First, the bad news. There is no magic pill or quick fix for a child’s challenging behavior.
Now, the good news. A child can learn appropriate behavior over time with practice and the support of a loving parent. Let’s review what we’ve covered so far. You can be a discipline dude or diva if you:
- Approach discipline with a “teaching mindset” (part one)
- Identify the function of the problem behavior: to get or to get out of something (part two)
- Teach a new skill or replacement behavior (new!)
As you begin to understand WHY your child is behavior inappropriately, you can begin teaching an acceptable way to behave to get a similar result. Think of it as teaching a behavior swap. Do this instead of that.
Instead of grabbing the toy, ask if you can have a turn.
Instead of whining, ask for what you need with a kind voice.
Instead of hitting, say what you want with words or take deep breaths to calm down.
Instead of throwing something when you are frustrated, ask me for help.
It can be tempted to just want the problem behavior to stop. And settle for that result. The better goal is to extinguish the problem behavior by teaching children acceptable ways to get their needs met.
Are you wondering exactly how to do this?
When you teach a replacement behavior, it is important to explain it in concrete terms so your child understands what the skill is and how to use it. For example, you may say, “When you want to play with a toy another friend has, you need to ask for a turn like this…” Then say the actual words and have your child copy you. BTW, waiting for a turn is hard for young children (and even some adults). Acknowledge this and assure your child that you will help them learn good ways to wait (read more about this scenario).
This process of teaching children appropriate behavior takes time. It’s just like learning how to tie your shoe or how to swim. There are stages of learning your child must pass through. First, they are introduced to the skill - such as asking for a turn instead of grabbing a toy. Then, they practice using it and make many mistakes and need lots of parental support. Eventually, with of practice and repetition, the skills begin to come more naturally. The clouds part and the angels sing!
If positive behavior doesn’t come quickly, it can be tempting to give in to your child. You may even convince yourself that things aren’t that bad or that maybe your child will just grow out of the shenanigans one day. DO.NOT.GIVE.UP. Being the parent means you remain the gentle, firm leader your child needs by putting in the hard work of discipline. You can teach. Your child can learn.
“No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” Hebrews 12:11