It’s that time again – a new year! Happy new year!
And this year I’m going to follow that most-popular of new-year traditions, and share some of my best advice for getting 2022 off to a great start. Are you ready! Drum roll, please…
- Have an accountability system.
And by this I mean, don’t just SET those boundaries – you also gotta HOLD those boundaries. Hold your kids accountable to do what they need to do. Nowadays most of the popular wisdom asks parents to basically inspire or persuade their kids to listen and/or do their stuff, and genuine accountability (i.e., “consequences”) is quite often seen as punitive. But if you do it right, accountability is not punitive, and it really is OK and right to expect our kids to adhere to certain standards even when they don’t WANT to do so.
Here are a few helpful things to know about accountability:
** Your child should be able to explain the system and they should be able to predict when it will be activated. The system should be clear and unambiguous and it should work in a consistent, predictable way.
** You can (and should) run your accountability system such that consequences for inappropriate behavior are experienced simply as a result that follows a given action. Keep it objective. I like a tax-law analogy: When I get that letter from the IRS saying I have to pay a penalty because my tax return was late, there’s no emotion to it, no one’s judging me – it isn’t personal. That penalty is simply a result of my not filing on time.
** Some kids, especially strong-willed kids, simply cannot be inspired to do what they don’t want to do. And that’s OK. They know their own mind, they want what they want – that’s a strength. This being the case, though, these kids need an accountability system to help motivate them. With these kids, you won’t see the behaviors you want to see without the accountability piece.
** Accountability is something kids will have to face as grownups, so it’s a good idea to teach them to deal with it now.
- Don’t fight.
I think we all know that fighting with the kids isn’t all that effective, and it causes more harm than good. And if you follow my advice above and maintain an effective accountability system, you don’t NEED to fight!
Power struggles can take different forms. Even just making the same request or giving the same directive over and over is a power struggle, because when your child isn’t listening, they’re essentially saying No to you. And when your response is to admonish, argue, threaten or yell, you’re in a fight.
One great thing that happens when you avoid these fights is, your child becomes less resistant. I’ve seen it over and over – kids will stop fighting – they’ll stop resisting – if there’s no one to fight them. They’ll accept accountability and responsibility much more quickly if they don’t have your anger and/or criticism to react to.
Another great thing is that removing yourself from the power struggles goes a long way toward making your accountability system non-punitive.
Truly, a big part of what makes kids’ problem behavior so hard is our reaction to it. Instead of setting boundaries around the behavior in a neutral, objective way, we engage in communication patterns that either lead to or escalate frustration and anger. Again, though, if you have an effective accountability system – AND you have an effective response to your child’s resistance to that system – you won’t need to fight, and your child will stop fighting too!
- Focus your attention on the good things.
This doesn’t mean, Don’t pay attention to the bad things. It just means, be intentional about seeing the good. Specifically, I often ask my clients to, every day, write down three things they like about their child. This practice helps you to see your child differently and appreciate him or her more, in part because after a few days you’ll have listed all the qualities that come to you now: “She’s smart, he’s funny, she’s sweet, he’s creative…” You’ll look deeper, and you’ll see your child in a new and better way.
Focusing on what you like about your kids – and your co-parent, if you have one – will change your interactions with these people. Your communication and connection will become more positive and more loving, and the frustration and stress will decrease. Again, I’m not saying that this is all you need to do – but it is important.
- If your child is having problems at school, be a cheerleader.
If your child is having problems at school, everything you have to say about it should be encouraging and not any kind of admonishment. DON’T say, “Remember, it’s not OK to bite people. You’ll get kicked out of school if you bite and I CAN’T have you getting kicked out of this school.” DO say, “You know what? I think you’re going to remember how to ask for what you need today! I know you can do it, and I’m proud of you!”
If your child is having problems at school, the positive, supportive, cheerleader role is the role you want to play. For one thing, your warnings won’t work in the way you’d like – they don’t serve to change the behavior, and your child already knows that it’s not OK to bite. And more important, two very real obstacles to kids changing their behavior are 1) their image of themselves as the kid who behaves badly, and 2) their knowledge that people EXPECT them to be bad. If you can show your child that you expect them to manage themselves, this makes them more able to do that. As with #3 above, and as with any of these suggestions, this kind of positivity isn’t the only key to solving the problem – but it does make solving the problem a lot easier.
- Go outside.
Get the kids outside as much as you can, and get yourself outside as much as you can. There’s solid research to support the position that getting outside is a significant benefit that impacts mood, learning, and behavior. I always say, “Measure your outside time in terms of hours, not minutes.” That’s asking a lot, I know, but if there’s any way you can get outside for hours each day, that is ideal. At the very least, take getting outside seriously, and be intentional about it. It’s not just another healthy-lifestyle tip – it plays a big role in your child’s well-being and behavior.
. . . . . .
Have an accountability system; don’t fight; focus your attention on the good things; be a cheerleader; go outside. It’s not all there is to parenting, and it’s not all there is to solving the behavior challenges that bring my clients to me – but these things will make big a difference. If you enjoyed this post, I’d love it if you’d help it spread by emailing it to a friend, or sharing it on Twitter or Facebook. And I’d love to read your comments! What questions do you have about the suggestions listed in this post? And what suggestions would YOU give parents for an awesome 2022? Please share!
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At Wits’ End we are parenting- and child behavior experts who specialize in strategies that work with strong-willed, oppositional-defiant, or aggressive kids. We have over 20 years’ experience with kids at the far end of the difficult-behavior spectrum, and we’ve helped hundreds of families solve behavior challenges like “not listening,” outright defiance and aggression, impulsivity, emotional volatility and intense anger, ADHD-related behaviors, and others.
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