Parenthood is an exciting, confusing, rewarding, infuriating, isolating, and community-building experience. Through writing about my experiences and reactions to parenting-related articles, I aim to foster a sense of inquiry and inclusion rather than to promote any sort of ideal or philosophy. After all, most of us are just flying by the seat of our pants, doing what works and what feels right.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Changing the Tone on Sour Behavior

I have given the topic of changing the tone on sour behavior a LOT OF THOUGHT over the last year, as my child has found being four years old to be quite challenging.  Here's what has been working for us.  The over all approach is to change the tone and assert my authority.  It has been working for the most part, and it's made life more livable.   

1. Keep cool, at least on the outside.  At least pretend to be calm.  I try not to let my anger turn into big reactions.  He matches my anger with more anger.  I don't succeed all the time, but MAN is it better when I stay calm.  Sometimes, I literally repeat to myself "Calm, patient, loving, consistent, firm." Or something like that.  Because it's HARD. 

2. House Rules.  We are not religious, but I was really noticing its absence in our lives with regards to rules about how we treat each other.  I made a poster of our house rules that we ALL have to follow, including listening and following directions, and my favorite: "Control yourself.  Act from a place of love, not anger."  We can recite them now, and I sometimes have him remind me what the house rules are.  Then there's the "Be Gentle: no hitting,..." etc. 

3. Incentives: We tried changing the tone of things with an incentive system. I noticed that his explosiveness is way worse around (surprise!) getting ready in the morning and getting ready for bed.  So we use a star system to get him something he REALLY wants.  When he does well enough (again, not perfect -- just working on changing the tone), he earns a star.  After 20 stars, he gets fancy new train tracks for his overpriced but really very good Brio Set.  Or a Micro Scooter.  Or a trip to JP Licks.  Whatever. 

4. CONSEQUENCES.  If he really violates the house rules (like totally loses control of himself and bites one of us, which has happened when he's too tired), the consequences kick in. We took his most prized possession, his LEGO away from him last week for a whole week, and I've been letting him earn them back with good behavior.  When he behaves well, he earns a day back.  When he behaves really terribly for a lot of the day, it adds a day.  And I remind him of the consequences.  That's generally all it takes.  I just gave them back this morning, and I made it clear that I can take them away again, but that he knows how to act in order to keep them. 

5. I physically, but gently move him (when I can).  When I can't physically move him, I rely on consequences more.

6. Reinforce a positive identity.  I remind him every day what a good, caring loving, helpful person he is and what a great member of his family he is.  I want him to identify as a good person who behaves respectfully and lovingly.

7.  Otherwise, Keep the tone light!  Our stress leads to his stress, so if we let him know that his behavior doesn't stress us out, he won't identify it as the only thing going on in his life.  This one is a really big deal.  He needs the time he spends at home to be positive and uplifting, so we try not to spend too long correcting his behavior or talking about it.  Just move onto the next thing, and keep the tone light.