Behavior Management Series: Consequences

This post is part of a series on behavior management. The preceding post can be found HERE.

consequences

One of the crucial jobs of every parent is to teach a child about consequences.

Every behavior has a consequence. Every choice your child will ever make will have at least one consequence. Some consequences are good. Some are bad. Some are neutral. Nonetheless, children need to understand that every choice has consequences. This is what will make them mature and responsible adults.

How do children learn this crucial concept? You, the parent, must tell them. And then back up your words with actions.

It’s finally time to get down to business. Let’s talk about what to do with those problem behaviors. Let’s talk consequences.

Although it’s true that every behavior comes with a consequence, not every consequence will matter to a child. Take, for example, your college-self (or the college-self of someone you know, since you would never, ever do something like this…). You knew that one more drink would guarantee a bad morning, but, hey, you didn’t really have anything important going on the next morning anyway, right? The consequence was not effective to alter your behavior. Thus, in order for a consequence to to be effective, it must alter behavior. There are three key components to formulating effective consequences.

1. Consequences must be immediate. This means that when the problem behavior happens, you must respond immediately. Consequences can not wait until you are able to take a break, until there is a commercial break in your favorite show, or until Daddy gets home from work. They must happen immediately. This means that you need to have predetermined consequences in mind. Otherwise, you may fail to offer a consequence simply because you do not know what to do in the heat of the moment. Sit down with your list of targeted behaviors and determine what the consequences will be for each behavior. This will empower you to immediately address the problem behavior when it rears it’s ugly head. Certainly, there are times when it may not be possible to issue a consequence immediately. If this is truly the case, firmly inform your child that the consequence will be issued. As soon as you return home, or to another appropriate place where you can offer your consequence, remind the child exactly what he did to earn this consequence. Yes, his behavior earned the consequence. It is crucial to make that connection. The younger the child is, the more effort it will take to make this connection. But don’t fool yourself, even big kids can convince themselves that you are some arbitrary consequence-dispensing machine, and completely sever the connection between their behavior and the consequences you impose. As such, make sure you’re clearly connecting the behavior to the consequence for children of all ages – even if it seems too elementary for your child. 

2. In order to help children form the connection between behavior and consequence, consequences should be logical. This simply means that, when possible, the punishment should fit the crime. If Suzy colors on the wall, perhaps part of her punishment should be helping clean the wall. That’s logical. My favorite logical consequence at our house is “statue practice.” Any offense that is the result of poor bodily self-control earns “statue practice.” For statue practice, my littles stand at attention against the wall. They must be still and silent, like statues. We have times designated by offense, with some, but few, exceptions based on age. (We simply do not use the “one minute per year of age” rule. That was never effective for us.) Time starts over if the statue fails to remain statuesque. This is a logical consequence because, by being a statue, the child is learning to master the bodily self-control they demonstrated as lacking by their offense.

3. Finally, and most importantly, consequences must be meaningful to your child. It doesn’t do any good to take away Johnny’s truck as a consequence when he has 30 more in the closet. Nor does it make sense to confiscate Judy’s iPad, when she still has an iPhone and a laptop to use in its place. These consequences may slightly annoy your child, but they aren’t meaningful enough to get the message across. Yes, what I’m telling you is that your child needs to genuinely dislike the consequence which you are imposing. Don’t play nice. Pull out the big guns. They need to suffer a little bit. If this is a behavior that you really want to stop, you need to issue a consequence that sends that message. What is your child’s favorite possession? That’s probably what you need to use to effectively alter the problem behavior. It may be uncomfortable to cause that kind of discomfort for your child, but you need to suck it up. This is where I bring in the well-known”spare the rod; spoil the child.” I’m not literally using a rod, but my resolve must be as firm as a rod. Without such resolve, I will indeed spoil my children.

Sit down with your spouse and other caregivers and look at your list of targeted behaviors. Then, review the three components of effective consequences. Assign a consequence to each behavior, so you are prepared to act immediately. It’s ok if the same consequence gets used for multiple behaviors, just make sure to always connect the consequence to the original behavior. Say something like, “Tommy, you will not be permitted to use electronic devices for the rest of the day because you______________.” Do you understand? When you chose to __________, you chose to accept the consequences of ____________. Every time you _________, you will loose access to your electronics.”

