Is that normal? Do other children act like this? What should I do when he acts like this?!
Parents, how often have these thoughts run through your mind? If you are anything like me, or the parents I work with every day- then you are no stranger to this feeling of bewilderment about your child! To help you navigate these land mines of parenting- we have compiled our Top 5 Strategies for modifying your child's most challenging or embarrassing behaviors...
Ignore Unwanted Behaviors!
This can be the most challenging strategy of all- but arguably the most important! Children LOVE attention- some even love negative attention. Often times, unwanted behaviors are unintentionally reinforced through this recurrent loop of giving your child attention when they are engaging in unwanted behaviors. So, remember- unless your child is hurting themselves or someone else- ignore, ignore, and then ignore some more!
Most children also suffer from a severe case of FOMO (fear of missing out). Parents you can use this to your advantage by moving along and playing without them. When they see how much fun you are having without them, they are much more likely to move on from their tantrum and join in play with you.
Praise Desired Behaviors!
Praise is often the most forgotten behavior modification strategy and it's oh so effective! I can't tell you how many times I see a parent constantly correcting their child for what they are doing wrong but never praising them for what they are doing right! As a general rule of thumb, for every correction you give- catch your child doing something right (even if you have to look REALLY hard) and praise them for a job well done!
Another easy trick is setting up token economies. Explicitly illustrate for your child what the expected behaviors are and reward them with stickers or tokens for displaying those behaviors. Your child can trade these stickers in later for a larger prize. Make sure you don't go over board at first- target just a few behaviors at a time to ensure you are setting your child up for success!
Set Time Limits!
Being mad, sad, or a little cranky is perfectly normal and setting time limits for these emotions can help your child learn how to not let small problems ruin their entire day! You can say- "We are starting our timer and we will have 5 minutes to be angry- when the timer goes off we are going to ______________." Let your child see the timer and hopefully they will begin to calm down as the time disappears. This strategy is best used for small problems as it is unreasonable to think your child can overcome the emotions of a big problem in 5 or 10 minutes.
An oldie but goodie is the count down from 10! Explicitly state what you expect and what the consequence will be for not meeting that expectation and then start counting down from ten. This is SO helpful for transitioning from fun tasks to not so fun work. Be sure to stick to your word and implement said consequence if they can't get it together by a count of 10 (sometimes I give half counts if I see the child is really making an effort).
Always mean what you say and say what you mean! Children learn quickly if you don't stick to your word and they are more likely to push the envelope if they think they can get away with it!
This one is not for the faint of heart- but can be incredibly important for children who are particularly stubborn. Plan to trigger your child when you know that you will be in a safe place with no specific time line to adhere to that day. You will have all day to implement these behavior modification techniques without the pressure of public opinion or staying on schedule. Remember to ignore those negative behaviors and tantrums while modeling appropriate behavior or play throughout the day. This will be a hard day for you both- but it will start to teach your child that throwing a tantrum and displaying inappropriate behaviors is not an effective means of getting what they want.
In general parenting can be a tough job and I personally think the most important job out there! So- stick to your guns, stay calm, and parent on!