Encouraging good behaviour in children.
We are part of the society that values childhood over anything else.
Whether people agree or not, that is a right thing to do. More importantly, it must be remembered that these little people are the future of whole humanity. However, they are being shaped up by adults who by their wisdom and intelligence share everything that is undeniably essential - experiences. Although learning from others is valuable, nothing is in power to replace empiricism. We all make mistakes during lifetime, and even more importantly there is the same cycle of making similar mistakes in every generation. So going forward in the analysis, there would be answer needed on the question why this is happening? We evolve but this doesn’t make us perfect. Repeatability of behaviour is something natural in human species. This is the most perceptible when watching growing children and remembering ourselves having the same approach or practices that age. Considering this, we would have thought that there is nothing we can change and things go naturally, not needing our intervention or effort. We could believe that if we‘ve grown without going through major issues, next generation can do just fine.
I’ve heard so many times from my parents and others, that to have children there is no need of anything but will, and I must admit, that for a long period of time I was sharing this point of view. I was then very young and inexperienced, and didn’t question any one thing that was told by those, whom I recognise as authorities - In the end, they brought me up to the person I am currently. I have to say that maturing is a fantastic process, and dependent on personal abilities and events that we encounter it may have a different course. My perspective of having children and principles that have to be followed changed when I got interested in developmental psychology and moved to the area where was a lot of families with kids. After studying a lot and observing my surrounding, I figured out the differences in children’s behaviour based on the adult's attitude towards them. And believe you me - occasionally I was tempted to get involved.
Some of you will think that there is no one way to success as every child is different and no one knows your child better than you. That is true, but not entirely. Even adult’s behaviour is based on patterns, and every human being needs a ruling. Can you imagine a road traffic running without bans and orders? What would it look like? Exactly…
Everyone would do anything, and no one would know what it should be like to make sure all goes smooth and safe. This analogy can be easily used when talking about life and behaviour.
How then can children know what behaviour is socially expected and which one should be avoided? Of course, adults are the ones who dictate and enforce the rules. However, the one principle must be remembered - children learn by observation, and 70% of communication is a body language. Hence behaviour, while just about 15% of the information is acknowledged from speech. That’s why, if you do opposite to what you say, you shouldn’t be expecting anything different from your child.
Certain principles that have to be followed if you want to motivate your child to behave in the right way.
Consistency is something that all human beings are thought and what is acknowledged as a natural and socially expected behaviour. It is closely related to involvement and some kind of its result. When we are getting involved in some situation, we try to be consistent and consequent in decisions that we made. Just because, if we do so, we do not need to analyse it anymore and we can avoid perceiving us as a person who does not stick to their previous statements. Making that easier to understand, we naturally try to follow our decisions to simplify our life.
You probably are thinking now what is the link between consistency and encouraging positive behaviour in children… Considering what we just said about perceiving us by others it actually has a lot to do with this. First of all, when we express certain behaviour towards our child, this has its implication in child’s reaction and way of thinking about what’s just happened. Relying on this, we have to realise that acknowledgment and some feedback will occur. A child will build its opinion about you and the subject you have discussed and will adjust its actions towards it. If you expect certain outcome and behaviour to happen in your child, you must be consistent in your decisions. The main reason for it is that you have to be seen as an authority (gained, not forced!) whose behaviour goes in the same direction as spoken words. Only then your child will be confident in trusting you and knowing that anything you say is going to happen. This confidence reassures your child about your leadership and its safety.
Consistency and consequence can be misinterpreted and treated as exactly the same thing. However, both of them have their individual measures and connotations. The consequence that I am thinking of, it’s related to getting a result from an action. It is a cause-and-effect relationship. Your child is supposed to know that if behaviour A happens, it triggers B consequence. You always have to be clear in relation to your child and let it know what are predicted consequences of certain behaviour. Don’t just focus on negatives. Consequence means both - reprimand and reward. Here comes to the point, where consequence and consistency are getting linked. When you make a decision, and more importantly, when you say it out loud to your child, there must be nothing that will be able to change it over time. If this is a reprimand for an unacceptable behaviour you have to be prepared for resistance and sometimes even more extreme response - rebellion, cry, or more sophisticated forms of persuasion like for example coaxing or sudden promises of improving. Your heart will start melting, and instant guilt feeling will be coming to your mind. This is what your child is waiting for. But it is a battle…, and you have to keep your guard high for better good :).
