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