listener is quiet and follows directions the first time I ask.”
STEP 5: Inform your child of the consequences if they do not follow directions or listen to you. “If you are not a good listener, you will not be able to play on the computer for the rest of the day.” Please make sure the consequence matches the negative behavior. Have a pre-made list of minor consequences and major consequences. Also, make sure the consequence is age appropriate.
STEP 6: Follow through! If they behave, praise them and tell them how proud you are of them. If they do not behave, either leave the store (if that is your consequence), give them a reflection letter to write as a way of restorative practice, or not have them play on the computer that evening.
Using this type of behavior modification and positive supports, while including the use of this specific language and tone takes practice. As with anything, do the best you can and if you can aim to remember 50% of these steps then you are on a good track to make your immediate environment, whether you are at home or in public, calmer and more manageable. When your child is more positively responsive, it will ultimately make your life less stressful and much easier!