Peaceful Parents, Happy Kids

How to raise self-disciplined, connected, happy humans

Your Child, Better Behaved in Three Days

Refocus your energy from negative to positive reinforcement.

"Children equate being loved with the reality of when we are there for them – when we really show up. And traditional methods have us showing up so much more when there are problems...Conventional wisdom tells parents that the time to emit more energy – that is, more emotion, more facial expression, more volume, and more intense relationship – is when things are going wrong. That’s a mistake, and a big one, because it puts our powerful parental energy to work growing more of the behaviors we actually want to see less of or not at all. Why water weeds?" -- Howard Glasser

Kids are a bit like little geiger counters. They live for our emotional energy -- positive or negative. So why, as parents, do we give most of our energy to what's going wrong? Even when we do catch our child doing something right, look at the amount of energy that's behind our responses to bad behavior ("How many times do I have to tell you?!") versus our positive acknowledgments ("Nice job, dear.")

Find a Therapist

Search for a mental health professional near you.

And we rarely give ourselves strokes for the hundreds of things we do right as parents. Instead, we berate ourselves for those times when we lose patience. But feeling bad inside doesn't help us feel emotionally generous toward our children; it just makes us more likely to come unglued next time.

I know, it's hard not to react when you're upset. But if you can stop watering weeds, and start watering flowers, you can transform your home into a garden. After all, what we focus on grows. How?

Try this experiment for three days:

Day 1.

Enthusiastically acknowledge everything you do right. Be your own cheerleader. Ignore the times you miss your goal, except to offer encouragement.

Why are we starting with you? Because you can only give your child what you have inside. Fill your own cup first! And, of course, continue this practice on Day 2, as you focus more on your child.

Day 2.

Respond with full presence and excited energy to every positive thing your child does. Set the bar low -- make it easy for him to succeed by rewarding any progress in the right direction with positive feedback.

Give him a big hug when he wakes up in the morning... If he dawdles, move him along with connection and enthusiasm.... See if you can make breakfast calm and connected so you're sending out positive energy... Thank her for handling the morning routine so beautifully, even though she does it every day... Tell him before school how much you're looking forward to seeing him at the end of the day... Listen closely at dinner as she regales you with tales about her day... .Tell him you noticed how much effort he put into his homework... Tell her you noticed her being nice to her brother (even if the rest of the evening she wasn't so nice) ... Thank him for taking his bath with only one reminder... Tell them how happy you are that you're blessed to be their parent.

Can't find anything good in what he's doing? Even the most badly behaved child has moments of good behavior. Your job is to find them and give them positive energy.

You can also share positive memories:

"I was just remembering that time you were so brave and..."

"Remember that time when your teacher was so impressed that you...?"

"You've always been the best at making your little sister smile. Why, I remember when....."

By the end of the day, you should see your child blossoming -- warming up to you and trying to cooperate. Not working? Maybe your child needs another day to believe you mean it. Keep this up tomorrow, as you also begin changing your approach to transgressions.

Day 3.

When your child misbehaves, set appropriate limits in a calm, flat tone instead of a heated, loud one. "The rule is____." "Please do ____ instead of ____" Then, follow up with a redirection or invitation that's warm and energetic: "But why don't you come help me do this instead?"

Notice you're setting the limits that need to be set. But you aren't giving negative energy to them. Instead, you're using the opportunity to give your child the positive energy of loving guidance and redirection.

By the end of the week, if you keep up these three habits, you'll see more of what you attended to, and less of what you didn't want in your relationship with your child. Before you know it, your home will be blooming.

Laura Markham, Ph.D., is the author of Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: How To Stop Yelling and Start Connecting.

more...

Subscribe to Peaceful Parents, Happy Kids

Current Issue

Dreams of Glory

Daydreaming: How the best ideas emerge from the ether.