If you’ve read Volumes 1 and 2, you are now ready to learn some pretty darn effective behavior management tools. Tools that will help you discipline as well as manage your children’s behavior. (If you have not read Volumes 1 and 2, these tools will still be helpful, but they will not be as helpful because behind every great behavior strategy is love, respect, dignity, and relationship-building.)
Just to keep us honest, it’s good practice to listen to Pink Floyd’s admonition prior to any work on discipline or behavior management. If we’re disciplining just to discipline, we’re really just adding another brick in the wall.
We should be teaching our kids, not punishing them. Good discipline is instruction. Period.
Okay, Let’s get to the goods:
1) All behavior is communication.
The most frequent question I receive from parents and educators after they have witnessed a difficult behavior from a child is, “Why!?” “Why did they do that?” It’s a fair question. Sometimes children’s behaviors can be down right mind-boggling. I’ve certainly been involved in plenty of head-scratching behavior situations in my time.
Well, since the 1960’s, there has been an incredible amount of research supporting learning theorists (aka behaviorists) ideas about the four functions of all human behavior. These theorists have pretty solid evidence that most every human does what they do for 1, 2, 3, or all 4 functions:
a) To gain attention
b) To escape an unwanted activity or demand
c) To gain access to something tangible
d) Because it feels good
I remember one time, when I was little, I was acting out in Sunday school, (I think I was standing on a chair, trying to balance and show off). My Sunday school teacher kicked my chair and said something like, “You know, you’re just doing that for attention.” I remember responding very honestly with, “Yes, yes I am doing this for attention,”then I asked myself a question in my head, “Is there something wrong with wanting attention?” The answer is no. We all want attention and we all do goofy things sometimes to get it.
Once we’ve got a hunch about the plausibility of the four functions (attention, escape, tangible, stimulation), we should start teaching the child how to get our attention, or get out of work, or get what they want, or do what feels good on our terms!
Example: One of my little ones does not like to sit still. In fact, moving around may be her only gear. As you can imagine, eating dinner at home and especially eating out can be an adventure. It’s not that she doesn’t like to eat, but her internal engine tells her that running, skipping, and hopping feels good–even when she’s eating. So, our hunch was that she was not exactly acting this way to ESCAPE eating, she was acting this way because running, skipping, and hopping feels good. So, we’ve allowed her breaks to run, skip, and hop, but it has to be in a designated area near our table, it can’t be all over the restaurant. She gets what she needs, but it’s on our terms.
2) “Oh no you didn’t!”
Even though we will make progress by teaching our child a more appropriate way to get their needs met across the four functions, they will still be a stinker sometimes. In fact, if it is our child, there’s a good chance our tolerance for their misbehavior will be much lower than, say, their friend’s misbehavior.
Either way, our kids are inevitably gonna do something that they know darn well they should not have done—so then what?
As best you can, be prepared. Like I said above, it is inevitable that our kids will break our rules or misbehave. We totally know they will, so we should have a clear and consistent response prepared for when they decide to rage against the machine. (There are a lot reasons why this important, but for the scope of this blog, just know that preparation and planning lead to consistency and consistency is the Kryptonite to poor behavior.)
Make Two Lists:
The first list we have to make is a Non-Negotiable list of behaviors for our home. It should probably look something like this:
- Hitting, kicking, biting, spitting is against our house law.
- Being mean, teasing, bullying, yelling, screaming is against our house law.
- Lying is against our house law.
We basically have to conceptualize these “non-negotioables” as actions that we as parents have deemed unacceptable. That simple. Then, we have to establish pre-designated, reasonable, and enforceable consequences for violations of the non-negotiable list. The guidance for good consequence should follow these simple rules:
- Consequences for poor behavior should fit the crime. In other words, avoid going too heavy or too lite, be the Goldilocks of consequences and find something “just right.”
- Consequences for poor behavior should maintain respect and dignity
- Consequences for poor behavior should require an apology
- Consequences for poor behavior should include some sort of restitution (for kids, this is fixing what they broke, or owing us the time it took us to fix the issue they created, etc.).
Next, we create a Good Vibes list of behaviors for our home. (Something like this):
- Hugs, hi-fives, service, chores are all things we do in our house
- Encouragement, support, and shoulders-to-cry-on are all things we do in our house
- Being honest–even when its hard, is what we do in our house.