Setting Up rules for desirable and unacceptable behaviour
The most fundamental principle is that these rules have to be agreed together with your child.
There is no room for military order and acting as a policeman. Good behaviour in your child can only be encouraged when it (the child) is involved in behaviour assessment process. Your expectations have to be consulted with each other and approved by every single one of you. The best form of doing this is arranging a playing environment. Treat it as a bit of fun for the whole family, but remember about first two principles from this article (consistency and consequence). Rule sets can be displayed on the whiteboard hanging in the room where you spend most of the time together so it will be visible and accessible at all times, or you can prepare PowerPoint presentation that will be run on agreed days in a week. You are probably thinking now of what can be put on that board… The answer is simple - You can write down absolutely anything you like, dependent on how creative you all are. Although your originality is very important, there are some guidelines for you. You definitely have to divide your board into segments. Right behaviour zone; bad behaviour zone; days of the week; names, and of course space for points.
Scoring can be done in many ways. However the most common are points on the scale from 1 to 5 (1- undesirable, 5- most desirable), or using happy/sad faces (emoji). You also have to think about what you play for- solid reward and reprimand system is crucial to your success.
It’s worth noting that you don’t have to use reprimand at all. The reprimand can be lack of reward itself. So, if your child in the majority of the week collects low scoring that indicates bad behaviour its punishment will be not getting previously agreed reward. It should be enough to show your child why naughty behaviour is pointless.
Rewards, however, should be chosen carefully and should not be relying only on material things. The child would start to connect good behaviour with a trade- ‘I will be a good boy so I can get this new toy I dreamed about.’ This should not happen at any time. You are not trading with your child, and it must understand the right purpose of your actions. Best rewards are the ones that are related to activities when you can spend more time together, or compromising on things that you know your child cares about. This is working more on reciprocity rule basis rather than a transaction.
- Losing your temper
Dealing with a child whose behaviour is, nicely saying, demanding, there are many opportunities for you to lose your temper. Doing so, you are on the best path to squander everything you have already build up regarding your child’s positive behaviour. You must realise, that no matter what age you are you get your moods and days when something goes wrong. You, even if grown up, are not always pleased and easy going, but because you are old enough, there are not many people who will give you their honest feedback. That is why you sometimes forget that children can have these bad moods and behaviours too from time to time, and this is purely natural. There are periods when your child after being well behaved for a long time is getting back into its previous habits, and you feel hopeless. You then think that ‘Here we have. All we have agreed and was working so well for this long now has been wasted- He/She is naughty again’. This is where you're starting to lose your patience and getting agitated. At any time, you cannot show your weakness - anger. You have to continue with the rules that you were sticking to for all this time and be - consistent and consequent!
The most difficult feature of your character as a parent. You’re adult, have all your values and habits organised in order, and you know how to behave in different social situations. Your child is just about to learn it all, and this requires your patience more than anything else. Everyone is a unique individual and various time spectrum is needed dependent on personality and capability to gather and convert information. Don’t disremember it. Patience with your child means being actively involved in the learning process, but also letting him/her do it at its own pace and comfort zone. It can be complicated to proceed because of many reasons, like time consumption when you are in a hurry, or seeing that your child struggles with activity, but it’s defending its independence. This is most common in children between the second and fifth year of age as this is when the autonomy starts to form. Offer your help but don’t force it. Be cautious, but not overprotective. Stand guard, but do not interfere. If you feel that your patience is getting stretched, take your time, count to ten, or leave the room and do not show your discomposure.
To summarise, when your child is behaving in the way that you don’t like, or it affects family and social life, the possible reason for it is that your child needs a substantial authority and a guideline to follow. It’s not child’s choice to behave that way. It is related to lack of experience and knowledge about social life and mechanisms that are expected. Patience, consistency, and consequence are key features that you will have to practice with you to encourage the positive behaviour of your child. You are the one, who leads and have to give explicit clues about how to live. Without you being thoughtful, forgiving and smart in your actions, your child may never find a right way of building relationships with others and conform to principles of healthy social life. We evolve during our lifetime, but the first few years are crucial for getting into good habits and learning necessary social skills. If early in its life your child will accomplish these rules it will be easier for him/her to follow it forever.