Most parents at some stage are driven to distraction by one or more of their children’s annoying habits or behaviours, whether it is a toddler who continually whines, a school-aged child who leaves clothes lying around or a teenager who uses a less than pleasant vocabulary.
How to affect change is a challenge for many parents. Do you ignore a child’s annoying behaviour or do you pick up on it? A useful rule of thumb is to pick up on behaviours that are dangerous to the child himself or significantly infringe on the rights and comfort of others.
Also ask yourself: Is this behaviour reasonable for the child’s age? For instance, it is reasonable to expect an eight year old not to disturb you while you are on the phone for twenty minutes but it is not reasonable to expect the same of a two year old.
It is also useful to take into account the child’s current state of mind and what is going in on their lives that may be related to some unusual behaviour to occur at home.
The following four principles for changing your child’s behaviour will be effective if you are both patient and persistent.
Principle one: Change your initial response first. This is important because children’s behaviour generally requires a pay-off, which may be your attention or an attempt to defeat you. The most important principle about changing children’s behaviour is to change your own behaviour first. So if your child’ whines (a child's version of water torture) to get his own way refrain from answering back or giving in.
Principle two: Practise with your child the behaviour that you want. The notion of behaviour rehearsal is fundamental to learning a new behaviour. Don’t just tell kids what you expect, get them to practise the behaviour you want. In the example of a young whiner - get him to practise asking for help or a treat in a normal voice.
Principle three: Minimise the behaviour you don’t want. That means when children continue their old behaviour despite your brilliant suggestions ignore it, sidestep it or implement a consequence but don’t nag or harp on it. Remember it takes time often to change a behaviour, particularly if it has been happening for a long time.
Principle four: Spotlight the appropriate behaviour. When your children behave in the desired way show your sincere appreciation. We often take children for granted or rather we are trained to give children no attention when they are good, but plenty when they are less than perfect. The behaviours we focus on expand so we need to focus our attention on desirable behaviours more than on the negative behaviours. For our young whiner it is essential to make a fuss when he uses a normal voice to get what he wants.
Like any process it will only work if you stick to it and follow it through. And don’t be afraid to adapt it to suit your circumstances. Remember, it is the fact that you have a plan rather than the nature of the plan that is most powerful in achieving a change in your children’s behaviour.
For practical ideas to make children's irritating behaviours such as whining, nagging, tantrums and sibling fighting disappear read Michael Grose's ground-breaking book - One Step Ahead. It is available at the shop at www.parentingideas.com. au
Michael Grose, a popular parenting expert, shows you practical ways to raise happy, confident, well-behaved kids and resilient teenagers. Improve children’s confidence and behaviour now and get Michael’s free ebook ’25 ways to speak so children will listen’ at http://www.parentingideas.com.au . While you are there subscribe to Happy Kids newsletter and get regular updates to build your 21st Century parenting manual.