Dad and son at table talkingLearning Moment for Many

Sometimes a question a parent posts is a question that leads to a learning moment for many. Two of these types of questions have crossed my path over the last two days, so I thought I’d send my responses to all of you. I’m not posting the actual question I’m paraphrasing. These topics are about consequences and self-control and apply to kids of all ages, not just little ones. So here goes.

Q: My son told his teacher he didn’t have to listen to her and refused to do as she asked. Should I give him a consequence when he misbehaves at school? Or should I tell him if he gets good daily progress reports for 1 month he can have a present?

A: I believe what happens in school should stay in school, unless the teacher tells you otherwise. In order to be clear about the teacher’s expectations ask him or her, “Are you informing me, or asking me to do something about this situation?” A lot of teachers want to handle things in school but feel it’s important to just inform a parent, and some teachers want parents to correct their child at home as well. It’s important to know which type of teacher you have and what the expectations are. 

I believe children need parents to take immediate action when misbehavior occurs, whether it’s in school or at home. Behavior modifications, like charts, are a good thing depending on duration, but rarely create long-term change. For example, expecting a child to change his behavior so he can receive a reward after 30 days of good behavior won’t really motivate long-lasting change. Some kids are the exceptions of course, but for most kids nothing changes after the 30 days because actual learning didn’t occur. Sure a carrot was dangled in front of the child, but the child didn’t have to locate the internal resources needed to change his behavior.

I believe in taking immediate action so a child can connect the dots from what they did to what happens when you do that. You could have your child write a note that needs to be delivered the next morning apologizing to his teacher for not listening. That way he will clearly remember what happens when he disrespects his teacher by refusing to do as asked. If you think your child’s temperament requires a bit more firmness in order to learn then he might need to read the note aloud in front of the class.

When a child says he doesn’t have to listen, he thinks that way because he’s experienced, time and time again, that nothing actually does happen when he acts out. I know it makes sense to you to offer him 30 days to change his behavior or he won’t get a present. But that type of thinking doesn’t motivate change for a child, too much time goes by between the action and the outcome.

Also getting a gift after a month’s time is a bribe, plain and simple and it will backfire. Sooner, rather than later, he will begin asking, “What do I get if I do what you say?” and no one wants that. Kids learn about how life works, respect for others and how to cooperate, even when they don’t want to, by doing as their parents have asked them to do. I hope this helps.

Q: My question is about self-control. My child is 7 and has a hard time waiting to be heard. She always interrupts while she waits for me to give her my full attention. Sometimes she begins to cry as she waits. 

A. Children ages 5-9 can only process one emotion at a time. The part of her brain that allows her to deal with mixed emotions and self-control hasn’t fully formed yet. The age that type of development occurs depends on the child’s individual temperament, and won’t be fully developed until age 20-25. 

When she feels an emotion she can only focus on that feeling, there’s nothing else in her world, that’s why she interrupts you or cries. She’s not only overwhelmed, but due to her developmental phase she thinks her emotion is more important than anything else in the world. She doesn’t have perspective yet and try as you might you can’t force her to understand something her brain hasn’t finished forming yet.

Having said that, here’s one thing you can do. Create two special signals to communicate with each other. You will use these signals to communicate when you’re busy and she’s too filled with emotions to logically and respectfully tell you that she needs you.

Maybe she tugs on your leg, or knocks on your knee, or rests her hand on your hand, whatever it is. This gesture will alert you that there’s something she needs from you. THEN instead of telling her to wait a minute, which can cause hurts feelings and feels like it takes forever, you use your signal to let her know “I hear you and I’ll talk to you in 1 minute as soon as I’m done doing this.” Maybe you rub your nose or blow a kiss, or put your hand on top of hers, or whatever.

Doing this creates a system of communication a child can rely on. It begins teaching her that self-control is possible without asking her to pull a skill out of thin air that she doesn’t even know exists yet. I hope this helps!

Change these ideas to fit you and your family. I just wanted to touch base and share some tips to keep you going until the new products are ready, which will be soon.

Be well and go hug your kids! 

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