- All children need and want boundaries and limits
- Rules exist, even though they may not be spoken or written.
- Keep rules short and to the point. Have a few, reasonable rules.
- Be consistent in using and enforcing rules. It is important to call attention to rules when the child has been following them.
- Don’t wait until the child has violated them. KISS (Keep It Short and Simple).
Develop routines and write out a daily schedule. Homework, TV, school, play, baths, and meals should all be written in. Scheduling helps children (and adults) to gauge time, organize activities and prioritize in terms of importance. Schedules provide a visual cue of when things will happen and imply an agreement of when it is time to stop one activity and move on to another. This decreases arguing. Reinforce adherence to the schedule.
When behavior is appropriate, praise it
Focus on the many small, positive behaviors that your child exhibits. Notice when she responds to a direction the first time you say it. Even if she’s doing it because it’s something she wants to do, it still merits special attention. This will help her notice the exact behavior that you want her to demonstrate. If a task has been partially completed, comment positively on the completed part first. When you notice things that a child does right, it breaks the cycle of negative redirection (nagging) and makes her feel better about herself and you. Increase the amount of non–verbal praise. Give them a lot of warm smiles and hugs. Your attention is something your child needs, use it at the right time. Provide extra praise for behaviors you want to increase.
When the behavior is inappropriate, ignore it
For a child, negative attention is better than no attention at all. Attention reinforces behavior. Before you look at, speak to, or touch the child, ask yourself, “Do I want the behavior my child is now engaging in to increase?” If not, ignore it! Turn your attention to other matters or other children (siblings) who are behaving appropriately. If the behavior is not dangerous or destructive and you can ignore it, you should do so. When you refuse to pay attention to undesirable behavior, a child must do something else to catch your attention. Quickly, give positive attention to more appropriate behaviors. Be aware that when you begin to ignore a problem behavior, it may increase rather than decrease at first. Be firm and consistent.
When directions are given, state them clearly
Do not phrase directions as questions when you mean them as directions. For example, don’t ask, “Are you ready for bed?” when it’s bedtime. Instead say, “It’s time for you to go to bed”, as a direction, not a request. Get the child’s attention, give directions, reinforce compliance. Whenever possible, give a choice between two acceptable options, but your child should know when he has a choice and when he has no option. State expectations clearly. “Straighten up”, leaves room for debate. Say what you mean.
Never give a direction unless you are ready to enforce it. Reserve directions for important situations where you are prepared to follow through. If you don’t feel like getting up to check, don’t direct them to put away their toys. When you are concerned about inconsistency, ask yourself exactly what message you want to convey – that it is okay to leave the toys out or it’s okay not to listen to your directions. Mean what you say.
Understand the limitations of punishment
Punishment procedures, such as time out, only interrupt behavior but do not teach an alternate behavior. If a punishment procedure is used, be sure to deliver the punishment in a matter–of–fact manner, deliver it immediately, and every time the behavior occurs. An effective punishment entails a warning and has a set beginning and end. Reinforce incompatible behaviors and positive alternative behaviors. Teach them what to do as well as what not to do.
Model appropriate behavior
- Demonstrate the behaviors you want your child to display.Model the target behavior, then encourage the child to imitate you.
- Pretend to do it wrong and let the child correct you! It is easier to remember new behavior if there is a visual image and a chance for supervised positive practice. Modeling also means adults and children follow the same family rules in “Real life.”
- What you do is more important than what you say. Children learn what they live.