By Alicia Wieser
1. Reward and reinforce good behavior
B.F. Skinner, a world famous psychologist writes of his research on animals and humans that animals and humans rewarded for good behavior learn better and retain it over humans who are punished for bad behavior. (Source: Dale Carnegie)
- Instead of:
- "don't be mean" try "when you are nice to your sister, it makes her so happy"
- "don't throw your food" try praising desired behavior => "YAY!!! You put your food back on the table."
- Use I statements.
- Instead of "don't whine" try "When I hear whining, I get frustrated. I like to help people when they do not whine and use nice voices."
2. Role play, practicing behaviors.
- i.e. If your child is shy, try role playing and showing ways he can not be shy. When your child acts not shy, praise him.
3. Accept that children will be children. Let them have the freedom to be age appropriate.
- From the famous poem Father Forgets, W. Livingston Larned writes in 1927 of how deeply he regrets being critical of his son that day:
“At breakfast I found fault, too. You spilled things. You gulped down your food. You put your elbows on the table... The habit of finding fault, or reprimanding; this was my reward to you for being a boy. It was not that I did not love you: it was that I expected too much of you. I was measuring you by the yardstick of my own years... And there was so much that was good and fine and true in your character.... I am afraid I have visualized you as a man. Yet as I see you now, Son, crumpled and weary in your bed. I see that you are still a baby. Yesterday you were in your mother's arms, your head on her shoulder. I have asked too much, too much! "
- When you identify age appropriate behaviors vs. inappropriate behaviors for his age => then you can focus on effectively changing those behaviors in which he can actually change.
4. Remind yourself: It is NOT easy to not be critical. It takes daily practice and awareness.
- Criticism - "don't do X, Y, Z" - or judging your child's behavior is often our natural, impulsive reaction when we witness our children engaging in inappropriate behavior. Yet criticism does not work in the way we intend it to work. It does not change our children's behavior in a good way. Instead, it makes them resent us and desire to engage in that inappropriate behavior when we are not around.
- When faced with a situation in which you would normally be impulsively critical, try taking a few deep breaths. Then try to react in a non-critical manner.
- Try putting a sticky note about criticism on your bathroom mirror that reminds you to be aware of being critical.
5. Try to understand your child's perspective. This also leads to developing empathy.
Dale Carnegie writes,
“Instead of condemning people, let’s try to understand them. Let’s try to figure out why they do what they do. That’s a lot more profitable and intriguing than criticism; and it breeds sympathy tolerance and kindness.”
- If you can reflect on the situation re inappropriate behavior - especially one that repeats itself regularly - and try to see if there is a repeated sequence that happens before the inappropriate behavior, then you can work to change that sequence.
- i.e. You notice your child is often not eating his dinner properly. Take notes on the days he does not eat properly. Is there something else that is happening earlier in the day that is affecting his likelihood to eat his dinner? Nap time disturbed? Too much of a snack too late in the day? Are there particular foods he really likes to eat?
Remember that no one is perfect - we will all be critical at times. We get tired. We forget. What's important? Our intention to be better. In the revered Benjamin Franklin's words:
“On the whole, though I never arrived at the perfection I had been so ambitious of obtaining, but fell far short of it, yet I was, by the endeavor, a better and happier man than I otherwise should have been, had I not attempted it.”
Alicia Wieser is a Mom of 3, a devoted wife, and a social entrepreneur. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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