What Can You Do About Negative Behavior Problems in Your Children?
In our series addressing how we can help our kids become good decision makers, we have covered 5 areas:
- Article #1 – Creating Choices
- Article #2 – Providing Clear Guidelines
- Article #3 – Rewarding Good Decision Making
- Article #4 - Kids Decisions
- Article #5 – When Your Kids are Misbehaving
In this final article, we will be discussing how to cope with negative behavior problems in children.
These behaviors are often referred to as, “negative attention seeking behaviors”. They do indeed get more attention from parents than is necessary. Ignoring such behaviors, and instead, redirecting your child to make a better choice is more effective than reacting in any way to the negative behavior.
This is easier said than done!
Remember, when you want to see an increase in a certain type of behavior, give it attention! This information, which is based on behavior modification strategies, works for good behaviors as well as negative behaviors, such as tantrums.
For example, your kid may be having a “bad moment” and is doing something inappropriate (although not dangerous) to get your attention. Sometimes it’s better for both you and your kid if you ignore the behavior, and more importantly, you redirect your kid to do something else.
Ignore the behavior, not the child…
“One day I found my four-year-old nephew yelling – not singing – a Christmas carol, and his yelling became more nerve wracking by the minute.
Now I knew my nephew could sing, and I knew he’d felt we’d been ignoring him for the last sixty minutes or so. Consequently, he engaged in this yelling behavior as a way to get his parent’s attention.
I decided calmly to distract him and redirect his attention to something else. So, as soon as he paused to take a breath, I approached him, showed him by camera, and asked whether I could tape him singing his favorite song. I was careful to add, “I will tape you if you sing in your beautiful singing voice.”
Immediately, he started singing his favorite Christmas tune. His parents and I applauded at the end.
If he had been yelled at for yelling, what would he have learned?
But instead, no one paid attention to his negative behavior; he was calmly redirected and rewarded for a good behavior and a better choice.
When a Child is Annoying…
Often when a child is annoying his/her parents, I see the parents respond with, “What do your want?”
It would be more effective and helpful to the child if the parents took a moment and redirected their kid to ask for their attention in a more appropriate way.
For example: I saw a 7 year old boy tugging at his mother’s arm and whining repeatedly. After about a minute of this behavior, she turned to him and said, “Do you want your game back? Fine, here!”
And with that, although clearly displeased, she returned the toy to her son. The kid walked away with a smirk and a sense of success! What did that kid learn? He learned that if you annoy Mom long enough, you can break her and win!
One possible suggestion for this mother: When her son was annoying her to get her attention, she could have turned to him calmly and said, “You know a more polite way to get my attention” (assuming the kid does). “If you want my attention, say, ‘Excuse me Mom’ and then wait.”
Then she could have waited and given her son a chance to use a more appropriate way to get her attention and ask for what he wanted.
Remember, ignoring negative “attention-seeking” behaviors does not mean ignoring the child. In the example above, when the mom responded to the child with guidance, redirection, and options for more appropriate ways to get her attention, her son’s negative behaviors were not rewarded.
Instead, the child got the guidance he needed to make a better choice. By paying attention to children and redirecting them toward a more appropriate behavior, you’re teaching them about appropriate choices instead of rewarding negative attention seeking behaviors.
Dr. Sherkat speaks to various groups, you can hire her for your next parenting workshop, conference or parenting event.