The last day we were in New Mexico my mom gave us a few parenting books she had on her bookshelf. I didn't really take a good look at them until a couple days ago when I picked up a book called The Power of Positive Parenting by Glenn Latham. I read the forward and was impressed by this:
Whatever a child (or anyone else) does or says has consequences which influence the way that child will behave in future similar situations. With repetition, those behaviors become part of a child's personality. In other words, the consequences of a child's behavior, whether the behavior is considered by the parents to be desirable or undesirable, shape a child's traits--abilities, habits, manners, attitudes, etc.
...Hence, the essential ingredient in dealing with problem behavior and in child rearing practices in general, is the management of consequences in ways that increase desirable behavior and decrease undesirable behavior.
So how do you do that? Well the author's advice is very simple, but rather mind-blowing as well. He says that all parental attention, positive and negative, reinforces behaviors. Basically that kids act up because they get attention when they do, even though it's negative attention. So to decrease bad behavior, parents have to constantly give attention for positive behavior. And actually ignore a lot of bad behavior!
This makes sense, but it's also quite radical. Think about it. When kids are behaving and playing nicely with each other, what do most parents do? We leave them be. We ignore them. It's only when they start fighting or hitting or what have you that we show up and scold and punish. But the attention given when they are misbehaving actually reinforces that misbehavior because they are getting attention from us. Crazy!
The author says that instead parents should find ways to give attention when children are behaving to reinforce those behaviors. It can be a simple statement like, "I'm so glad to see you children playing nicely together." Things like that. But you need to do it pretty frequently to keep the reinforcement going.
So here are the author's five parenting rules:
1. Clearly communicate your expectations to your children. This includes a clear description of those behaviors that will get your attention. This is typically best done through role playing.
2. Ignore inconsequential behaviors.
3. Selectively reinforce appropriate behaviors.
4. Stop then redirect inappropriate behaviors.
5. Stay close to your children.
I've only read about 40 pages so far and haven't gotten into the details of each of these rules, but I've already made a paradigm shift. Today, Jared and I made a real effort to be positive and make sure the kids are aware of all the things they are doing right that we appreciate. And we've been better about ignoring those behaviors that don't deserve our attention, like whining, mild tantrums, etc. And today really has been so much better. I can see the kids light up under all the praise and learning that they won't get our attention with crying and whining.
We've also been using our "penny points" system more. Olivia came up with this a couple months ago and we've extended it to all the kids. When they do things we ask, help out around the house, or make improvements in behavior, they get pennies. It's been a great tangible reward system. (kinda like giving a dog treats!) And it works!
These sweet children have gone through quite a lot with their parents' divorce, and they are good kids. But they are not the best behaved children and it's been a challenge retraining them this summer. The frustrating thing is that I feel like I have made a dent, and they are getting better, but now we are leaving and they are going back to their mom. I'm so afraid that all my work will be undone. It's one of the major difficulties of this situation. They have a good mom who loves them very much, but she obviously must let them get away with a lot if they act the way they do. Kids behavior is a product of their environment. Dr. Latham says that if you fix the environment, you fix the kid.
I just hope that they will remember how they are expected to act when they are with us and we can get back to that when we see them again. And hopefully Jared and I will be able to share some of what we've learned with their mom and she'll be able to continue it.
I love these three crazy kids very much, and I've learned and grown so much this summer. I am a parent with all that word means, except that I haven't given birth. I want them to grow up to be good, loving people who care about those around them. I want them to be happy. I want them to feel loved. I want to make sure I do all I can so that they reach their highest potential. Which I guess is what every good parent wants for their children.
I totally recommend the book to all parents, no matter what age your children are. I will write any more insights I have as I read through the book. And I'd love to hear any thoughts you all have about these ideas. After all, I'm still VERY new at this!