It’s Back-to-School season and many of us are tightening up the rules in our homes so we can transition into a smooth school year. Sometimes adopting some of the same classroom expectations kids are accustomed to following at school can easily transfer to home life. At times teachers may deal with the same familiar unwanted behaviors we might see at home from our little ones. The tricks I learned teaching were invaluable to me when I started parenting, and I wanted to share a few with you.
1. Work together as a family to create your household rules.
Some rules are meant to teach behaviors we want our kids to learn and others are simply meant to care for the home. For my family, “no shoes upstairs” and “food stays in the kitchen” are rules we have simply to contain messes and make our things last longer. We also have behavioral rules like “no yelling” and “take turns”. Brainstorm a list of rules that would bring more peace to your household so you can direct the conversation, then bring in your kids and make them a part of the process. Choose a time when everyone is calm to discuss what rules are needed and why. Kids are more likely to follow rules they’ve helped establish.
2. Do not talk (or yell) from across the room.
Discipline from a distance is almost always ineffective. Maybe you’re in the middle of cooking dinner or changing another child’s diaper, but a change in behavior is unlikely to happen without devoted attention. It doesn’t need to take a lot of time, but it does need to be direct. Go to the child who is misbehaving and get on their level. It always works better to treat it as a private conversation.
3. Lower rather than raise your voice.
Yelling is so easy to do, especially when your kid has gotten on your last nerve. At first, it may seem effective because it’s startling, but in the long term, a child will become indifferent to the yelling. Lowering your voice is more effective at creating lasting changes in behavior because it shows that you’re in control. Despite how it may seem, kids really do want their parents to be in charge because it creates feelings of safety and trust. Save your yelling voice for times when a kid may need to be startled for safety’s sake- reaching for a hot stove or wandering into the street.
4. Change your language to reinforce the rules.
Reinforce the rules by restating them when problem behavior is happening. “We don’t hit each other when we are angry” or “Food stays in the kitchen” seems like weird things to say when what comes naturally is “Why did you spill juice on the couch?!” or “Stop hitting your sister!” But it reminds them of the rules and focuses them on their behavior and what they did wrong, instead of them focusing on how angry you are.
5. Use positive reinforcement.
Positive reinforcement is often misunderstood. It’s not about coddling your child or giving each kid a trophy; it’s about encouraging good behaviors when they naturally occur so that they occur more often. When your kids hug each other, remind them of how much they love each other and how good hugs make people feel. When they help you with a simple chore, tell them how capable they are and how happy you are when someone helps you. This creates a sense of pride in the child. They learn to be kind and helpful and begin to incorporate those qualities into how they think of themselves. Because positive reinforcement encourages good behavior AND helps children believe they are good people, it is always more effective than punishment. Honestly, this even works for adults. Imagine how you’d feel about a boss who only ever pointed out the things you were doing wrong. A supervisor who thanks you for your hard work or rewards you for achievements is always going to be more motivating.
6. Choose your battles.
Some children seem as though they can break rules by the minute. Dealing with a child whose behavior has gotten so out of line can be overwhelming. Choose your battles with a child like this. You’re not going to be able to address everything they do wrong. Focus on the big things that need correcting first and let the other stuff slide for a while. This child needs positive reinforcement more than others, so you may have to spend what seems like an enormous amount of time focusing on their positive strengths. A kid so used to negative attention needs to feel they have positive qualities to share with the world. Reinforcing their goodness will improve not only their behavior but your relationship as well. Then as the bigger problems get addressed, you can focus on the smaller ones.