As exhausted parents/carers/teachers, we tend to manage difficult behaviours in a reactive way e.g. a reprimand, the removal of an offending item or by tactically ignoring something. This is fine and absolutely what needs to happen at the time of any incident. However, to change our children’s behaviour in the longer term, we need to put a little more effort in and go beyond the reactive and become proactive.
To do this, we need to tackle the behaviours one at a time. It makes sense to start with the behaviour that causes the most trouble for you. I will add this is not a quick fix method but it is a method that is more likely to make sustained change. So I will use an example to explain the process. Say you have a child who often teases or upsets other children with nasty comments. Here is the process I would use.
1) Choose a time when the child is calm and not engaged in the behaviour you are wishing to tackle. The child could be playing with you. (Painting, playing with playdough etc)
2) Start by naming the behaviour. ‘I notice that you say nasty things to other children. Shall we talk about that?’ (You need to be careful not to raise your child’s shame levels. The conversation needs to feel positive and supportive).
3) Discuss the behaviour. E.g. What triggers it? How does it make other people feel? What could you do instead of this behaviour that would be better? How would the better behaviour make others feel?
4) Try and turn the behaviour into a positively worded ‘target’ for your child. E.g. I am going to say kind words to others. Explore with the child what this would look and sound like. If your child is quite young they will probably need to be coaxed with a reward for achieving the target.
5) Revisit the ‘target’ regularly and discuss how the child is managing with it. Discuss how their new behaviour makes others feel, any changes they have noticed because of their new way of behaving and anything they have learnt.