I hope 2016 is off to a great start for you and your family. We all fall into negative patterns in our relationships. It’s human nature. Just like the old vinyl records follow the grooves to play music, our brains are hardwired to reinforce our habits. Here’s an interesting fact for you. We are hardwired to follow our habits to conserve energy. It’s true! How ironic is it, that many of our habits are unwanted and create stress for us… and ultimately burn up mega-amounts of our precious energy!
When we fall into patterns of behaviour with our child, they will repeat, repeat and you guessed it – repeat – until WE change our actions. As parents, it’s up to us to take the lead in creating change in our homes. We’re the grown ups after all – and we need to model positive behaviour change for our children.
The first step in changing a negative behaviour pattern is to recognize that it exists. What we don’t have in our awareness, we will never have control over. Makes sense, doesn’t it?
The next step is to become clear on what the pattern is, and of course, our desired outcome. What is it that you want to shift? What triggers the pattern? What is your role? In other words, what do you do that perpetuates the pattern? As much as we don’t want to admit it, there’s usually something either conscious or unconscious that we do to contribute. It takes two to tango.
Let’s use an example. Perhaps you and your child get into a daily power struggle about having cookies after school, and you want to shift this. First, be aware of the issue. Write down exactly what takes place. Who said what? How did you react to your child’s request or his frustration? What does he/she do in response? Does this type of struggle occur at other times? Be honest with yourself, and accept your role in the interaction with compassion. You’re allowed to make mistakes, and learning from them will allow you to make things better! Once you’ve noted what plays out and how you contribute, there are some simple, proactive things you can do to change the pattern.
Talk to your child when he is calm about your concern. “Jay, I want your after-school time to be fun and enjoyable for us both. Let’s think about a couple of snacks you could have that we can both agree on.” Brainstorm together and choose two things he can choose from. Thank him for his co-operation, and let him know that you’re proud of his ability to help you problem solve. Don’t forget to label the behaviour. “That was great! Your ideas were really helpful and creative. Thanks for problem solving with me. I’ll make sure I have “X and Y” for you tomorrow after school.”
In the morning, remind him before he goes to school that you’ll have “X and Y” available after he returns. This will help him be prepared, and set him up for success! When he comes home, offer him a choice between the two. This will help him feel that he has control in his decision making. When he makes his decision, commend him for making a great choice.
Important! Remind him at bedtime how proud you are of him. I call this “recycling praise” and it works like a charm. “Wow, after school was so much more fun today… and you helped make it that way. Thank you!”
You might even want to tell your significant other about your collective victory within earshot of your child. This will quietly reinforce your child’s feelings of pride and success, which will go a long way. To use Oprah’s words, “This I know for sure!” Best of luck!
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