Do What You Say

I have reflected a lot on behaviour management the past couple of weeks. There seems to be an increase in stress among families this time of year, along with problematic behaviours. Unfortunately, there is a reciprocal relationship in which one (e.g., stress) makes the other (e.g., behaviours) worse and vice versa.

Now, my kids aren’t perfect angels, but they are fairly well-behaved. As I have written before, their behaviours seem to relate directly to how stressed I am. Upon further reflection, I considered the fact that their behaviours may actually be the same regardless of my stress level. I then turned inwards and contemplated the fact that what is likely more affected by my stress is how I respond to their behaviours. My response may make them seem better or worse. So, when I am stressed, I am usually less patient, more frustrated, and quicker to yell. Which results in greater conflict, tears, and overall increased upset. But, when I am not as stressed, I have greater patience and am better able to calmly, and rationally deal with whatever is going on more effectively.

How I respond to my children’s behaviours is key. In order to respond effectively, I need to take a moment and figure out why the behaviour is happening. All behaviour serves a purpose. No child misbehaves simply because he or she is bad. There is a reason. It’s our job as parents to figure out that reason and respond accordingly. Sometimes there is a skill deficit. If the child does not know how to regulate his emotions or communicate his needs effectively, we need to teach him those skills (and not get upset in the heat of the moment ourselves, thinking he should know better). If the child is trying to get attention, we need to ignore the behaviour. If there is avoidance, sending her to her room for a time out is probably not the best idea.

I think I have a year’s worth of posts on behaviour management. But for today, I want to focus on a trend that I have noticed the past few weeks in how parents respond to their child’s behaviours. Whether while shopping at the mall, waiting to see Santa or spending time with friends and family at social events, I have seen numerous parents throw empty threats to their child. Some variation of: “One more time and we’re going home” has been the most common lines given. And guess what, in 100% of my observations, the child does whatever it is he/she was not supposed to do. And still got to stay. Two children even eventually got a candy if they promised to be quiet. So, through this little exercise, the children learned that if they scream and cry loud enough, not only will they get to stay, they might even get a candy. The parent has inadvertently shaped that behaviour, which will likely become even worse next time.

I think this is a topic I am going to continue to explore the next few weeks. Bottom line take away today: don’t utter empty threats because you will likely make behaviours worse. I sometimes get to that point of giving the threat of going home, but I only do so if I know 100% without a doubt that we can go home. If we just flew all the way to Disneyland, that’s not a threat I’d say because I would never go home for my own selfish reasons. But if we’re at a playground, it would be super easy for me to follow through with it.