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Would you agree that children need to be taught the ins and outs of the world? (I really hope you said yes, but I’ll still like you if you didn’t). They need to be taught morals, social, academic and safety skills as well as so much more.
Why then do we do things like tell a child who is licking a window…to stop? And just leave it there. Yes, an argument could be made that we do it because we are stressed out, overwhelmed and exhausted.
Honestly, it doesn’t really matter why we do it. The missing piece is teaching a replacement behavior. If your child is licking a window, tell them not to (of course), but also tell them why not to and show them what they can lick. (I’m wondering if I could have used a better example than licking a window…but I have your attention maybe?)
Teaching a replacement behavior is one way we teach our children right from wrong. If you show your child how you would like them to do something, they won’t need to ask you for help. Which means there is less of a chance you will get frustrated by them doing something different from how you want them to. Hmmm that’s a bit wordy…let me try a different way.
Let’s say your child is full of energy (like, more than usual) and to expel some of this energy they begin jumping on the couch.
You tell them to stop. But, does this keep them from needing to get rid of that extra energy?
What if you ask nicely?
What if you explain to them it’s dangerous?
Even if they listen and actually stop jumping on the couch, if they still have a case of the wiggles, then they are going to find another way to shake them out (or is that the sillies you shake out?). If you don’t provide them with another way, they might come up with one on their own. And there is a chance it could be worse than jumping on the couch.
I’m not saying you don’t do all that I mentioned above. I’m saying go one step further and give them a replacement behavior. Something they can do that is going to provide them with a similar experience as the one they’re seeking.
Let’s put this into play –
BOOM! You just encouraged independence, showing them how to self soothe.
I like to say “teach them to fish”. As in the English proverb “if you give a man a fish you feed him for a day but if you teach a man to fish you feed him for a lifetime”. Hand that kid a fishing pole, kick back and enjoy the quiet.
If we don’t teach our children appropriate alternatives to undesired behavior, we are setting them up to require more discipline than necessary. Some of which will come at the hand of other caregivers. We’re also setting ourselves up for more frustration than necessary.
Not every caregiver disciplines the same. And as we’ve all heard a million times, consistency is key. Sometimes this difference is so slight it wouldn’t cause a stir. Sometimes philosophies are so different that it can be detrimental to all involved.
For example, if my child were with someone who thought it their place to spank him…I would lose my shit! But, more importantly, it would completely rock my son’s world because that isn’t a form of punishment I use. (Check out my FREE parenting e-course to find out why.)
This scenario would also damage, if not destroy, the relationship between my child and this adult. What if it was a family member or just someone they had to see on a regular basis? Awkward!
Now, teaching a replacement behavior isn’t going to shield your child from other caregivers. But, it will help significantly.
More importantly though, it will help you!
Independence can increase anyone’s self esteem, but especially that of a child. The better half of a child’s life is dictated. Teaching them how to do something for themselves or how to do something the appropriate way, this gives them some control. Having that control elevates self-worth.
Constant punishment will almost definitely lower a child’s confidence. Let’s say your young son doesn’t always make it in the pot when he uses the restroom. Now, there are many possible reasons this is happening. But most of them involve the fact that he’s too young to fully understand the physics involved.
If every time this happens you are punishing him in one way or another, what is this telling him? That they are incompetent. And given they don’t know how to keep from getting in trouble for this (because they haven’t been given a replacement behavior teaching them how to aim) it builds a slippery slope.
To keep with the dramatics, let’s say he gets in trouble so often and so harshly that he stops going to the bathroom at the house. This could lead to him going in the yard, having accidents, wetting the bed, etc. Obviously, this is not going to help with his self-esteem. But, it’s also a perfect example of how blocking the behavior without teaching an appropriate alternative can be an issue for all involved. They will find a way to meet their need, so teach them to do so in a way you feel is fitting.
