I was so excited to meet my nephew and watch him discover what life has to offer. We were enamored by his first words and loved to hear him giggle.. then came the pureed fruit packets. For weeks, his parents sternly told him, "No!" as he would spray the sauce from his mouth on to them. They were trying to change his behavior but were only reinforcing it. It wasn't until they decided to not acknowledge the bad behavior that it began to stop. Whether it's your first child or twelfth, knowing how to encourage good behavior and handle bad behavior is a learning process.
You are in luck! There are tools, tips, and strategies to help your child learn & develop:
Be the example
Practice what you preach! Although no parent is perfect, you can help your children develop healthy habits by performing them yourselves. Occasional opportunities for leading by example include blowing your nose with a tissue, speaking positively of yourself and others, or putting your shoes away. When emotions are high, there is a greater opportunity to teach by example: When the thought comes to raise your voice out of frustration, take some breaths or take a sip of water. By responding to your emotions in an appropriate manner, children may be more equipped to change their own behavior by reflecting yours.
Know when to respond
As long as the bad behavior has no risk of being dangerous to the child, try ignoring the behavior. Your child may be seeking a reaction and will continue to persist in the behavior. They may also experience natural consequences to their actions such as mashing up their crackers will leave them with no more crackers to eat.
Seek to understand & redirect behaviors
You have not been a child for many years, so it can be hard to put yourself in your child's shoes. Before immediately sending your child to time out, seek to understand why your child behaved in a certain way. Ask them questions and be willing to actively listen. Recognize that they may be acting out as a cry for your attention or reacting to emotions such as boredom. It could also be beneficial to redirect the behavior from one activity to another.
It can become easy to let the good go unnoticed and to focus on correcting bad behavior, but we all know how frustrating it is to not be recognized for good deeds. When you see your child pick up their toys, whether asked of them or not, let them know that you appreciate it! When they eat their veggies, give their sibling a hug, or say please, show them your gratitude. Kind words, especially from a trusted loved one, can be empowering and can reinforce the behavior.
Rules & consequences
Rules are a tool to help your child learn what is expected of them. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention presents the importance of rules, how to create family rules, and how to make the whole family aware. Rules should be clear and consistent; Help your child understand them. Consequences are a way to help your child learn the effects of their actions. If you tell your child that they cannot continue playing with a certain toy if they do not share and they are still unwilling, act on your word by removing the toy. Stay true to your word, but never discipline your child by taking away a need, e.g. a meal, from your child.
Learning how to encourage good behavior and respond to bad behavior takes time and patience. Implementing these strategies will help you in your endeavors!