The reasons kids misbehave can be as varied as kids themselves. Sometimes it can be pretty tricky to figure why your kids are doing what they are doing. If we don’t cut the behavior off at the source…it will show up in a new way, somewhere else. It’s kind of like squeezing Jello. Closing off one opening just forces the Jello out another opening. It’s the same deal with behavior.
The rules of behavior are always the same. First there’s the Antecedent. The antecedent is the behavior trigger. It could be wanting a toy, being told ‘no’, being sleepy, being hit by a sibling, avoiding homework, etc. Next comes the Behavior. The behavior is the thing the child does. Cries, hits the sibling back, feeds the homework to the dog, etc. Finally, there is a Consequence. Don’t be misled by the term “consequence”. The term is not negative by nature. Consequences can indeed be positive…which means the child gets something she wants, not necessarily something good. Hitting a sibling back and making them yell may be a very positive thing to the child, but not a positive thing in and of itself. The consequence is the result of behavior. It may reinforce the behavior (causing it to be repeated) or it may extinguish the behavior (causing it to stop). These are called the A, B, C’s of behavior.
Did I do something? When it’s not immediately apparent why a child is misbehaving, we have to go through a process of elimination, and the place we have to start is…with ourselves. I know. It sounds shocking that we could actually be doing something to cause, or reinforce bad behavior in our kids but it happens. While the ways we can contribute to our kids’ acting out are nearly endless, here are a few common areas to assess:
- Are we giving attention? If we’re on our cell phones, watching a lot of TV, or doing something that leaves our kids starving for our attention, they will act out to get that attention, and they may be all over the map in how they do it. If kids are feeling a lack of attention, even getting negative attention will fill their need for contact with you. To fix this, get rid of the distractions and give lots of positive attention to your kids.
- Are we reinforcing the wrong thing? When I was young and upset, I got a cookie. So what do you think I did when I wanted a cookie?? I got upset. (Yes…this has created a lifelong issue for me with cookies…ha!)
- Are we consistent? This is huge. Intermittent reinforcement is the most powerful kind of reinforcement. Think gambling. Gambling is such a success because sometimes we win. We risk the loss, because there’s a chance, whether good or slim, that we will get what we want. When we only enforce the rules sometimes, your kids know they have a chance of getting around those rules, and getting what they want. When jumping on the bed only gets addressed sometimes, you can expect to regularly catch your kids jumping. When curfews aren’t consistently enforced, expect late kids. You get the idea.
While certainly not all of the bad behavior in our kids has anything to do with our own behavior, the very first place to start is by looking in the mirror. It is far easier to change your behavior than to change theirs. Further, if it is you, and you don’t make the needed changes, nothing else you do will correct the problem.