‘modeling good behavior has 10x the influence of all that talking, the kids are watching’
How do we make good behaviors stick with our children? I’ve been ‘head down’ focused on this a lot lately. I have a 4 year old. There are constantly new behaviors bubbling up…good and bad. I’m doing my best to be really aware…noticing what’s working, and what’s not on the parenting front.
Model. First and foremost, I’ll say that I continue to be amazed at how much my daughter notices my behavior…and how important it is for me to model the good stuff. All the research backs this up as well. Your child is watching what you do more than listening to what you say.
To me, it seems that modeling good behavior has 10x the influence of all that talking.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m communicating and explaining and clarifying all the time. It’s just that the old adage, ‘actions speak louder than words’ is the truth. We can’t tell our child to walk away from a fight if they watch us bump chests and instigate.
Honey over Vinegar. When we do talk, it’s so important to focus on our children’s strengths…not their weaknesses. All too often, parents are hounding on the mistakes, over-talking the accidents, and holding their child back from their full potential. For the most part, once an individual knows that a mistake was made, and the message to ‘try not to do that again’ is conveyed…all the extra, negative reinforcement is just that. Obviously, each situation is unique, and the severity of the behavior needs to be considered. For the everyday ‘small stuff’ though, keep the glass half full.
Focusing on the good behaviors, has such a refreshing and compounding effect. By taking the extra time to really look your child in the eyeballs, and tell them again how kind and caring that desired behavior was, you’ll continue to invite more of it.
Last week, my daughter exhibited some really good awareness and empathy surrounding a best friend that was having some trouble. She actually asked a separate friend to run and get something that would help the situation…then, they all figured it out together. I was so happy and proud about this, and almost couldn’t believe that my 4 year old constructed this. But instead of just thinking about this, or telling my peers, I’ve deliberately paused with Matilda, grabbed her attention, looked her in the eye, and explained how and why that was such a great thing for her to do. I’ve actually done it twice to really let her know that this is the good stuff.
Sandwiching. While focusing on the strengths and good behaviors, we can really make it stick by ‘sandwiching’ the experience with pre-teaching and reflection. Before our child is exposed to something, it’s good to get a bug in their ear first. This can give that little message that, ‘oh…dad told me that this might happen.’ It doesn’t necessarily mean that our child won’t make a mistake. In fact, we actually want them to make the mistake…it will help expedite the learning process and mitigate the effect of the ego. Yes! I used ‘expedite’ and ‘mitigate’ in the same sentence! So rewarding.
Our pre-teaching is also a trust-building practice, illustrating to our children that we do know a little something, and have been around the block a few times.
Now, this behavior that took place with my daughter wasn’t something that I necessarily could have planned for. I mean, I do talk about empathy and kindness with her, but the actual details of the event were too particular to pre-teach. I have to give myself some credit though, in that I have put effort into conversations surrounding helping others, and why that matters.
I think parents are too hard on themselves. I think they need to realize that they are much more than the sum of their parts.
With a more typical experience approaching in the future, parents can really hone in on the related behaviors.
If a best friend is coming over for a play date, we can relay the message to our child that the friend will want to use all of the toys. Sharing is going to come up. Let’s do that…huh?
Then, as we all know, our child will rip something from their besties’ innocent little paws. Crying and arguing may commence…and we should really do our best to let this play out…to see what kind of results are reached…to allow problems to be solved. This is the socialization that we’re hoping for. And boy, will these same issues come up more and more as they age. Let them work it out if possible! It’s ok if feelings get hurt…we learn a lot when we find ourselves in unwanted emotional states. Again, this is within reason.
Remember though, we have to use the ‘reflection’ piece after the experience takes place. This can’t be while your kid is on the tablet, or watching a show It can’t be during the actual argument that they just had with their friend either. This is best done after some time has passed, once the friend has gone home…or during a break in the action.
Eye contact is key. Deliberate, honest words presented with love and care. Not judgment and belittlement. Think support and education and growth…not placement and insults and punishment.
There can be an ‘I told you so’ aspect to this reflection piece, because you actually did tell them so in the pre-teaching phase…ugh, the nerve! As much as you may want to use this…don’t. The lesson will naturally come to them through your discussion of what transpired. This reflection can build trust as well, depending on how you handle it. Let it be positive, bucket filling, and hold good karma. It’s not measurable, and it may return in unforeseen manifestations…but boy, does it matter.
Remember, after all this talking to your kid about the practice of letting others use their stuff, your child will be 10x more influenced by how you yourself actually share and help others.
How are you doing with that?