It is also a good idea to keep a go-to consequence in your back pocket for any unique misbehaviors that may occur. These may not alway be logical, but it keeps you from scrambling for a consequence when something unexpected occurs. This could be writing lines or writing definitions of positive character traits/virtues. It could be “time out.” It can be anything your child views as unpleasant and that you can dish out immediately.

Please be aware: your children will test you. In most cases, the targeted behavior will get worse before it gets better. This does not mean you are failing; it means your child is pushing it to see if you’re really serious. Stand firm. Issue your consequence every time. Remember, “spare the rod; spoil the child.”

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Behavior Management Series: Delight in Your Children

This post is part of a series on behavior management. The preceding post can be found HERE.

words to praise a child

I can imagine that the title of this post may have caused you to pause. You’ve been working on your list, and maybe you’ve even identified what behaviors you want to start working on. You’re excited and ready to go. So why am I talking about delighting in your children? If you were delighted with them, you probably wouldn’t be reading this series, would you?

When I was working in outpatient services, I used to teach parent skills training classes. The first lesson in the curriculum we presented was about spending quality time with your kids. I’m sure you can imagine the reaction of parents who were so desperate to get their child’s behavior under control when a 20-something girl with a total of 6 months of real parenting experience announced that the first lesson was about quality time. It was usually quite a challenge to get them to focus. They just wanted to know how to punish their kids and get the bad behavior to stop.

Despite the gut reaction of nearly every parent I ever worked with, I believe that curriculum was starting on the right foot. Remember, discipline means “to teach.” How easily can you to learn from someone whom you don’t respect? For me, it’s not easy. The point of the lesson in that curriculum, and my point by starting with something similar, it to begin building respect.

Granted, children should respect their parents simply because of their position. However, children aren’t born this way. They have to be taught. As such, you can demand respect, which likely won’t be more than lip service on their part, or you can earn their respect and actually have it.

Certainly, respect is multi-faceted. In order to be respectable in your children’s eyes you will need to be fair, reliable, and a person of your word. However, I think the very best way to make the most progress with your children in the shortest amount of time is to ensure your children know you delight in them.

This isn’t wishy-washy, self-esteem building, mumbo jumbo. However, a child who knows his parents delight in him likely will be more confident than one who does not. This is simply parenting modeled after our heavenly Father, Him from whom our earthly parenthood is derived. (cf. Ps 149:4) Undoubtedly, God demands our obedience (1 Sam 15), but he loves us and delights in us even while we are still sinners (cf. Rom 5:8).

So how can you show your children you delight in them? No matter how bad their behavior is right now, I know you do. Think of those quiet moments after they’re all asleep. You go in their room to cover them up, and sheer delight in your children overcomes you. You could stand there all night drinking in the incomparable love of parenthood. But how do you show that in the daytime, especially when you may not feel like it. Here are a few ideas:

  1. Cheerfully greet your children each morning. It’s been hours since you saw them last. Act excited to see them. This one used to be especially hard for me because I’m not a morning person. I can’t think of anyone that I would genuinely delight in seeing in the morning. But parenting isn’t about me, it’s about them. Each morning I greet them with a squeal and a smile and tell them how happy I am to see them. They love this. In fact, now, they present themselves in front of me, like a gift, waiting to see my delight. It’s so cute.
  2. Praise your children liberally, genuinely, and specifically. Your children do so many amazing things every day. Make an effort to notice these things, and tell your kids how awesome they are. Praise the ingenuity of that newest lego creation, the selflessness of sharing a favorite toy, the progress in an academic area. Every time you notice something smart, charming, sweet, amazing, whatever about your children, tell them about it.
  3. Let your children hear you praise them to other people. When Daddy gets home from work, tell him all about the good behavior or clever creations of your children. Call grandma just to tell her how awesome one of the kiddos is doing. While chatting with your neighbor, talk about how hard your child is working on his science project. Anything will work. But make it genuine!
  4. Catch your kids doing good things. Tell them it makes you proud to see them in action. Tell them they should be proud of themselves.
  5. Listen to your kids’ stories. Really listen to them. This can be trying – whether it’s imaginary battles from a 5-year-old boy or friendship drama from a middle school girl, listening to your kids’ stories can be difficult, especially if you’re tired or frustrated or stressed out. Make the effort to step outside yourself and listen to what they’re sharing with you. Ask questions to show you’re listening and care about what they’re saying.