The stuff on the “Good Vibes” list are actions that we as parents have decided are worth praise, attention, and reward. (I know what some of you are thinking: Shouldn’t kids just behave because I give them a good life? The answer is no. We all work for paychecks. It’s that simple. The intrinsic motivation will come down the line if we do the rewards and praise right.)
What is the right way to deliver rewards and praise?
Avoid bribery at all costs. Bribery looks like this: “Hey Johnny, if you share with your sister, you can have this bag of skittles.” This is not the right way to deliver a reward.
The subtle difference between delivering a reward to increase positive behavior and bribery is how we attach some “strings” to the situation. In other words, our rewards are contingent (aka, rewards are not simply a “this for that” framework).
Contingent rewards look something like this, “Hey Johnny, I love catching you doing awesome things (like sharing) from our Good Vibes list. There’s a good chance that if I catch you being awesome, you’ll get access to my bag of goodies. In my bag of goodies are hugs, hi-fives, and yes, even Skittles. But I have to catch you, you can’t tell me you did something awesome. I actually have to catch you in the act of being awesome. You may get a hug, you may get Skittles, you may—dun-dun-dun—get BOTH! Who knows!? I guess we’ll see. Now go, my son, and be awesome!”
ANOTHER TIP ON DELIVERING PRAISE:
Praise effort over product. In other words, parents and teachers can fall into the habit of only praising the product of what kids provide and ignore their effort. This may sound fluffy, but it actually builds stronger, tougher, and more resilient kids. Sure we want our kids to produce good work, but the irony is that good work takes practice and kids tend to avoid practicing out of the FEAR of failing. What if they were judged on their effort, we provided feedback, and then also accepted their product? The result would be GRIT. Our kids would have some GRIT. Just ask Angela Duckworth.
Once we’ve established our non-negotiable and our good vibes list, we simply need to take time and review the lists with our kids. We must explain to our kids that if they are observed engaging in actions on the Good Vibes list, then good things will happen. In contrast, we have to explain to our kids what will happen if they are observed engaging in any of the non-negotiable behaviors.
EXAMPLE: You catch your kids taking turns on a skateboard and encouraging one another to nail a trick. Walk-up to them and say something super parent-dorky like, “Sup dudes! You guys are shredding so hard and taking turns shredding! I’m gonna get pizza tonight. What’s your favorite pizza, dudes?”
They will shrug off your dorkiness and promptly make an order for some disgusting barbecue chicken pizza that you will begrudgingly tolerate and eat. Success!
NUTHER EXAMPLE: You catch your kids pummeling one another over the Xbox controller. They are literally punching each other in the neck.
Your first parental instinct would be to drop some unholy wrath guilt trip on them and lock the Xbox in the trunk of your car for three years.
This would be a mistake.
Your second parental instinct would be to cry or guilt yourself into a coma about how your kids could have become such raging animals.
This would also be a mistake.
Your best move for discipline is to have a pre-designated response to violations of your non-negotiables AND include something restorative.
What does that look like?
- Take a deep breath.
- Enter the room as calm and collected as you can.
- In your best parent voice. Deliver a firm command to stop the behavior. (i.e., “Stop it right now.”)
- Describe the unacceptable behavior. “This is baloney! We don’t punch necks in my house.”
- Deliver the pre-designated consequence for violating a non-negotiable. Something like this, “You both know what this means. Before you touch an Xbox controller again, every bathroom in this house has to be clean, (like, Clorox-wipe-behind-the-toilet-clean). Also, you know you owe each other–and me–an apology. I don’t care when that apology comes, but it is coming before you ever touch another Xbox controller in my house.”
Discipline should be delivered consistently and should be part of a pre-designated plan. There should be clear goals to our discipline and those goals should align with the list we created for our Good Vibes list. (I know this may seem like an oversimplification, but this is just a blog. We do full-on Q & A trainings for parents. Follow us on Facebook for dates and times near you!)
This concludes Volume 3 of Discipline and Good Parenting, as well as this series of blogs.
I hope you enjoyed the tips, tricks, and topics of these blogs. If you’d like access to more comprehensive parent training. Contact us!