When seeking to improve the behavior of your children, you need to decide what you want to accomplish with your kids. You want them to behave. But what does behave mean to you?
Target one or two, but no more than three, behaviors where you really want to see improvement. If you feel like you have 50 areas that need improvement, don’t worry. You can snowball to those later. For now, just focus on a few key behaviors or attitudes. For me, my key behaviors are obedience and respect. These are admittedly broad behaviors. If you are just setting out on a behavior management journey, you will want to target very specific behaviors. The more specific, the more easily you can measure success for both you and your child. By choosing very specific behaviors, you will be able to see your child’s improvement more clearly, you will be able to feel more victorious in conquering problem behaviors, and you will be able to easily move on to the next behavior you wish to target.
If you’re not sure where to begin, try sitting down in the middle of a particularly grumpy moment. You know, one of those moments when you’re nearly positive that your children are either possessed or on drugs. One of those moments where all you want to do is run away screaming. One of those moments when you can’t fathom why you ever chose to have kids. Ok…I think you know what I’m talking about.
Sit down during one of those grumpy moments and write down all of the problem areas you can think of. Be as specific as possible. Suzie uses a rude tone. Jimmy and Johnny pick on each other. Sally doesn’t share. Larry colors on the wall. Etc, etc, etc. If you do this activity in a grumpy moment, you will be more likely to identify all the problems you’re dealing with.
Then, when you’re feeling slightly less grumpy pick your list back up. Now, to the best of your ability, add the cause of the problem behaviors. Suzie uses a rude tone when she doesn’t get her way. Jimmy and Johnny pick on each other when they’re bored. Sally doesn’t share the legos. Larry colors on the wall when I’m working on the computer. You may not be able to do this for every behavior. That’s ok. Keep watching for situations that trigger the particular behaviors you don’t like. Add them to the list as you observe them.
You may be lucky enough to be able to eradicate some problem behaviors simply by identifying the cause. For example, if Tommy gets really hyper while watching Lazy Town, you may choose to simply eliminate Lazy Town. In this example, if he doesn’t watch the show, the hyperactivity will cease to exist. There is nothing wrong with manipulating the environment to achieve your desired results. If fact, for a situation as clear as that, it would be foolish not to. Otherwise, you’re just creating more work for yourself.
Next, sit down with your list after the kids are in bed or at another quiet time when you can think. You may wish to include your spouse or other caregivers in this step. Make as many observations about your list as you can. Do you notice any patterns? Are there groups of similar behaviors? Are there groups of similar trigger situations? The more you know about what you’re dealing with, the more effective you will be.
Finally, prioritize your list. Choose your top problem behaviors. These behaviors will be your focus. Having these priorities does not mean you allow all other bad behavior to slide, it simply means that these behaviors are your primary focus. This will help tremendously when you struggle with consistency down the road. (Stay tuned for that fun challenge!)
Next time, we’ll start talking about what to do with these problem behaviors.
Happy list making!
Next post in the series: Delight in Your Children