Tips from a behavioralist
June 20, 2011 at 1:58 pm #24076
I have a lot of parents ask me about ways to change behaviors, and see similar trends to a lot of questions on this site. I have done 2-4 hour long parent workshops in the past and taught 16 hour teacher courses as well, but I think I can boil it down to a couple of concentrated tips that I hope you will find helpful:
- Give Options: In general I recommend letting children have choices as often as possible so that they feel like they are in charge of their own lives. However, the choices need to follow certain guidelines: Don’t offer more choices than years the child has been alive (minimum of 2 choices). Don’t offer a choice that you can’t live with ("put your shoes on or we are staying home" is more of a threat than a choice and if they choose to stay home, that better be okay). Keep control even when they make the choice (would you like to taste your chicken first or your veggies first; would you like to go to the grocery store first or the drug store first).
- Use consistent, "natural" consequences and rewards. If a behavior earns a consequence or reward one time, it needs to have the same or equivilent follow-up every time. Having a tantrum in the store when you just need milk should have the same consequence as when you have a cart full of groceries that took an hour to gather, so you need to think ahead of what consequences will work in similar circumstances. "Natural consequences" are ones that happen on their own or that follow closely with the offense that took place. If you jump on the couch after being told it isn’t safe, falling and hurting your head is a natural consequence…if they don’t fall a natural consequence could be that they have to sit on the floor for the rest of the evening so that you know they will be safe. Taking away play time because they use rude language or yell at you is not a natural consequence, but having them sit quietly and think about it until both parties are calmed down and then talking to you is something that naturally follows what they did. Finally, spanking is never a natural consequence, especially if you have a rule that they are not to fight or hurt others…many of us were raised being spanked, and I know that there are some on this site who use spanking, but it confuses young children when they are told not to hurt others and then their parents or caregivers use pain as a punishment.
- Be proactive in avoiding confrontations. If you know that your child doesn’t like going in from outside, give extra warning time and have something fun planned for the first few minutes inside (like a story or lemonade). If they hate to eat their veggies, experiment with dipping sauces or games (my daughter loves to be a dinosaur eating trees…or we give her all of the biggest pieces because; "surely her mouth isn’t big enough to fit that big old broccoli"). If shopping is a time of struggle, give them a job, like finding the right cereal or choosing which fresh fruit you will buy. 9 times out of 10 the behaviors that bother us the most are ones that happen consistently and can be prevented if we use our imaginations and act instead of reacting.
None of this is easy, all of it takes forethought and dedication to the process, but in the end it is worth it. Hope this is helpful and saves someone sitting through a 2-4 hour version of all this info.June 24, 2011 at 8:31 am #24078
Should have added that throughout the process the big message (when dealing with an inappropriate behavior) should always be; "I love you and I will always love you, but your behavior is not accesptable and we need to find a way to change it."
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