Anybody got a wipe?
What happens when you ask this question in a group of moms? Multiple packs of wipes are thrust at you, right?
By the time our kids reach six months, we all know the essential baby tools we need in our bags, and most of the time we don’t leave home without them.
Our kids have essential tools, too. But theirs are the learned behavior patterns they activate to get what they need, or want. (Good luck explaining the difference to a 3-year-old! Or a 13-year-old for that matter…)
Instead of well-stocked diaper bags, they have a bag of tricks. I like to think of it as a cute little backpack stuffed with some colorful behavior options like these:
- Crying when we refuse to let them watch another TV show
- Pestering to gain access to the iPad
- Using best manners to ask for a sweet treat
- Tantruming to get something in the toy aisle
- Giving compliments before asking for a playdate
What’s In Your Child’s Backpack?
There are three components of child behavior.
We call them the ABCs. They are:
- Antecedent (what happens before the behavior)
- Consequence (what happens as a result of the behavior—good or bad).
When kids first try one of these behavior tricks, the consequence is what determines whether or not it goes into the backpack.
Did the behavior work? Did they get what they needed or wanted? If so, they’ll tuck that trick away in the backpack for future use. Guaranteed.
The more often a tactic like tantruming or pestering works, the more variations of it they’ll develop and keep in that backpack.
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
Most children pack away socially-appropriate behavior patterns, too. But if tantrums work better, they’ll take up more space in the backpack.
They may initially ask nicely for more TV time. But if those good manners don’t work, they’ll reach back into the pack to try something else. That’s all they have to work with.
Even though it’s dinner time, and they’re tired and hungry, they think what they need is more TV. Hmmm. That tantrum worked pretty well in the grocery store last week, let’s try that. Or maybe whining. That did the trick at the church dinner last weekend…
It’s not malicious. They’re just doing what they know. That’s the simple truth behind behavior.
We Can Unpack the Old Behavior Patterns
Has your child ever packed his or her own suitcase for a trip? I have several hilarious photos of what my daughter thought was appropriate for a weekend away. Suffice to say, there were no clean socks, underwear, or shoes.
My point is, as Boss Parents, we have to actively consider what skills our kids are carrying around, what they lack, and what upgrades we can provide them.
Upgrading their behavior skills is a two-part process. First, we have to reduce the amount and intensity of inappropriate behaviors. Especially if those are your child’s go-to behaviors.
To do this we have to create boundaries by:
- Not giving in to pestering, whining, or allowing disrespectful language
- Never caving during tantrums
- Directly and definitively addressing aggression
If you’re not sure where to draw the boundaries, I recommend considering whether the need your child is trying to meet is appropriate or inappropriate, and whether the behavior is appropriate or not. (I’ve written about this extensively here.)
When we hold the boundaries consistently, the disruptive behaviors will no longer work for our children. But we also have to teach them plenty of appropriate behaviors that do work, to replace the old tricks. That’s the other part of the process.
Kids live in the moment and most don’t have great impulse-control yet. (Do any of us, really? Hello, chocolate!). So we need to load up those backpacks with positive scripts, alternative ways to express anger, and positive associations. Then when they want something and reach into the backpack, chances are they’ll eventually latch on to a strategy that’s acceptable to everybody.
How Exactly Do We Put New Behaviors in the Backpack?
Good question. The short answer is we have to teach them new behaviors.
The longer answer is that we “rehearse” the new behavior—just like actors on a stage. It may sound a little dorky, but it works. Trust me.
Examples of rehearsal include:
- Making a child ask again “with your big girl voice”
- Requiring a re-do if your child snatches a toy from another kid
- Giving scripts for appropriate ways to request things or express anger
- Demonstrating good manners on a regular basis
Rehearsal can be used to address ANY behavior situation, which is why it’s one of the first things I teach my consulting clients and classes. And it’s why I included it in a new short course, called Boss Parent Tips.
Starting this week, all new Boss Parent subscribers will automatically receive this free, seven-part course. And we’ll begin sending the tips to existing subscribers later this week.
The course consists of seven of my best, most practical strategies for managing child behavior. These are simple tips parents can begin using immediately—even before they fully understand the fundamental concepts of child behavior.
The Boss Parent Tips will fill your bag of tricks with:
- An amazing system that ends sharing disputes
- Strategies to inspire more cooperation from children
- Parenting scripts that work in tough situations
- An air-tight safety response to teach kids
- A simple way to bring positivity to interactions
- What child-care professionals know about toy-rotation
- Everything you need to know about rehearsals
If you haven’t already, you can register below, or learn more here.
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About the Author
Lisa King is the co-founder of Boss Parent. She also provides parents with in-person and remote child behavior consulting.