We know that yelling when our kids misbehave doesn't get us anywhere. If it corrects their behavior, it doesn't last very long even when you punish them. They certainly don't seem to remember it; you've probably lost count the times you said, "What did I say about..."?
So why is your child not listening?
In the new book The Good News About Bad Behavior, the author, certified parenting educator and journalist Katherine Reynolds Lewis, submits that the nagging, time-outs, rewards (aka bribery) or spanking don't work anymore. These discipline methods are meant to put the parent in control, but it doesn't address the cause why a child is "misbehaving" in the first place. Parents have to stop seeing a child having a tantrum or losing items as a budding disobedience.
As SheKnows writer Jonita Davis points out in her article on Lewis's book, "The reason these methods don't work is that the problem is not the children’s behavior; it’s how the parents perceive it."
Lewis's book proposes that parents need to adopt what she calls "apprenticeship model of parenting." Parents need to know the difference between "bad behavior" and a child asserting his independence. And to know which is which, parents need to listen to their children better especially their toddlers. (We hear them, but we're not always paying attention.) And to be great at listening, parents need to let go.
The apprenticeship model of parenting in Lewis's book, Davis writes, "is all about parents relinquishing control and allowing kids to learn by making mistakes; doing so supposedly creates a more tranquil home in which parents are unstressed, and kids feel validated. It's also about taking a new approach to bad behavior — and its silver linings."
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We've written a lot of articles on the advantages of letting your child go through the consequences of a mistake he makes. It's how he will learn not to make them again. It's how he will understand the concept of responsibility. But parents (unintentionally) hinder their kids from learning these life skills by taking on a helicopter style of parenting: overprotective and in total fear of their child getting hurt, so they're always in "rescue" mode.
In a Q&A with NPR, Lewis says parents will need to take a leap of faith and do a balancing act if they want to raise their kids to become successful adults. "Give him as much power as you can stand and try to save your direction for the things that you don't think he can do."
To illustrate, Lewis continues, "He knows how to put on his shoes. So if you walk out the door, he will put on his shoes and follow you. It may not feel like it, but eventually, he will. And if you spend five or 10 minutes outside that door waiting for him — not threatening or nagging — he'll be more likely to do it quickly."
Parents often react with punishment or a penalty — you take away something — every time a child "misbehaves." It becomes about what you've taken away (something they love), not their supposed bad behavior.
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Parents often ask, “How do we get the kids to do what we want?”
Author Katherine Reynolds Lewis though found that the right question is: “Why can’t the kids do what we want?”
Lewis employs a technique she calls the "four R's to avoid power struggles and to win the kid's cooperation." Any consequence should be:
Revealed in advance
Related to the decision the child made
Reasonable in scope
Lewis tells NPR, "In fact, acting at that moment can sometimes be counterproductive if they are amped up, their amygdala's activated, they're in a tantrum or exploited state. And they can't learn very well because they can't access the problem-solving part of their brain, the prefrontal cortex, where they're really making decisions and thinking rationally. So every misbehavior doesn't need an immediate consequence."
Lewis recommends another technique to reinforce good behavior. In the heat of the moment, it's okay "to just mumble and walk away" if your child is "not doing what you want and think of what to do."
"Instead of jumping in with a bribe or a punishment or yelling, you give yourself some space. Pretend you had something on the stove you need to grab or that you hear something ringing in the other room and walk away. That gives you just a little space to gather your thoughts and maybe calm down a little bit so you can respond to their behavior from the best place in you — from your best intentions as a parent."