Friday, August 18, 2017

It's Simple, and It Works!

When young children don’t do what we want, we call it misbehaving. We often get upset, and then we attempt to change their behavior with various kinds of punishment from scolding to time-outs and beyond. What if we could reframe these situations in our own thinking and thereby maintain our calm, AND enact an effective method to change the child’s behavior? It is possible, and I’ll tell you how.

First of all it is important to realize that a young child is a creature of habit, even more than we are. If a child has the habit of whining, or a habit of taking toys that another child is already using, we must understand that the habit started as a strategy to get what the child wants or needs. A strategy that works is used again, and again, and again, and becomes a habit. 

Adults tend to think, “Oh, that behavior is bad, or wrong, or not appropriate, or....” But actually, the strategy is effective and successful. Actually, the strategy is good. The unfortunate part is the other person in the interaction did not like what happened.

So we adults have to start thinking, “How can I offer a different strategy for the child?”
And one way to change behavior with young children is to offer them something you would be happy if they imitated. Instead of scolding, how about if you say what you hope the child (eventually) begins to imitate?

Young children learn by imitation, and we have to learn how to work with that principle.
When a child runs into the house and leaves the door open, you can gently close the door while saying, “I like the door to be closed.”

When a child takes a toy from another, you can hold out your hand, palm up, and say, “It is his turn now.” And hand the toy back to the one who previously had it. And add, “You can have a turn next.”

You might have to do this 10 times, or 100 times, or ???? Eventually one of the children will start to say what you have been saying. As the child comes over to take the toy again, the one with the toy may say, “It’s my turn. You can have it next.”
Or the child comes over to the one with the toy and says. “Can I have a turn next?” 

It really is this simple. And it works.

It is based on you, the adult, and your calmness and understanding. This is a strategy. I can offer a new strategy. And I can use imitation as the method of teaching that new strategy.

(Here is the group of teachers and parents I worked with in Xi'an, China, earlier this month.)