“I don’t know how many times I have told you not to touch my computer! That is why I bought you your own tablet, so that you don’t touch my computer anymore. You just don’t listen, you’re stubborn and hard-headed. You think I have money to buy another computer if you mess this one up? I’m tired of repeating myself, really I am. Hey, why are you looking away? See how disrespectful you are? That’s it, go to your room right now!”
Does this sound familiar? Parents that use “sermon type” discipline methods to get their young children to be compliant, may be doing more harm than good, and in the process extinguishing their child’s desire to change their behavior. Seriously, by the time a parent reaches the second sentence in the above example, their child’s brain has already reached far into the edges of another galaxy. Yes, thoughts travel really fast. Research shows that children can only process about one, or two sentences in thirty seconds. After that threshold, a child literally begins to tune out. So most of the blah, blah, blah , evaporates into thin air without even being processed. So then, what are parents to do with children that just don’t listen? Simple, strategize.
Labeling Children Makes it Worse
Tons of precious saliva could be saved if parents, or teachers addressed their issues with children in an objective and respectful manner. Creating an action plan, is way more practical, than going on a tongue marathon. Calling a child demoralizing names; stubborn, hard-headed, etc., only serves to humiliate the child, and doesn’t really leave much room for change. What is worse, this form of verbal abuse can scar a child for life. Consequently, for children to improve their behavior, they must first feel highly regarded by their parents, and caregivers. Only then, will children be willing to make changes.
When a child is called stubborn, the child literally believes, not that you think he’s unpleasant, but that he actually is unpleasant. Sometimes adults don’t realize that what they say to a child, may might as well be written on a piece of slab stone, for in a child’s eyes adults are infallible. On this account, a string of reprimands just serves to reinforce the message: “I REALLY DON’T LIKE YOU!” From this perspective it stands that a child will find no reason as to why he should even try to change his behavior, since after all, he has already been labeled. Sadly, children tend to live up to the labels appointed to them by oblivious adults. However, the contrary is also true. When a child feels loved and respected by the adults around him, he will do his upmost to please them, and to live up to his well-established, good reputation . In my work with children, I’ve come to realize that for the most part, the children who have been labeled by their own parents as being disrespectful and stubborn, are the ones that will bring down the moon for me.
A Real Plan of Action
So what’s my secret formula? There is no secret formula. The remedy has always been at our disposal from the dawn of ages. Love, joy, patience: these are the three key ingredients. Do unto children what you would like children to do unto you. Love your children and they will love you back. Give them respect, and they will return it double fold. Treat them like crap, and you would have created a monster, that will make sure you end up in the grave well before your time. So when I say, love, I mean love as in a verb, not a noun!
Show children that you love them by, hugging them, playing with them, forgiving them, having patience with them, and training them. Do not play “control freak,” but don’t be overly permissive. When I come across children that exhibit behavioral problems, the first thing I do, is observe them with eagle eyes. Nothing escapes the radar of my laser sharp vision. Yet, I’m not on the hunt for bad behavioral traits, but for those good qualities that I know all children naturally possess. Once I have identified a child’s unique good qualities, I use this knowledge to build my plan of action. First on the list, is a plan to build their self esteem and self appreciation by praising them for the positive things that they do, and any behavioral improvements small as they may be. I also make it my mission to give plenty of back pats, and cheek squeezes throughout the day. I also spend valuable time with them, perhaps painting a picture with them, or playing a game. After a few weeks, of intense love therapy, as I warmly call it, I start noticing changes in behavior. They may be very subtle at first, but sooner or later a new child resurfaces. These children are now more compliant of our daycare rules, more social, and much more kind. Suddenly they want to help in everything, “Mrs. Monique, can I help you clean the tables?” That is the Eureka moment. In my book, Making Sense of Children Senses-Relaxation Strategy for the Chaotic Classrooms, I spill the beans on all the methodologies that I personally apply in my work with children, including special activities focusing on relaxation, color schemes for designing therapeutic learning spaces, breathing techniques, visualization and more.
Of course, you may argue, that I have many years of experience working in early childhood field, and so dealing with discipline issues may be second nature to me. And you are right, the more you deal with children the more practical your approach to discipline becomes. However, that doesn’t mean that new parents, or preschool teachers, can not learn how to manage challenging behaviors. So, how do you switch from an obsolete form of discipline to a more practical one. Here are some tips:
- Be objective, not subjective. Take an objective, scientific approach when handling behavioral issues. Ask yourself objective questions concerning the maturity level, or temperament of the child involved. Appropriate questions could be: “Is the child really old enough to grasp directions? Is his sense of self-control fully developed, or is he still in the process of learning how to resist urges? Is the child just being defiant, or is there a deeper issue? Is it perhaps the child is seeking attention through negative reinforcement due to feelings of separateness? Is there a way to resolve the issue at hand, without it having to become a cause for constant reprimands? Are my expectations for this child reasonable?” When we deal with children objectively, we are better equipped to find solutions.
- Negotiate. Find ways to negotiate deals. Children can be proactive and participate in the solutions of their very own problems. Not every issue has to become a battle of power. Give in a little at times, it is ok to be flexible, this is not to be confused with being permissive.
- Use Complements and Rewards. Use rewards for positive behavior, and don’t forget the hefty praise effect. “Oh honey, I see that you really stuck to your promise of not touching mommy’s computer today, high five!” Then add: “Thank you, you see, I knew you could do it!” Complements for proper behavior can work wonders in modifying child behavior.
- Trust in them. Children need to know that when you ask them for something, you really trust that they can carry it out Children will do anything to please a person they know truly loves, trusts, and think highly of them.
- Be patient and forgiving. Even when they relapse ( and children often do) be forgiving and understanding of the shortcomings of children. Remember, that we were all once children. The goal is to make sure you have crossed out all solutions, before you have to take discipline to a higher level. For example, in the example with the computer, can the parent just remove the computer from the child’s reach? Maybe that solves the issue. How about closing all access to the computer by another means, a gate perhaps? Whatever we do, we should never make an art out of scolding and rebuking children. This doesn’t mean however, that there are never to be consequences for a child that has been asked respectfully and repeatedly to do something. Absolutely not, there is a time for everything under the sun, and sometimes we have to let children experience the consequences of their behavior.
Monique Rodriguez is a childcare specialist and daycare owner, with more than twenty years experience working with young children. She is also author of the book MAKING SENSE of CHILDREN’S SENSES –Relaxation Strategies for the Chaotic Classroom. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org