Updated: Apr 20, 2020
My kids hit each other, ate toadstools, lied, threw tantrums, and did just about any other misbehavior you can think of, regardless of the consequences! To be fair, they also surprised me with gifts, hugs, and expressions of gratitude, and provided a steady stream of joy and delight. Even so, respectful behavior was something I was always working to cultivate in them.
When I coach parents, I give them a plan for addressing specific behavior issues with their children, which they are asked to implement between sessions. I always remind them of two things:
1)Change takes a long time–weeks or even months.
2) Things will probably get worse before they get better.
Most parents either don’t really hear me, or don’t really believe me. They expect the same things I did–quick compliance, problem solved. Nearly always at the next session these parents tell me either that the plan “didn’t work” or that this week was unusually busy and they weren’t able to use the plan. The reality is, they tried it a couple of times, their child(ren) tested them, and they gave up. No matter how many sessions I have with parents, if they don’t adjust their expectations and commit long-term, they will never gain much ground.
Change only happens when you clearly understand what it’s going to take, and commit yourself to it, with the expectation that there are no shortcuts.
Think of it this way: when you enroll your child in kindergarten, you don’t expect him to have a high school diploma by the end of the year; you know it’s going to take every single one of the years from kindergarten through 12th grade to achieve that goal, so you aren’t surprised when you have to go through the annual ritual of enrolling and buying school supplies each August. You just expect it.
Here is what to expect in the area of teaching children how to behave:
Kids do things you don’t expect, all the time.
Cultivating good behavior (not perfect!) is a long-term process; it’ll take every minute between now and when your child leaves home.
Your child will resist and test you in various ways, all along the way.
If you stay calm and firm, things will be much easier for both you and your child(ren).
If you stay the course, you’ll have done everything in your power to bring your child to responsible adulthood–and that’s all anyone can expect.
There is no magic formula to “getting” your child to behave. Well-behaved children can only be found with parents who don’t make excuses, who have realistic expectations, and who are willing to embrace a steady, consistent approach to a process that will take a lifetime.
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