by Christina Dalton
I’ve have been teaching parenting classes for more than six years now, trained at the Love and Logic Institute when I needed logical solutions to everyday problems. My daughter, Matisse, was 3 at the time and I couldn’t wait to get back and try out my new skills on her. She is 9 years old today, and for the last six years I have raised her using Love and Logic techniques. When I use these techniques properly they almost always work. Some of my best stories are the ones where I’ve messed up, but at least I know where the problem is and how to fix it next time.
When I teach my classes, I always begin by saying, “You are going to be so excited for your children to be bad!” Class after class, they look at me with confused faces and doubtful looks. I know they all secretly think I’ve lost my mind. I don’t blame them. They are in my class to stop bad behavior, right?
When I say “bad behavior” I want to be clear. I am talking about when our children don’t listen to us, talk back to us, fight with siblings, throw tantrums, don’t clean their room, or take care of their belongings. The list could go on and on. Bad behavior does not mean that we have “bad” children, it means we have normal children that act up and it can make us bonkers sometimes. I once had a parent tell me, “It’s so refreshing to admit that I am not a perfect person, I try my best but any good parenting advice you have … I’ll take it.” I tell my parents if I can help you with one issue you’re having then I have done my job.
Technique 1: Choices!
I once had a working mom who was so frustrated getting her 5-year-old ready for school in the morning and being late wasn’t an option. When she wanted her child to move faster, she’d become slower. I showed her to offer her child little, small choices as often as possible along the way. I told her to offer choices first thing in the morning: Do you want to put on your pants or your shirt first? Do you want to brush your teeth or go potty first? Do you want to eat cereal or a banana?
All of these choices didn’t have anything to do with anybody else in the household. These were choices that she was OK with as a parent, and I showed her that the key to choice making is that if the child does not choose within 10 seconds, then YOU choose. This ensures that the next time a choice is offered the child will make it because she doesn’t want you to decide for her! Mornings were so much smoother for this mom. She wasn’t yelling at her child to get dressed, brush her teeth, or get her coat on. By offering choices, a certain understated sharing of control comes in that makes children feel like they are part of the decisions being made, no matter how small they are. The best part about choices is they are especially great for younger children, and when they make a choice you can praise them for making a great decision.
The 60/40 Split: Who’s in Charge?
When a child behaves badly there are several factors that will have an impact on the outcome. I like to call this the 60/40 split. 60 percent of the outcome is going to be based on how the parent reacts. The other 40 percent is based on the actual offense/child’s reaction to the offending behavior.
Keep in mind that each situation can be different, but it is your reaction that matters the most. For example, if a parent gets angry, red in the face and yells, the outcome, in most cases, will likely end the same way it began. The child will likely lose focus of what he’s actually in trouble for and begin to focus on the color of your face or wondering if their voice could be as loud as yours.
The age of the child or the adult is really irrelevant. I know that I can go from being a sophisticated, educated adult to a 6-year-old in a matter of minutes. I also know that when this happens, I have lost not only the battle but the war. When I, as a parent, begin arguing with my children, they know they have me right where they want me. My mind is whirling and I’m not even sure what I was mad about to begin with! This happens to us all. This reaction is our natural reaction, our basic instinct.
A Better Way
Let’s look at it another way and see if you can produce a different outcome. Let’s say your child is behaving badly. How do you react? You remain calm because you are the adult. You do not let your child see you sweat for one second. Your voice is calm. What are you implying to your child in this case? I am your parent and I will handle this situation and I will do so with ease and patience.
This is not an easy task by any means. It is much easier to go straight to their level, but that’s when you hear your mother’s voice in your head and you say things you thought you’d never say, like “Because I said so!”
THE 5 REASONS to LOVE BAD BEHAVIOR
Every time your child misbehaves, try to remember why this could be a positive situation.
1. You are given the chance to model proper problem solving skills to your children. If you handle your children through harsh words and anger, how do you think they will handle problems as they become older? You are your children’s biggest role model.
2. You are given the opportunity to teach your child a life lesson. This is a chance for you to help him and it could be something that he carries with him forever.
3. Bad behavior opens the door for communication between you and your child. This could be a time when your child needs to talk and the behavior is a result of something else. Don’t waste an opportunity to talk to your child and listen.
4. You get a clean slate with every misbehavior. You may not have ever thought of this but every time your child misbehaves, you get a chance to start over. This is your time as a parent to mean what you say and do what you mean.
5. You are reminded that it’s not easy being a parent and it can be very frustrating at times. But at the end of the day, when that little face looks up at you like no one else can… you are again reminded that you are blessed beyond words.
Christina Dalton, MSSW, CSW, is a freelance writer.