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Teaching New Behaviors

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Children aren’t born knowing how or why to behave well. They aren’t born knowing how to take turns, not to color on the walls, or how to control their big emotions when you won’t buy them a new toy at the store. As parents, it is our job to teach our kids impulse control and the behaviors they will need to be more successful and happy.

Teaching young children appropriate behaviors is hard work and takes time. There is no magical, easy, or perfect approach to teaching children to make better choices or to encourage new behaviors. There is no one-size-fits all approach. Children are different and parents are different. What works for one family might not work for another.

Here are five basic reminders all parents should consider for constructively teaching new behavior:

1. Love. Children need to feel our unconditional love every day. They need to know they are loved for who they are, not just when they are being good. We need to make time every day to give children our positive attention. We need to work at building a loving relationship with them where bonds are built on trust and mutual respect.

2. Be mindful of your own emotions. Adding your own emotions to children’s intense emotions is never constructive. When you find yourself getting upset it’s important to slow down, take a deep breath and think of the bigger picture. Decreasing your stress and keeping calm allows you to intervene with your child and their behavior in a way that doesn’t make things worse.

3. The reasons behind a child’s behavior matter. Behavior does not happen for no reason. It is not random. Behavior is purposeful and children use their behavior to communicate. When you pay attention to what your child might be needing in the present moment you are on your way to understanding the motivation for your child’s behavior. When we recognize the particular source of a behavior we can accurately teach children more positive and effective ways to get their needs met. When you know the behavior’s source you can also be more thoughtful in your parenting response to your children’s misbehavior and pay more attention to meeting their needs.

4. You need proper parenting tools. You can’t approach every misbehavior in the same way. It’s essential to have a variety of parenting tools at your disposal to effectively address the multitude of behavior challenges that arise in childhood. It is also important to have tools that are focused on positive discipline rather than relying on punishment to change behavior. If you feel you have too limited a toolbox of effective tools it may be helpful to take a parenting class or meet with a parenting professional to learn more strategies that are helpful, effective, and suited to your parenting needs.

5. Give extra support and extra practice. Learning new behaviors takes time and means mistakes are going to happen along the way. As parent’s it requires us to be consistent and be patient. Your children should know the exact behavior that is expected of them. They should know the rules and the limits. When children struggle to learn from the process we have in place we need to take extra time to clarify the process and to be willing to keep teaching. As you discipline their mistakes keep in mind your child’s need for a sense of love and belonging in your family unit. Always remember the first and most important reminder, Love.

Behavior is learned over our lifetime and shaped by the environment in which we grow up in. Parents aren’t always perfect. Neither are children. It is important to have realistic expectations for yourself and your children and don’t hold children to adult standards. Behavior changes come with time and effort and making changes requires lots of practice. We need to have patience. Your parenting counts!

Heart of Connecting

My work is dedicated to supporting parents and early childhood educators in understanding and reducing challenging behavior in young children at home and in the preschool classroom.

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