Doesn’t everyone want well-behaved children? Are we doing our best to prepare our children for the world? Surely, as our children get older, we have less ability to inform their behavior and their decisions.
While they are still impressionable, it’s imperative that as adults, we educate ourselves on best-practice techniques for socialization. When it comes down to it, our aim is to help teach our children how to get along with others.
Most behavior is learned. A five-year old wants another stuffed character from the movie Frozen. Mom says, “No, you have enough.” The child will try throwing-a-fit for size. She screams, falls to the ground, and refuses to get up until she gets another Elsa doll.
A scene in the store ensues. The parent is embarrassed and feels helpless. The parent concedes and buys the girl what she demands in order for the chaos to cease. The child just learned that her behavior was reinforced. Hence, “If I tantrum, I get my way.”
Historically, there have been several various styles touted as “the way” to approach parenting. Some had validity and continue to be effective, just as others were an experimental exercise in failure.
From a socio-psychological standpoint, a variation of operant conditioning seems to be a successful basis for bringing forth desired behavior and reducing unwanted behaviors or responses. It can be one technique in your bag of tricks that may prove to be effective.
On That Condition…
In layman’s terms, operant conditioning is basically teaching behavior through reward or punishment. Establish the reward or consequences beforehand. For example, tell your son if he doesn’t study and gets a D on his next math test, you will take his computer/gaming privileges away for a week.
He gets a D, you take it; he doesn’t like this. Next test, he studies and gets a B because he doesn’t want to lose his computer. He’s now learned how to avoid punishment through adapted (improved/desired) behavior. However, negative reinforcement can also breed unwanted results.
OK, so your son got a B. But did he do it because he understands the importance of best effort? Not really. It may not even boost his confidence as a student or give him a sense of pride for doing a job well done. In fact, once that “consequence” is removed, will that “good” behavior remain? (When he goes to college and you can’t take away his computer, will he have learned to study or even care?)
There’s something about reward that tends to be a better overall motivator. When your boss gives you a raise, you feel more apt to continue to apply yourself at work. And, you feel acknowledged and appreciated. Our kids need that too.
Don’t Go Overboard
Beware, however, of over-rewarding or rewarding for a job half-assed. Our youngsters need to learn a sense of earning, but also disappointment. Not every effort in life is going to get a prize. Helping your child find coping skills for disappointment is just as valuable as teaching them a sense of gratitude for accomplishment and reward.
Here’s a brief list of effective tips for raising a well-behaved person:
1. Set boundaries and enforce them: Make them realistic and manageable.
2. Reward desired behavior: (Note: Let’s say your kid screams “No!” and then crawls into bed every time you ask him to do homework. If you teach him to use words like, “I’m tired right now” and ask him not to scream at you, and soon, instead, he stops screaming, but still crawls under the covers—reward the good behavior of NOT screaming. Then work on the next part. Maybe offer 15 minutes of video time after 15 minutes of homework.)
3. Be a good role model by behavior: Let your kids see you treat others with respect. Treat your children with respect as well.
4. Keep your cool: Try not to be “reactionary.” You’re the adult. Ignore bad behavior—it will eventually decrease if no one’s responding to it.
5. Change takes time and effort: You have to be willing to attend to each situation. Be patient and you will see positive results.
6. Don’t be afraid to apologize when you’ve done something wrong or mistakenly
7. Don’t be afraid to be the bad guy: Your kids will love you and respect you when you take charge and implement rules. They may not like it at the time, but ultimately they understand you are there to protect and keep them safe. You can even explain that.
8. Teach and practice gratitude: Remind your kids how lucky you feel to have them in your life. Let them know you are thankful for all that surrounds you. Ask them occasionally what they love in their lives. Practicing gratitude allows us the freedom to care for others in hopes that they can have the best in life like we do.