As parents we are constantly on top of our kids, telling them what to do and when. When we tell them to do something we expect that they do it. If we struggle with consistency though, the child will pick up on it quick. Our words will have less value associated with them. Think about the simple act of calling your child's name. Let's call him "Joe".
When trying to get Joe's attention, we might say over and over... "Joe...Joseph...Hey Joe! ...Listen up, Joe!" Joe's name has lost value coming out of our mouth because we're having to say it multiple times. When we give an instruction, we should say it one time and if the kid doesn't comply then we help them comply. They learn that we are incredibly consistent and that our words have meaning. So for Joe, if he doesn't respond after the first "Joe" then we help him respond. We go right over to him and get in his line of sight and say it again and this time he'll look. We can give him Behavior Specific Praise "Thanks for looking when I called your name!" or we can just move on with whatever we needed his attention for "I need your help with..." Over time, Joe will understand that when we call his name that he is expected to react promptly and accordingly.
Another example of how consistency over time pays off is how we taught our older daughter how to take turns. We did this when she was maybe around 15-16 months. My wife and I took our daughter for a walk on a nice day to get some Boba tea. My daughter had never had this tea before and we didn't want her to have too much because of all the sugar, plus we wanted some for ourselves. ;)
On our walk home we gave her a sip of the drink and she was hooked! When we would take it away from her for our turn to drink she would scream and throw her arms up reaching for the cup. What should we do!? Just give her the cup back so she stops screaming and making a scene? We instead taught her how to ask for a turn. This simple video shows the sign language for "your turn" and "my turn."
My daughter wasn't having it! She kept screaming each time we took the cup. In my head I'm thinking "consistency...we need to show her an alternative that will get her the cup without having to scream and cry, and stick with it!" She's young and it was her first time learning this skill so we were very patient. In order for her to get the cup back she had to sign "my turn." We of course helped her sign the words and she would get the cup even though we used a hand-over-hand prompting technique to get a response. After only a few back-and-forths she was asking for "my turn" without prompting.
We made crying and reaching an inefficient and ineffective way of getting what she wanted. She would have to work really hard to get her item., rather we gave her an alternative that was extremely efficient, effective, and easy. She could use this skill all day long...when she wanted a toy, when she wanted to hold her book, when she wanted to feed herself with a spoon. She now had a communication tool! The next time we went for Boba tea there was no screaming or whining. She would both ask for a turn and gave up a turn when someone else requested...two valuable skills for young children! If we hadn't been consistent, she'd have gone on for many more months with whining and crying for items.
Here are a list of other skills that are great for teaching young children ages 1-3, They can be taught just like the "My Turn" example. With consistency these, words in sign language are so powerful for children!
Previously, I wrote about things to do when you're kid is doing something appropriate. There's one more I'd like to include. This one may give you pause, you might squint your eyes to make sure you're reading it correctly. Here it is...
The previous post we talked about a couple of things to do when your child is acting appropriate. Now let's look briefly at what not to do when your child is still doing something appropriate. Don't ignore! Play, be close, give attention, and do anything else to let your child know that when they are doing something appropriate, that's when Mom and/or Dad will be engaging with them at a higher intensity.
In my line of work, I help children with Autism build new skills (social, academic, behavioral). Most of the time we can create behavior change (increase in positive behaviors and decrease of challenging behaviors) through our reactiveness to a child's behavior. They quickly learn that there are consequences to their behavior and that the more appropriate behaviors receive more preferred consequences (a tangible item, a break, games, etc.). It is not that we are making horrible consequences for the challenging behaviors... actually we just make the consequence either so minuscule that it makes the behavior so ineffective in obtaining a certain outcome or we make the consequence meaningful and linked to the behavior (think, having him cleaning up the floor after they spilled their plate).
Here's an example... When my daughter was less than 2 years old she did a naughty thing. She bit me! She bit me hard and it hurt! That was a behavior I'd never like to see again, so me having practiced this many times with the children I work with I was prepared. Here's what I did to combat her challenging behavior (biting). I did...nothing. I didn't react at all. She bit me and looked at my face, no reaction.
The next day, my wife was laying next to my daughter and guess what. My daughter bit her! My wife sprang up and yelled "ouch! No! That hurt! No biting!" A couple days later, the same thing happened to my wife and she reacted again. Literally, this went on for almost a year. Every few weeks my daughter would bite my wife. My wife would say, "I already told her not to bite!" *
The crazy thing is...my daughter NEVER bit me again. It didn't do anything. Daddy, didn't react so what's the point in doing this again? There was no consequence, and it made her behavior totally ineffective in getting my attention. Even though she was getting yelled at and it may be perceived at negative attention, it made for a very efficient way of getting her Mom's attention.
Another way to think about it is that our two most common emotions we should be showing our young children are Neutral and Excited. We are neutral when giving our children an instruction/direction and excited when they are doing something appropriate. We are also as neutral as possible when those problem behaviors arise. Of course we show other emotions but for young children we need to be as clear as possible. Using these two emotions keeps the confusion to a minimum for younger kids ages 1-3. There's less guesswork involved for them. They won't be thinking "Why's mommy mad?" or "What just happened to make Daddy so sad?" They will just be thinking "Wow this is fun!" or "Mommy wants me to do something." Later as the child grows older we can work on empathy and teach children about emotions and the cause & effect of their behavior on others.
Hopefully these examples and tips are coming across as applicable for many different situations. We should be thinking about those little problem behaviors that are getting big reactions from us but aren't decreasing over time. If the behavior isn't decreasing, we are actually reinforcing the behavior. Crazy huh!? It isn't the child that needs to do something different, it's us! Change how we react and the child will change as well.
* Footnote: My wife is amazing! She responded like anyone else would. She has learned from this experience and knows what to do when silly little behaviors occur that we want to see decreased. Often she reminds me that most of this is natural for me and I've been practicing in my profession for so long that I may forget how parents feel and react without any training. So true! With knowledge and practice though anyone can change their behavior...just like she has! I once asked her, "How often do you get frustrated with our child?" She told me "maybe once per week." Once per week!? This was when our daughter was 2-3 years old. I would think that number is incredibly low for a parent of a toddler. No, our daughter isn't perfect! We are just equipped with the basic knowledge of behavior and strategies to help ourselves and our daughter communicate more clearly. I'm so proud of my wife for her parenting abilities, she's a rock star!
...when your child is doing something RIGHT! We often think about and are told how to react when a child does something wrong, but let's focus first on the opposite. Let's think of purposeful things we can do when our child is doing something appropriate.
I like to think of behavior on a scale. On one side are appropriate behaviors we'd like to see from our children...patience, caring, keeping their hands to themselves, good hygiene, etc.
When children (or maybe our spouse) does something that irks us, our first response is often asking "Why?" We ask "why" for a couple reasons, to get them to acknowledge that they did something wrong, to shame them, and perhaps to get their explanation.
As parents, we expect our children to listen to us and follow our directions. We are the boss and we expect compliance and no pushback. When we want our children to do something we use many common phrases...