Hi there! The next tip on our parenting series comes from psychologist and parenting expert, Alan Kazdin. His vast research was of special interest to a research group I belonged to as an undergraduate and I got hooked onto his work when I read some of his published studies. I later utilized some of his techniques while working as a behavior modification specialist.
So let’s cover how to help our little sprouts to be better behaved! Alan Kazdin’s premise to getting your child to do what you want him to do is based on the following: the behavior that you give attention to, whether positive (praise, affection) or negative (yelling, nagging), is what you will see more of.
Think of it this way, you are the world to your little ones; they want to be with, be like, and be acknowledged by you. The second that they can get your attention, they will continue doing what it is that made you react. Let me give you an example from my own life with my not-so-little 16-month old boy, JT. Like many kids his age, he is obsessed with throwing his food at meal times, and I’ll be the first to admit that it really annoys me – I mean who wants to clean up sweet potatoes off the walls or rice 6 feet away from the high chair? I’ve noticed that when I’ve raised my voice, he turns as far around as he can in his high chair (so I can’t take the food out of his hands) and throws it even further than he did before. And then proceeds to throw more food, the little stinker!
So what can we do to get naughty behavior to decrease?
1. There’s a lot of wisdom to the saying “Catch Them Being Good“. You are more likely to see your child continue to be nice to their sibling when you acknowledge how well they are playing together than when you yell at her to stop pinching her baby brother. Similarly, your child will remember the feeling of pride in themselves when you genuinely thank them for keeping their room clean, and will want to elicit that positive attention from you again – this is preferable to your kiddos wanting to get your attention by talking back and whining when you tell them to stop leaving their toys out. So remember to highlight good behavior whenever possible!
2. This is where being specific about the behavior you’re praising comes in handy- it gives your child a clear picture of what you want to see more of. (If you missed our previous post on how to praise your kids effectively click here for more info –> (praise post) ). Kazdin calls this the “positive opposite“- kids can’t read minds- so tell them what you actually want them to do instead of what you need them to stop doing.
For example, instead of telling my little boy to stop throwing his food, I should praise him for his efforts in trying to get most of his food in his mouth or for how carefully he scoops each spoonful. Surprise, surprise! When I’ve employed the “positive opposite” at meal times, I’ve had to do less cleanup!
3. Along this line, I’ve also come to experience the power of Ignoring Minor Misbehavior, as Kazdin puts it. This one is hard for parents because our kids can really rile us up with their whining, complaining, and talking back! But it’s important that kids learn that this off-putting behavior is ineffective at getting our attention (while positive behavior gets noticed!). I recently saw a prime example of this at the park: a little girl was upset that her friend’s toy megaphone was a pretend toy, not a real one that magnified her voice. She began lightly whining about it but quickly threw a full on tantrum when her mother gave her attention and peppered her with “What’s wrong?”, “Want a snack?” “Need a hug?” “It’s pretend, it’s ok!”. Ignoring the behavior could have kept the tantrum at bay, but if the girl indeed needed some re-directing a powerful way to do so would be in a neutral tone of voice/manner. You can often act unimpressed and disinterested (even bored!) when minor misbehavior happens and your little sprout will still get the message that they won’t get your attention with their whining (but if you can ignore this behavior, do so!)
A caveat with ignoring minor misbehavior: Note that “minor” is key. If behavior is dangerous or hurting someone you should not ignore it but instead immediately stop it and give consequences (the latter is a topic for another post;)).
When you first implement new methods of discipline, the behavior often gets worse before it gets better – it’s your little ones’ way to see if you’re really committed! Stick with it and your child will eventually get used to it, consistency is key!
Have you used any of these tips with your little sprout? We’d love to hear your story, let us know how things turned out in the comments!