"I can't understand what is the matter with that child. He just keeps doing the same thing. I've told him a hundred times to pick up his clothes." We have all felt frustrated at times because we have tried to change a child's behavior and we seem to be getting nowhere.
Although it is the child's behavior that we want to change, we need to remember as a parent that if we continue to do and say the same things in the same way, we are going to get the same results from the child. If we don't get the result we want, we need to change what we do or say. The sooner we make the change and remain consistent, the sooner we will see a change in the child's behavior.
Children do what works for them. A simple example is the temper tantrum. These happen at times when children are small regardless of what we do. However, Foster Cline and Jim Fay in their book entitled Parenting With Love and Logic, state that "kids will throw tantrums only as long as they work." Kids don't pound the floor and scream when they are alone in their room. They do it when their show has a guaranteed audience. Walking away is one good solution. Letting the child choose whether he finishes it in the basement or his room is another solution as long as the choice is given in a soft and kind voice and the parent doesn't try to reason with the child. If the child gets attention in the form of reasoning or even a scolding, it has worked for him and he will do it again. If he gains nothing, he will eventually quit doing it.
I really like Foster Cline and Jim Fay's book. I wish I had it when I was rearing my family. In it are ideas about behaviors that I struggled with. The first half of the book explains how to ask questions and present choices in a positive non-confrontational way. These writers warn parents against always seeking to ensure that the child is right in every way. Children learn from their mistakes. Sometimes teens go against their parents just to establish independent thinking. Children need to be allowed to make a mistake in non-threatening situations while parents are emphasizing their strengths.
"Have you noticed that the parents who yell the loudest about responsibility seem to have the most irresponsible kids??It's a fact: Responsibility cannot be taught; it must be caught?To help a child gain responsibility we must offer that child opportunities to be responsible." (Ibid.) Then as responsible acts get noticed, the child increases his behavior in those areas. Self-esteem grows as the level of responsibility increases.
Independence needs to increase as the child gets older. On page 75 of Parenting With Love and Logic, there is a chart. Near the bottom of the "V" shaped chart we see that a toddler can make a choice between buying gloves or mittens. The elementary school child can choose between the soccer team and the swim team. The junior high student can choose between studying after school or in the evening. Hopefully the high school student has a framework of home rules and is allowed choices in a lot of things. If parents instead invert the "V" and give a lot of freedom to the younger child, he will become a tyrant. As they tighten up each year, as he gets older, the child will rebel.
With an older child you will want to pick your battles carefully. If every small thing is an issue, you may win the battle and lose the war. None of us were perfect when we were sixteen. Choices work well because they force the child to think and make decisions. Then they learn from the consequences of their decisions while the parents are joyful if the decision was a good one and sympathetic if it was not. Either way the child learns and you maintain a positive relationship.
But what if you are already in a negative situation with your teen? I remember sitting a teenager down and saying, "I think what I have been doing with you hasn't worked. It hasn't worked for me and obviously you don't like it. Let's try a different approach. As I changed, so did the teen, and in the process he realized that I was just someone who loved him and was trying hard to create a positive atmosphere for him. I have often said, "I've never been in this situation before because I have never had someone just like you. I really don't know what is best. What do you think we should do to solve this problem?" I really wanted their ideas. I listened and we worked out a solution that was mutually agreeable. Had I repeated what I was doing before this talk, I would have continued to have the negative behavior.
And was changing my approach difficult for me? Of course it was. Change is never easy, but so often it is best.