Are you exhausted by your child’s behavior? Tired of the constant whining? Children never listen? Maybe you’ve tried everything and it’s still not working: time outs, rewards, punishments, and more.
I hear you; I was there too. I tried all the traditional methods of parenting my two little girls, but it was just pushing them farther and farther away. Then I began studying different ways to manage a child’s behavior, and what I’ve learned has helped us so much!
The biggest key I’ve found to manage a child’s behavior is this: connection. Children who feel connected to their parents in a positive way will cooperate much more readily and have fewer difficult behaviors.
You may say, “I’m with my kid all day long! We’re together 24/7! Of course we’re connected.” Although you’re in the same space all day, or even doing things together much of that time, you may not realize that what you’re doing isn’t actually building connection. You’re going through the motions of your day, but your child isn’t feeling heard.
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The Power of Connection
Interestingly, a day care I follow on Facebook recently posted, “The most powerful tool we have for influencing behavior is the relationship we build with our students.” If that is true for day care teachers, how much more for parents?
Children who don’t feel connected to their parents will often exhibit more difficult behaviors, while those who feel a secure connection will be more willing to cooperate with their parents.
There are several different ways you can connect with your child, and thankfully most of them can be done as a natural part of your day, without adding more to an already full schedule. Try to add as many as you can, but at least make sure you are doing several of them, and you will see an improvement in your child’s behavior within a few days.
One more thing to think about before we get to the list: When kids ask for your help with something they’re fully capable of doing, it often means they’re looking for connection. For example, when I’m helping my daughter put on her tap shoes at dance, her sister says, “I don’t need help, but I just want you to put mine on too.”
Unfortunately, they won’t always make it that obvious!! They might instead have a tantrum because you won’t help them put on their pjs, or they might refuse to brush their teeth by themselves.
It’s okay for you to help them with things they can do on their own. Don’t worry that you’re babying them, or that you’ll have to go to their college dorm every night and brush their teeth! As they mature and as the connection gets stronger, they’ll start doing more on their own. I promise!
Connecting in Everyday Moments
Reconnect when you’ve been apart
After school or when they get out of bed in the morning, take a few minutes to focus solely on each child if you can.
Remember to have five positive interactions for every negative one
If the majority of your interactions with your child revolve around a to-do list or you nagging or disciplining them, it will be difficult for them to remain connected to you.
Treat your children with the same respect you expect from them
It’s not okay to expect them to show you basic respect when you treat them like they are less important than you. Model the way you want to be treated.
Help them calm down before you deal with unwanted behaviors
Remember—connection before correction (quote from Dr. Laura Markham) is one of the most crucial keys to changing your child’s behavior.
Work together to problem solve or to make an unwanted job easier or more fun.
Our Parenting Littles Book Club recently read Parenting—Let’s Make a Game of It! It inspired many of us to create games when our children are in an unpleasant situation, such as walking through a “boring” museum, going on a long car ride, or doing a chore they dislike.
Daily Special Time
This year we began daily “special time” at our house. Every day, both my husband and I connect with each of our daughters for ten minutes of one-on-one time. In the morning before school and work we each play with one girl and then at bedtime we each play with the other.
Special time is a short time to connect with each child doing whatever the child wants to do. At our house right now, that usually means hide and seek, a card game, playing tag or catch, or playing baby.
Now I’m not a huge fan of playing baby every day. But my little one needs that and it fills her love tank, so I put up with it. You can do anything for ten minutes a day, right? And just think of how many things you expect your child to do throughout the day that aren’t their choice. Giving the power completely over to them for ten minutes can go a long way in seeing a positive change in your child’s behavior.
I’ve found that adding the ten minutes at bedtime is a simple way to connect at the end of the day. It’s also a good way to help your bedtime dawdlers pick up the pace a bit. I will say, “Special time is starting in ten minutes, so you need to be ready for bed by then.”
Connecting During Routines
Because so much of our day is filled with routine moments such as chores, driving places, and eating, it is crucial that we use some of this time to connect with our children. Your child’s behavior will improve simply by using these routine times to connect.
Here are some practical ideas for connecting during routine moments. Most of them could cross over and be used in the others as well. Of course what works best for your family will all depend on how many children are involved and their ages.
–Have them tell you the story of their day
–Play I spy
–Guess how long the job will take and then set a timer to see how close you were
–Play the alphabet game
–Ask “would you rather” questions
–Have meaningful conversation
–Play a game such as guessing what animal someone is thinking of
These conversation starters are great for any of the times listed above. These and many more can be found on Amazon. Browse to see which sets might work best for your family.
Filling Their Love Tank
You’ve probably heard about the five love languages. Every person has a love language, something that speaks directly to them, “I love you. You are special to me. I am here for you.”
This is true for romantic relationships as well as parent-child relationships. Knowing your child’s love language and using it often is a key way to see an effective change in your child’s behavior.
Here are the five love languages and ideas for how to express your love in that way. As you read through the list, jot down any other ideas that come to mind.
–Anything small, like a treat at the store
–Grab a toy or sticker sheet when you’re at the dollar store. Getting some small thing for them tells them they are special to you and you were thinking of them.
–Add more special time when you can
–Take them out for ice cream
–Read an extra book or chapter at bedtime
–Take time to do their chores with them, rather than having them work alone
Words of Affirmation
–Write a note. My husband put a short note in our kindergartener’s backpack every day last year. It was a simple way for them to connect when they were apart, and a reminder that she’s special (and also good practice for a beginning reader!).
–Encouraging words (If you need ideas, you can find a list of positive phrases to say to your children on Pinterest or Google.)
–Hugs and kisses
–Back scratch or back rub
Acts of Service
–Helping them with chores they usually do alone or even doing their chores for them now and then as a way to say “I love you”
–Helping them with simple self-care things they can do on their own, such as getting dressed or brushing teeth
Connection Before Correction
When your child’s behavior is difficult, what is your first response? Previously for me, it was to correct that behavior through a time-out or some other type of consequence. That is how I dealt with my boys’ behavior for the first 20 years of parenting. However, that did not work at all with my girls, who joined our family when they were babies.
Simply dealing with the child’s behavior without connecting first will create a chasm between you as the child is left to deal with corresponding emotions on their own.
I can’t tell you how important it is to connect with your child and empathize with their feelings before correcting them. We recently had an issue with our 6-year old and I was just not in the mood. I didn’t want to empathize, connect, or do any of the things. So I dealt with her behavior the way I used to: I disciplined and punished to get her to stop.
It worked, she stopped. But then something else popped up, and again something else. We were putting out little fires all. day. long. Why? Because she didn’t feel heard. She was disconnected and we didn’t acknowledge her feelings the first time. She didn’t feel right, therefore she couldn’t act right. When I finally sat down and connected with her, the behaviors stopped for that day.
The Magic Bullet?
Is connection the magic bullet to ending all of your child’s difficult behavior forever? When you are fully engaged and connecting positively with your children, will they start behaving every day without another problem? Well, let me ask you this: Do you behave perfectly every day? Or do you have days when you are just “off”?
You don’t feel good, so you snap at a coworker. Or a friend said something that hurt you, so you in turn say something to hurt your spouse. Or your hormones are off and every little thing your child does grates on your nerves until you finally yell at them.
Of course, we all have days like that. We adults who have had years of practice still have trouble controlling our emotions sometimes. And yet we often expect more of our children.
If you’re struggling to get your toddler to listen, check out my FREE guide, Ten Simple Ways to Get Your Toddler to Listen without yelling, bribes, or time outs. Click here for more info!
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