Today I witnessed my sweet little angel hit a kid because she was frustrated or irritated. My child! How do I stop her from repeating the behaviors?
That is a great question! Our first instinct as a parent is to make our child stop the undesirable behavior immediately…saying things like, “Don’t hit!” or “Stop that!” However, we often end up seeing it again and then repeat the same process, feeling like a fireman running around, putting out “fires” of misbehaviors over and over. Often we inadvertently reinforce the behavior by giving it negative attention, so it happens again when our child seeks our attention because the little angels live and breathe for our attention, positive or negative. As parents, we have to flip the coin towards the positive attention to shape appropriate behaviors. Here are a couple of ideas I give parents as I coach them.
- Remind your “angel” of the simple rules right before the activity is set to occur. EXAMPLE: “We are going to play at the park with friends. The rule is to always use your nice hands. If you feel upset, it’s good to use your big girl words like ‘I need help’ or ‘please share with me’.”
- The first time you see/hear your “angel” use nice words and keep her hands to herself, give specific praises to reinforce that behavior. EXAMPLE: “Great job playing using gentle hands with your friends”, or “I’m so proud of you for asking for the toy when you wanted a turn, that’s being a good friend when you use your nice words”.
- Use selective attention—ignore the minor misbehaviors, and then watch for the positive opposite behavior like a hawk, ready to dive in and describe what you like! Now you are giving positive attention to the acceptable behavior, rather than negative attention to the undesirable behavior. Ignore rough play with toys, and the moment your child is playing gently, offer reinforcement by describing the acceptable behavior. EXAMPLE: “You’re taking your time and putting the toys in the box gently”.
- Be a good role model! Always, always put your best foot forward and be on your best behavior because your child WILL imitate you because you are the most important person in the world to them. Describe your behaviors that are appropriate, so they hear it, to reinforce learning. EXAMPLE: “I’m going to find another toy to play with while you play with the car,” or “ I’m waiting my turn patiently even though it’s hard to wait”, or “I’m keeping my hands to myself because that is what good friends do”.
- DO THESE THINGS OFTEN!! Life is a 24/7 opportunity to teach our young ones the goodness we desire for them. NEVER miss an opportunity to help them grow positively! Our children aren’t born knowing how to behave; it is our job to teach them. I talk all day long to children and I enjoy it! Why? Because they LOVE hearing the good things about themselves more than they want to hear how about how bad they were today. The more you catch them being “good,” the less they will act “bad” to get your attention. Parents often feel it will “upset the apple cart” if they interrupt quiet play with their words, when in fact, the opposite is true! Talk often to your children, play with them, praise them, and watch them blossom!
PARENTING CAN BE A CHALLENGE. IF YOU HAVE QUESTIONS ABOUT YOUR GROWING INFANT, TODDLER OR PRESCHOOLER, WE’LL FIND THE BEST LOCAL EXPERT TO ANSWER. SEND YOUR QUESTIONS TO First5@rccfc.org.
Starr Ramirez is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker with the Riverside County Department of Mental Health Preschool 0-5 SET-4-School Program, a First 5 Riverside-funded program focused on providing social emotional development services. The Riverside County Department of Mental Health is one of two grantees providing services under the First 5 Riverside Growing Healthy Minds initiative. Family Service Association also provides services.