To change behaviour, research shows that the vast majority of parent communication with their child or teenager needs to be positive. It can help to visualise this communication as a pie chart or real pie with a small slice cut from it. The large uncut part is nice, pleasant interaction and the smaller slice is the correction. So the aim is to stay engaged and connected, and provide lots of attention whilst ‘the going is good’ and limit negativity.
It can be a challenge to find positivity amidst ongoing tricky behaviour but it pays to deliberately watch out for and ‘catch’ any examples of just normal, appropriate interaction and behaviour, and to ‘pay in’ attention at these points.
When there is uncooperative, challenging or disruptive behaviour the aim would be to deal with it quickly and calmly and move on afterwards with a fresh, positive start as soon as possible, with no grudges held. Any consequences are kept within reasonable bounds and over and done with quickly.
This ‘measured’ approach leads to better relationships and ensures that negative behaviour isn’t reinforced with loads of attention, and is a key factor in gaining a calmer household.
Positive communication (most of the pie):
- Listening and showing interest
- Normal calm, respectful conversation. Allowing them to express themselves without criticism or jumping in with our own agenda
- Having fun
- Sharing an activity – allowing them to lead
- Praising – using specific, descriptive praise rather than a general throwaway ‘well done’. In particular, noticing and acknowledging effort with things that have proven hard in the past and willingness to take small steps to improve behaviour and interaction
- Hugs and physical affection
Correction (small slice):
Calmly and succinctly-
- Giving instructions (confidently and without fuss)
- Reminding and warning (not too many times-follow through decisively)
- Implementing consequences (whilst staying calm and matter of fact)
Use natural consequences, if possible, and reverse them as soon as things get better.
For example, child throws toy, toy is taken away only until child is calm and then the calmness is rewarded with the return of the toy.
Teenager is rude and is told that there are no lifts until there is a pleasant and respectful way of speaking (why would you spend your time ferrying around someone who is being unpleasant?). As soon as there is some effort to be polite and kind (and they genuinely mean it!) the lifts are reinstated.
(NB: if teenagers are expected to be respectful, mum and dad will find it essential to model this behaviour themselves)
So…..to make progress with behaviour it definitely helps to maintain a pleasant atmosphere and keep the ‘positive pie’ model in mind, but beware ignoring unwanted behaviour just to keep the peace.