New Year’s resolutions to lose weight and drink less alcohol are commendable and understandable after Christmas excesses, but maybe you are feeling now is a good time, after some festive mayhem, to think about calming things down at home with your kids.
Taking back control and feeling on top of things is a key element of a New Year’s resolution. If you have been meaning to take charge in your family and have made some half-hearted attempts so far which have ended up being fruitless, now might be the time to make a proper plan and go for it!
To change children’s behaviour, adults are required to change their own actions- and this is tough (as we know when we try to stop smoking or change eating habits). We need to be committed and consistent, and it is vital to think carefully and make a clear plan based on sound principles, rather than randomly change the way you react (never a good policy!)
So sit down in peace and quiet, if you are able to find some, and firstly list what behaviours you want to change. Is it ignoring your requests? Is it rudeness? Is it sibling conflict or over the top reactions to minor crises?
Whatever it is, an essential part of the plan is to list the opposite of these problem behaviours. So for example, the opposite of ignoring requests is doing as asked; the opposite of rudeness is being polite and thoughtful. Once you have decided what positive behaviours you would prefer to see, you then plan to make a big deal of catching your children doing these ‘good’ behaviours. What are you going to say or do to recognise that your children aren’t fighting and are calmly playing together, or being co-operative, or handling a situation well (even for a brief moment)?
After thinking through the positives it is necessary to list other ways you are going to prevent poor behaviour. Do you need to be ‘present’ and engage more with your child so he isn’t attention seeking? Do you need to pre-warn about an upcoming change of activity, so, for example, she doesn’t feel cross and react negatively at having to stop playing on her iPad?
And to complete the plan, what are you going to do if the positive strategies you have listed don’t always work? Just to be realistic, they probably won’t always be effective, as children are designed to push the boundaries, especially when bad habits are already formed. What will your sanctions look like? How will you remain calm as you follow through? Bad sanctions give too much attention to children, and/or are too harsh, and end up reinforcing the bad behaviour (making it worse). Better sanctions are calmly delivered and over and done with quickly. ‘Certainty’ rather than ‘severity’ is important to remember when planning and delivering sanctions.
After the plan is made it’s time to put it into practice and it almost always helps to explain to children over the age of 4 what the plan looks like, and get them to have some input on rewards, if you plan to use them.
Then, off you go……..!
Good luck, and, if at first you don’t succeed, don’t give up. Keep going! You might even consider calling a behaviour specialist to support you with your planning and implementation!