There is a bonus reason….it will lower your stress level exponentially! So, the next time you find yourself telling your child no, ask yourself if you’ve taught them how to do it in the first place. If not, then this is what we call a teaching opportunity. Take advantage and teach that kid to fish!
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I didn’t limit his liquids before bed, so he peed…in my bed.
He was upset because our neighbor went home.
I had to drop him at school (which he loves) early so he had to play in a different room.
I didn’t let his dad cancel visitation, because I needed some alone time.
Our fridge didn’t have any food he wanted.
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There is a saying in my field, ‘Behavior goes where reinforcement flows’. A behavioral psychologist by the name of Aubrey Daniels said this in his book Other People’s Habits. Simply put, we behave in a way that gets us the “pay out”. Basic examples of this are; pushing the gas pedal because it usually makes the car go, opening the fridge door because there is usually food in there, dropping to the floor and having a tantrum because it usually makes your parents give you what you want. Now that last one is a scenario that most parents are familiar with and that most parents know to avoid. I want to give you the tools to understand (and change) your kid’s behavior. The keys to the city if you will.
We all learned our ABC’s as children. I want to teach you your adult ABC’s. There are three components we are going to be looking at to attempt to determine why your kid won’t stop engaging in a behavior, or won’t start/continue. What happened right before (Antecedent), the Behavior itself, and what happened right after (Consequence). Now, I realize the term “consequence” has a negative connotation for most. But, a consequence is just what happens after a behavior. The consequence of pushing the power button on the remote is that the T.V. comes on. The consequence to pushing the gas pedal is, the car goes.
Ok, let’s look at the “A”. The antecedent occurs right before the behavior. Not hours before, not days before. In some situations knowing the antecedent to a behavior can be enough to help or hinder that behavior. For example, every time I read a book while lying down, I get sleepy and if possible I end up taking a nap. The antecedent is reading a book while lying down. The behavior is becoming sleepy and taking a nap. The consequence is that I don’t finish reading. If I were to stop reading books while lying down, this would alter the behavior of becoming sleepy and taking a nap. It would most likely keep that behavior from happening in the future. Most of the time the antecedent is not so clear. It is much easier to pay attention to the consequence and alter those to change increase or decrease behavior.
Obviously, it is not always possible to avoid the antecedent. The antecedent of me brushing my two year old’s teeth leads to the behavior of him screaming like a wild banshee. Does this mean I stop brushing his teeth? Hell no! It means he screams and I keep brushing. The consequence of him screaming is I continue to brush.
I’m now going to break the rules and go to “C” before “B”. The consequence is what happens IMMEDIATELY after the behavior. Not an hour later, not a day later. (Remember this when after school you’re giving your child what you think is a consequence to his not so great behavior in class that day)
It’s also important to remember that a consequence is not always a bad thing. Somewhere along the line this word developed a negative connotation. But, for example, the consequence of eating is the satiation of hunger. The consequence of pushing the gas pedal is the car goes.
The consequence is what maintains or inhibits the behavior. It is what fuels the tank, or drains it out.
A behavior is something that is measurable in some way. The more specific you are about the behavior you want to change, the easier it will be for others to stay consistent with the plan to change it.
Example time! Let’s do an easy one first. Standing in line at the store your child begins to scream for candy that is so conveniently placed in front of their face. The antecedent is the child seeing the candy. The behavior is the child screaming. This is an example where avoiding the candy is not always possible. Therefore, we look at the consequence. If you give your child the candy, you have just paired screaming with getting candy. This would obviously maintain the behavior of screaming. That screaming behavior is going to go where that candy flows. Let’s switch it up. Let’s say the consequence of the screaming is NOT getting the candy. If screaming doesn’t “pay out” the behavior will decrease over time. Let me say that last part again…OVER TIME. I suggest providing the new consequence CONSISTENTLY for at least two weeks before you give up.
