Parenting Lessons: Step One: Identifying Behaviors You Want to Improve

If you are in pursuit of well-behaved, well-adjusted children, you need to understand how your behavior is connected to your child's behavior. Behavior does not occur by magic. It is not inherited. A well-behaved child is not the result of luck. Be encouraged -- children learn behavior, and they can learn to change behavior too.

Children learn by copying, or modeling -- they listen, observe and imitate. Therefore, you have a powerful influence on them, so think carefully about what you say and do in front of your kids. If you tell the telemarketer on the phone that your husband is not home when he is, you teach your children that lying is okay. If you argue, yell or call people names, you teach your children that these things are okay too. If you get angry at your children, you can expect them to get angry at others.

It's just as true that if you speak in a calm voice even when you are angry, you teach your children how to stay calm when provoked. When you apologize for using bad language, you teach your children to take responsibility for mistakes. When you share, you teach your children to share. Modeling is such a simple lesson that we sometimes forget to make use of it.

As you are observing your children and making a plan for improving their behavior, you must make three promises to yourself.

1. Promise to have courage to be open and to accept new ideas. If what you are doing is working, stick with it. If not, try something new.

2. Promise to have patience. If your son is 12 years old, he has had 12 years to develop his behavior patterns. Give him time to change.


3. Promise to practice. Every parent must practice -- even me. Just as your children learn behaviors, parenting behavior is also learned. Good parenting skills do not appear suddenly and instinctively. But they will become more natural the more you practice them.

Lesson One Activity:
Establishing Your Goal

During this activity, you are going to establish your goal. To do that, first ask yourself how you would like things to be. What changes do you want to see in your children? Select a goal that offers a high chance of success, as that will encourage more success down the road. If possible, select a goal that contributes to the well-being of the whole family. This will encourage a positive family climate.

Sample goal: Siblings Danny and Allison will get along with each other.

Next, make a list of three behaviors that you want to increase or decrease that will directly affect the success of your goal. In the case of Danny and Allison, the list might look this:

1. Danny and Allison will argue less.
2. Danny and Allison will tease each other less.
3. Danny and Allison will share each other's toys more.

Now, observe and keep a record for five days. Count the number of times the behaviors occur each day. But do not do anything to change them. This week, you are simply observing and keeping a record.

These records are very important; over time, they will tell you if your plan is working. If you do not keep written records, you may not be aware of the improvements. With some children, improvements come slowly. And some improvements are not easily detected. At the start of this plan, Danny and Allison are arguing an average of six times a day. Suppose that after two weeks, they are arguing five times a day. This is a small improvement -- but it is progress. As you take part in this workshop, the written records will show you the gains you've made, no matter how small.

When you are ready, move on to Lesson Two to find out why discipline works better than punishment.

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