There are hundreds of different strategies to changing behaviours and hundreds of different ways to reward and consequence a child for behaviour. What strategies and methods you choose is dependent on your child’s needs and abilities and also your time and means to achieving a behaviour goal.
Underlying reasons of why a behaviour is occurring needs to be considered when choosing an approach, however, the list of tips below, no matter the child’s level of functioning or underlying reasons, apply to implementing your chosen approach.
Pick ONE specific behaviour you want to change You can’t change it all and you can’t change it all right now. Pick the one thing that would make a difference in you daily sanity and forget the rest, for now. Eg. stop yelling, putting shoes away, brushing teeth, stop picking nose etc.
Work at it for at least 2 weeks Once you decide on a new strategy, and explain it to your child so they understand the expectations (you’d be surprised at how many people forget this part:), stick with it for a couple weeks. It may not seem like it’s working at first because behaviour will typically get worse before it gets better so you must stick with it, at least for a bit. If you have done that and it’s not working, time to move on to the next strategy.
Follow through You absolutely can not waiver on your consequence. If you are so tired you think your head may roll off and your child does ‘the behaviour’, you must must must drag your lead body to follow through on the consequence. Every. single. time. I kid you not this will be the game changer.
If you are going to consequence, you must reward You can’t keep taking things away and/or just talking about the bad stuff. You need to give your child a reason to want to behave, as unfortunately behaving for the sake of man kind just isn’t intrinsic. Yet.
Catch your child being good Although you may be targeting behaviour X, it is important to acknowledge the other good behaviours, no matter how small – “I like how you combed your hair, great job!”, “You put your shoes on really fast! Wow!”, “I really appreciate how you cleaned up your dishes, you sure are getting good at that!”.
Be specific The examples above tell your child exactly what it is they did good. No more ‘good jobs’ or ‘way to go’. You need to tell them exactly what it is they did a good job doing if you want to see it again.
Use simple language When you are talking to your child about their reward or consequence for behaviour X, keep it simple and to the point. Less is more, keep it short and straight forward.
Don’t power struggle Also a game changer. When you have given your instruction to do something (or stop) and arguing/whining/tantrums begins, DON’T ENGAGE. I’m telling you, your child will win every time. The only way to not engage in a power struggle is to ignore anything but the desired behaviour. Ignore the arguing/whining/tantrum or walk away or lock yourself in the bathroom if you have to but do not open your mouth except to repeat your direction.
Ignoring If you are using ignoring as a strategy, ignore the behaviour not your child. Your child is separate from their negative behaviour. They are just a little person trying to figure out this world and deserve to be respected and loved no matter their behaviour. Although sometimes it’s the hardest thing to do.
Behaviour is communication Kids don’t behave badly for the sake of it. They don’t wake up in the morning and scheme how to make your life more difficult that day. Behaviour is no different than talking; it’s just harder to understand sometimes if we don’t speak that language. Learn your child’s language, and if you are struggling to learn it then ask for help.
This post is part of our Handy Tips and Hints section, which is full of posts from our great contributors. If you have something useful and interesting that you’d like to contribute, please do contact us.