This list isn’t exhaustive, but it will get you off to a great start. Letting your children know you delight in them will change the whole environment of your home. Kids love to please their parents (Even big kids. Even though they would never admit it.), so letting them know they are makes a really big difference. Infusing your home with this kind of positivity not only feels good for everyone involved, it will also cut down on any attention seeking behaviors that are currently taking place. If your kids are acting our solely for attention, you will now be providing them with that attention they are craving, allowing them to behave better.

Cultivating an atmosphere of respect, making your home a more positive environment, and eliminating attention seeking behavior – Yes, I definitely believe delighting in your kids is a winning start to effective behavior management.

Next up in the series: Consequences

Behavior Management Series: Target Problem Behaviors

This post is part of a series on behavior management. The preceding post can be found HERE. 
 

kidsfighting-cartoon

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.

Anyway…

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

Behavior Management Series: What Is Discipline?

Believe it or not, I’m just now starting to have “mommy friends.” I’ve spent the first 7 years of my parenting career mostly as a lone ranger, not having many other friends with kids. The more mommies I get to know, the more I realize what a gift my background in psychology really is. It’s something I’ve always enjoyed, something I’m passionate about even, but now I see what a gift it has been to my parenting. Realizing that what I’ve learned over the years isn’t necessarily common knowledge, I thought I’d write a few posts  about behavior management. Most of the practical knowledge I have comes from my time working at Youth Villages Center for Intensive Residential Treatment and from the outpatient skills training I lead at Denton County Mental Health and Mental Retardation Center. Of course, some of my knowledge comes from book work, as the majority of classes I chose to complete my psychology major were in some way related to children. Several mommies have asked me questions recently about my children’s behavior and what we do at home. Because of that, I thought sharing what I know may prove helpful to others.

Master effective discipline so you don't constantly feel like an angry circus-master.

Mastering effective discipline allows you to be yourself instead of an angry circus-master.

I think the first thing one must understand when realizing a need for behavior management is what discipline really is. The word gets a bad rap. I’m not sure why. My guess is that it stems from a misunderstanding about either (1) what discipline really is or (2) what children really need to thrive. I’d like to clear up both problems.

The word discipline derives from a Latin word that means “to teach.” Teaching is the goal of effective discipline. I don’t think anyone would argue with that. Parents discipline their child(ren) in order to teach them some kind of lesson about life. How one goes about teaching these lessons is where the controversy arrises.

Some would claim that the only way to discipline a child is through a good ol’ fashioned spanking. You know, “spare the rod, and spoil the child.” Others are so obsessed with psychological correctness and developing adequate self-esteem in their child that they believe no discipline should be used, ever. They believe children instinctively know what they need and that children can lead the way. Both of these approaches, especially as extremes, are unacceptable and ineffective methods of behavior management.

The former teaches with fear. Fear is not a successful motivator. Spanking, used alone, is simply not an effective technique. It can not be done consistently enough or provide the proper motivation for truly effective behavior management. It the future, I will talk more about consistency as well as what schedules of reinforcement provide the most motivation for a child.

The later is just silly. I don’t know where this came from. I don’t care what’s trendy, reality wins out. Children need to be molded into well-rounded, decent citizens. They aren’t born that way. They are born completely self-centered and self-obsessed. That is a good thing for an infant. One of the many tasks of parenting is helping children move past this self-centerdness so they can function in the world.

Good discipline forms children. It creates people with character; people who are responsible; people who are respectful. Children need this. Otherwise they become the spoiled, selfish 20-somethings who bring their pets to job interviews because they have no concept of how to control their desires in favor of what’s appropriate.

I want to end with a word of encouragement. Parenting is supposed to be a joyous. If it’s not joyous for you, if you dread the moment when your children wake up or when you have to take them out in public, something is not functioning properly. I’m not saying parenting is easy. Quite the contrary. Parenting is hard. And good parenting is the hardest. But it’s well worth it. By properly disciplining your child, you get to discover who they really are, instead of only knowing them for their behavior.  Properly disciplining your child will bring out the best in both you and him. It allows for an environment in which all involved can really thrive.

Next Post in the Series: Target Problem Behaviors