Let’s take a moment to talk about consistency. Consistency does not have to mean that you never falter and are always following the plan. Sometimes life gets in the way. And, no one is perfect! I say, as long as you are being more consistent than inconsistent or following the plan more than not following the plan, then things should work out. That being said…consistency does 100% mean that everyone in your child’s life is following the plan and in the same manner. If you are working your ass off following the plan, and your partner isn’t or the school isn’t or the babysitter isn’t, this is bad news! Depending on where your child is developmentally, this will really confuse them. They will either begin to compartmentalize or they will not understand why the rules are not the same across people and settings. I cannot stress enough the importance of consistency across people and settings in order to succeed in changing behavior.
Ok, let’s have some more examples…I think it is safe to say that we all push the gas pedal when we want our cars to go. The behavior of pushing the gas pedal has been maintained (reinforced) by the consequence of the car going. Now let’s say the consequence changes. Today when you push the gas pedal the car does not go. You would most likely continue to try, possibly even getting a little more aggressive in your pedal pushing behavior (more on this later). A behavior that was previously reinforced is no longer providing reinforcement. So what eventually happens? You stop pushing the gas pedal. Now how long that takes will depend on a plethora of variables. This is not important at this point. Stay the course, the behavior will change.
Good! That means what you’re doing is working!!! The behavior will get worse before it gets better.
Think about when you put your money in a vending machine. You push the buttons because in the past this behavior has been reinforced with the consequence of getting a desired snack. What happens when you push the buttons and your snack does not appear? You might push the buttons again. Maybe knock on the machine a bit. Some escalate to the point of banging and kicking the machine. Point is, the behavior got “worse”. Ultimately, in this scenario, what ends up happening if the snack never falls? You walk away with no snack. This will be the case when you try to eliminate a behavior in your child. Back to the candy example. If you do not hand over the candy, then your child’s screaming behavior will most likely increase. But, eventually, it will cease. They can’t cry forever. I mean, it may feel like forever but, it won’t be.
For a cool worksheet to help you keep some ABC data, click here! And to save some trees, you can put the sheet in a clear report folder that you can find at the dollar store and then use dry erase markers. This makes the worksheet reusable!
Looking for strategies to help diminish unwanted behaviors? Sign up for my FREE e-course!
What are some of the behaviors your kids engage in that you’d like to change? Or any they don’t engage in that you’d like to change? Please comment below with stories or questions!
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I’m sure we’ve all said it. Why does my kid do that? I have, and I know the answer! Kids do some crazy and annoying shit. Hell, adults do some crazy and annoying shit! What I’m about to tell you goes for both. Knowing why someone engages in a certain behavior will sometimes allow you to view the situation from a different angle. If you understand why your child is doing something, you can better respond in a way that will benefit both of you.
Believe it or not, there are only four reasons we as humans (even tiny humans) engage in a behavior.
This is such a common function for children’s behavior. It’s very important to remember that for little ones, attention is attention is attention. And, the more elaborate and intense the attention, the better. Some children would rather be yelled at than not because, that’s one on one attention. So, don’t assume a child isn’t engaging in a behavior for attention simply because the attention they are getting isn’t necessarily pleasant. For example, a child may act out in class because they then get attention from their teacher. Or, they get attention from their parents when they are reprimanded for the behavior they displayed in class. Another example is a child who acts aggressive towards a sibling, may be in order to get direct attention from a parent. This is incredibly common of an older sibling when a new one comes along. But, that is an entire other post.
This is another very common function of children’s behavior. Sometimes they are trying to get something. A toy, a food item, etc. I’m not going to lie, I have totally given in and let my toddler have a cookie or toy or whatever because I just didn’t have it in me to listen to him scream about it. But, ideally, if a child is engaging in a behavior you don’t like in order to get an item, the last thing you want to do is give them that item while they are engaging in said behavior. This will teach them that this behavior can give them access to items they want.
