“But I don’t want to force my child to do (whatever is good for him/her)…”
— The Parent’s Lament
Brute Force is the least effective way to get your child to do anything, yet Force is what well-intentioned parents rely on when you have no other skills or strategies to elicit positive behaviors from your child.
Your choices seem to boil down to FORCE YOUR CHILD or DO NOTHING.
Forcing your child only works in the short-term, so parents give up and give in to whatever your child wants (regardless of it being good for him/her).
If it gnaws at you that your child is controlling you instead of you shaping your child’s behaviors and character skills, then I have an indispensible article from the Atlantic I’d like to share with you.
Click on the link, read this and try it out. For me. Please.
Here are some highlights:
- Reasoning with your child is good for their IQ, BUT it will NOT change behavior. Kazdin uses the example of smokers who know their addiction is killing them, but they can’t stop.
- Punishment doesn’t work either.
- Instead use Applied Behavior Analysis, which focuses on these steps: what happens before your child’s behavior, how you craft that behavior and what happens afterward
- BEFORE — Use gentle, direct instructions and a give a feeling of choice (shoes or boots).
- DURING/AFTER — Use specific praise on the behavior
So, if your child has a tantrum and won’t do something, like grab his gear bag and get in the car for karate class, do this.
PLAY THE TANTRUM GAME
One of the main strategies of the article/interview with Alan Kazdin, director of the Yale Parenting Center, is practice the undesirable behavior with your child when you are both calm and not in the midst of the struggle (kind of like practicing martial arts techniques before being attacked).
You are going to practice having a good tantrum (Kazdin’s term) that ends in the behavior you want, which you will praise profusely.
So, say to your child “we are leaving for karate in 5 minutes, so get your gear bag and get in the car.”
Your child now has his tantrum, he plays at having a tantrum. He may feel silly at first, but that’s ok.
At the end of his tantrum, he grabs his gear bag and gets in the car.
You praise him, telling him that was a good tantrum, and he got his bag and got in the car anyway.
Then, do it again. The more reps the better.
The key here is you are not trying to stop an undesirable behavior, you are changing how that behavior plays out and REPLACING IT with a positive, desireable behavior, which is much more effective; you are training to Change The Routine.
This is Powerful Stuff.
FINAL NOTE: Please read the article and pay close attention to the part where he says you are not a bad parent if your child exhibits undesirable behavior (they all do). We are all somewhere in the big middle between those successful-at-every-turn parents and the abusive ones.
These are skills and strategies you can learn and use that will make your job of parenting easier.
Read it, try it out for yourself for a week and tell me how it works for you.