“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”
In December, I was really stumbling with my youngest’s toddler-gone-wild behavior.
As a teacher, I have easy access to experts in behavior management. So, I reached out to our special education teacher, knowing she’d taken a course on parenting. She could not have been more helpful – listening, relating, offering peace of mind, and schooling me on a technique to eliminate unwanted behavior. She gave me a handout and told me about the corresponding book, Parent Talk, which I promptly primed on Amazon.
Here’s what I learned:
- The first step is to call the undesired behavior by name. This is the stop.
- The second part of the red light lets the kiddo know that this doesn’t work for you and why.
- The last step is the go behavior. This step teaches the child the behavior that does work for you.
Pick one behavior (just one!) and go for it. Red light, green light … go for it!
I picked hitting.
Here’s my script: Stella, that’s hitting. We don’t hit in this family. Stella, use your words. In our family, use words. Words help, hitting hurts.
Broken down the format is as follows:
- Name the child and behavior: Stella, that is hitting.
- Statement one or two: We don’t hit in this family or hitting doesn’t work with me.
- Because/reason: Hitting hurts.
- New behavior: In our family, we use words. Words help, hitting hurts. (Provide your child with an example of a peace-making statement).
I wrote my script on an index card and rehearsed it. I ran it past my friend at school for editing. I practiced it in my head and in front of the mirror (total nerd!). I modeled how I wanted to look and sound, so when the hitting happened, I could keep a this-is-how-it-is tone.
It may sound nutty to carry around a card as a crutch, but the hitting irked me and raised my desire to yell back (stop hitting!!!!!). There is no win in a pissing match with a four-year old.
Clearly, I didn’t want to yell. I know that warm tones work; agitated ones do not. Yet it takes practice. It seems that the road to becoming a better parent requires mastering techniques for changing not only our children’s behavior, but our own (sometimes A LOT harder :))
My first attempt was met with resistance. “Stop it,” she said firmly, starring at me with her hands on her hips. “Stop it, mommy.”
Ooooooh. Repeat. I tried again … calmly, refraining from an aggravated, impatient tone. I’m the adult here.
From there, I try to respond the same way every.time. You have to be a first-time responder, sending the message that each time this behavior pops up it will be met with the same script.
It’s a learning process for the child and you’ll need to repeat.repeat.repeat. until it sinks in that hitting really doesn’t work for you. The key is consistency – respond the same way the first time and the 14th time. This is so flipping hard, but statements like “I’ve told you this a hundred times,” or “How many times do I have to tell you to stop hitting” focus on the past behavior instead of the right-now behavior.
Frankly though, hitting is easy to curb. It’s a clear behavior that is not okay. But some behaviors are much difficult to define.
The biggest shift for me is making sure my statement reflects a behavior and not a judgment. It’s a simple shift, but a big one.
For example, rude = judgment.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said, “That’s rude.” But what is rude? Rude is general and abstract en même temps. Rude is a judgment. Yet flipped into behavior terms, rude could be a put-down or backtalk or an interruption. Those are clear behaviors, not judgments.
Instead of “that’s rude,” I’ve learned to say, “that’s backtalk” or “that’s interrupting.” It’s the behavior rather than a judgment.
I catch myself many times at home and at school needing to make a soft right from judgment to behavior. It helps me to to talk through – with a co-worker, my husband – what is bothering me, what is not working, and what I want to achieve.
What behavior is a struggle for you? Could you use this tactic?
P.S. If you want to dive deeper into Parent Talk, here’s the link.
Ciao for now.
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