As a logically thinking person, negative consequences for negative behaviors always made sense to me. If you lose a privilege every time you disobey the rules, you should figure out that the way to keep privileges is to live by the rules (or at least not get caught). However, parenting kids from trauma has taught me that the aforementioned logic leap is not so apparent for some. In fact, negative consequences are not linked to behaviors at all–they just communicate to the guilty child how much he is not loved. In our house, we have to do everything we can to keep our kids connected, including how we correct them. So what does that look like?
- For mouthiness, try giving your child appropriate “voice.” Disrespectful words are a maladaptive way of communicating a feeling. Most likely you are taking issue with the tone or poorly chosen words, not the actual emotion. Decode the emotion from the mouthiness and have your child do a re-do with more appropriate words. “I hate you!” might really mean, “I’m frustrated that I can’t have my way right now.” Helping your kids identify and verbalize their emotions is a critical life skill.
- For defiance, allow your child to feel like he has some shared power by respectfully asking for a compromise. In our house, an imperative from me is allowed to be followed by a “Yes, ma’am,” or a “May I have a compromise?” Compromises may be delaying the task for an agreed amount of time (usually 5 minutes at our house), asking for help to complete the task at hand, or something similar. This is not a “get out of jail free card” by any stretch of the imagination. I can’t always give a compromise but doing so as much as possible creates the investment needed when I need a child to do something immediately.
- For younger children who cannot form an appropriate compromise, giving choices from the get-go is a great tool. An example may be, “Would you like to sit on the sofa or the floor to put on your socks?” There is never a choice to not do the request.
- Bad habits and a host of other conflicts can be addressed through re-doing the situation or role-playing. The positive muscle memory gained through physically doing the correct thing is much more powerful than a lost privilege. We often use this technique to resolve sibling squabbles. It’s great because it does not require me to figure out who is to blame. All parties involved go back to the “scene of the crime,” and we walk through the more appropriate ways to handle the situation.
The key is to stay connected to your child and show him that you are on his side to help him learn the correct behavior. If you are frustrated that you are doing a re-do for the umpteenth time, keep your cool and practice using your voice rather than actions to express your emotions. While not all of our kids require these intentional parenting techniques, they are working beautifully for everyone, and I hope they inspire you.
Please share your tips for lovingly correcting negative behavior in children below.