I am a behavior specialist. I spend my days…AND nights dissecting behaviors, determining the functions of behaviors, and deciding on interventions to put in place to decrease negative behaviors and increase the positive ones. I am also a mother of two.
My kids are 4 and 6 and I often hear, “Oh as a behavior specialist your kids must be perfect.” Which they are not. When my kids are well behaved I often hear, “You are so lucky your kids are so well behaved.” However, lucky is not the word I would use to describe how I feel, I feel exhausted! When my kids are behaving as expected, it isn’t because I have gotten lucky, it is because I have invested a lot of time and energy into teaching them expected behaviors, having preplanned consequences for when they are not behaving appropriately, and following through with those consequences.
I wish I could say, “My children are perfect!” but it would be a lie. There is no such thing as perfect. Kids are tiny human beings with huge emotions they are trying to navigate and understand. They need help understanding their emotions and appropriate ways of responding when they are happy, mad, upset, or frustrated. As adults, we have learned coping strategies or things that we can do when we feel these emotions, but kids do not know how to respond to them.
My children, for the most part, are pretty well behaved, but they have also had their fair share of consequences for not so great behavior choices. My children have been disciplined at school. They have had to move seats. They have had to sit out in a game because they were not listening. I have carried them out of stores, restaurants, birthday parties, just to name a few, for inappropriate behavior. They have had to sit in their car seats until their bodies are calm and are ready to go back in to where ever I carried them out of. I have held them accountable for the choices in their behavior, but I also, in the process, have taught them appropriate ways to handle disappointment and frustration. They have learned that throwing a tantrum in the middle of the Target toy aisle will not result in me suddenly buying the toy, but it will result in a break out in the car until they are ready to come back in. During one meal at Uno’s I took my daughter out to the car three times because she was not using an indoor voice. Since then, she has learned that if she wants to join us in a restaurant, she will save her Itsy Bitsy Spider re-mix as loud as she can sing it for when she is outdoors.
I believe it is my job as a parent not to be my child’s best friend; it is my job to teach my children right from wrong. With that will come push back and resentment at times, but at the end of the day I know I am doing what is best for my tiny humans. I am teaching them that the world has consequences for the choices of their behavior and how to cope when things do not go their way. I agree with Charles Fay, PhD, from the Love and Logic Institute, I hope my non-perfect kids misbehave as, “Mistakes made early in life have far more affordable consequences than those made later.” I would rather they learn that now than when they are older and the consequences are larger.
From one parent to another, stay strong! As a behavior specialist, the more consistent you stay with your responses to positive and negative behaviors, the easier it should get. Take a deep breath and remind yourself that your tiny human is full of emotions and they do not know how to manage them yet. Teach them strategies, such as taking a deep breath, using a whisper voice, and using their words to communicate when they are upset. Also, teach them that there are consequences to negative behaviors and stick to those consequences. If you do, you will see an increase in positive behavior and life will start to get easier year by year. Next time you leave a cart full of groceries in the middle of Meijer, remember…I am right there with you and my imperfect children. Just remember, as your face reddens (mine ALWAYS does), that you are teaching them important life skills.