Think of homework time. You’re sitting at the table and your child is fidgeting, refusing to focus, attempting to distract you. He or she is trying to get out of doing homework. Trying to escape. Think of bedtime. Your child wants just one more drink of water, just one more hug. They have to go to the bathroom or do something else that will help them avoid going to bed.
This is one of the most difficult functions of behavior to deal with. With this function, the person is looking for some sort of sensory input. This is what drives self-stimulatory behaviors such as shaking your leg or twirling your hair. The reason this function is so difficult to address is you can’t always keep a person from engaging in a behavior that will meet this function.
Now that you have a better understanding of why your kid is doing “that”, the next step is to understand why they keep doing it. Stay tuned for a follow-up post on just that.
Please feel free to ask for clarification in the comments. I claim, and will continue to claim, chronic mama brain.
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DISCLAIMER: This post contains adult language and context.
I’m not going to lie…there was a part of me that was sad when I found out I wasn’t having a girl. I knew this would be my only child and the finality of it all was a bit much. Of course, now that my son is here I couldn’t imagine it any other way. As a single mother of a little boy, I do worry about my ability to handle…well…you know…guy stuff. Luckily, I have two brothers who will hopefully help me out when the time comes. Unfortunately, at 17 months there are already things I was not prepared for.
I absolutely hate the saying “Boys will be boys “. It’s used as a way of sweeping the atrocious behavior of boys under the rug. I’m not saying all boys behavior is atrocious. I’m saying when it is, we blow it off with this dangerous saying. There is no comparable saying for girls. The hideous behavior of girls is almost always their own fault. They never get an “out” like “girls will be girls”.
That being said, boys and girls are innately different and it shows sooner than I was prepared for. My son is much rougher with his play than the little girls his age. He throws and bangs, pushes cars and trucks. These are behaviors I have never seen in his closest girlfriend. Prior to parenthood I of course, naively, thought that these behaviors were all learned. What an idiot. Me I mean.
Before having my son I remember hearing about having to tuck the penis down…but I didn’t think it was all that important. I mean, the diaper is tight, what’s the problem? But, there is a phenomena that happens with little boy parts. As a newborn my son would, quite often, have a wet spot near one of his hips. It took me loads and loads of laundry to finally realize that I needed to get in the habit of tucking it in.
No really…what the actual fuck!? I was not prepared to EVER pull back my precious baby boys diaper only to be confronted with a huge baby boner! And to add salt to my wounded eyes and soul, you of course have to tuck it in. There is nothing natural about forcing your sons erect penis down so that his diaper doesn’t leak. NOTHING!
I used to have a live in boyfriend who was constantly complaining of finding my hair around his balls. I of course thought this was hilarious. As with most things regarding male genitalia, I assumed it wasn’t that bad. And, as with most of these assumptions, I was wrong. I remember the first time I found my hair wrapped around my little guys balls, I laughed and felt bad all at the same time. I was even more surprised to realize how often this actually happens.
Again, I had of course heard people talk about little boys peeing all over the place. But, the first day I brought my little boy home from the hospital I laid him down on the changing table and was mortified as I watched him piss in his own face. That was when I realized how ridiculous and irrational mama guilt can be. I, of course, have been peed on more times than I can count. The distance my little one can achieve is medal worthy, really.
Yes, I said it. And yes, mothers of daughters, that shit is real. It was at some point during the first few weeks of my son’s life that I was changing his diaper and while cleaning his “area” I noticed a white substance in the wrinkles. I quickly pointed it out to his father (who we were still living with at the time). He said, unconcerned, “oh ya, that’s just dick cheese”. To which I surprisingly replied “That’s a real thing!?”. I had heard guys use the term before but I thought it was like toe jam. Wait, is toe jam a real thing too? Do people really get a jam like substance between their toes? Anyway, dick cheese is real and I am mortified.
What have I missed ladies? I’d love to hear of the repugnant discoveries you have made along your journey as a mother to a little boy.
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