Parenting is complicated. Equipping yourself with some new tools may make it simpler.
Anyone can be positive with their kids when the behavior picture has been pretty. But most of us with kids happen to know that this will not always be the case. I think it is useful for parents to have a plan for how to re-establish a positive tone and direction, when things get really ugly...When kids fail to respond the way we want and the general tone around the ranch has just gotten pretty negative in general. I'm talking about times when nothing seems to be working, but this strategy can also work on a normal good day as well.
1. Switch up: Remember, when you are unhappy with a situation, a reasonable goal should be to change direction. In this case, my suggestion is to relax, recognize that you can manage this, and get ready to trick your kids by catching them in the act...of being good. If you have been nagging them or are constantly needing to address problems, changing to a positive tone will be the last thing they expect, which means they will have to sit up and pay attention to what is going on.
2. Relax a bit: If you think you have been chiding, nagging, or otherwise "advising" your children an awful lot, take an uncharacteristically long break from doing so. I’m not telling you to run away from home or anything like that, but take a little time to yourself. 5-10 minutes could be enough. Just find your internal happy place and put on your best smile. Remember, changing behavior patterns is about changing tactics. You now have a plan.
3. Let’s try this again: Once you are ready to re-engage the kids, focus on identifying positive behaviors. Make sure to call the kids out by name when they are "caught being good." Mention specifically what they are doing, and praise the heck out of them (i.e. "Stan...I really like the way you are sharing with your sister. You're the man, Stan. You're the man [high-five Stan].)
4. Have fun and let the kids enjoy you again: Feel free to have fun with it, and by no means does your new approach to behavior have to be a secret to the kids. Children pick up on our negative feelings when things are not going well, and this can often amplify ongoing problems significantly. You might notice some interesting changes when the kids figure out what the new “game” is. I have even seen some really funny sibling rivalries established as kids try to out-do each other at being good. You might be pleasantly surprised.
5. Can’t seem to catch them: If you are still having difficulty finding something to praise, go ahead and help with gentle suggestions about what you would like to see them do. When they do it, praise them.
Feel free to give tangible rewards, but I caution you to make them small, cheap, and infrequent. You don’t want to turn a good thing into another expectation that ends up costing you in the long run. Use your voice and warm behavior as much as possible. If your kids haven’t been hearing much praise, they will likely respond well to it. Remember that a reward offered prior to the behavior is actually a bribe. Don't bribe your kids, just catch them being good and praise away. The goal is to get your kids to make better choices independently, without nagging or redirection. I will write more in my next post on how to select good, economical rewards. Best of luck!
Disclaimer: As I mentioned earlier, parenting can be complicated and difficult. Please understand that not all families are prepared to change tactics, and not all children will demonstrate the same preparedness for behavior change. If you feel that additional guidance may be necessary, please contact a family therapist in your area. If you are in the Lawrence, Kansas City, or Topeka area, you may contact me (firstname.lastname@example.org) for a free telephone consultation.
Brock Caffee, LCMFT is a Marriage and Family Therapist, licensed in California and Kansas. He has over a decade of practice experience. He has a private practice in Lawrence, KS. At home he has three children, three dogs, and a very patient wife.
The views expressed in this blog are meant to help foster perspective, to entertain, and to be fun when possible. Any intent to regard the blog as counseling or therapy constitutes misuse. Advice offered in the blog should be considered only if consistent with your family values and with advice given by your own mental health professionals. Please seek consultation with a mental health professional in your area if you experience distress or feel you are in crisis. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255.