Next Step Therapy Blog: ‘Raising Well-Behaved Children – Lesson Two’

Tracy 1Next Step Therapy, submitted the following article – “Raising Well-Behaved Children – Lesson Two.”

In lesson one of this series, we talked about the fact that children could not know what good behavior was, unless they were told or shown. We said that a two or three year old would just naturally do things, and had no ability to determine on their own whether that was an acceptable behavior or not. So, we said that CLEAR EXPECTATIONS of good behavior were necessary from the time children are infants. We also talked about parenting being much easier if problem behaviors were stopped the first time they happened, rather than waiting for the child to age and then trying to stop something that has been going on for years.

Lesson 2 is about the need for CONSISTENCY. By consistency, I mean doing the same things in the same way all of the time, so that everybody knows what is expected.

Most adults thrive on consistency. We get up in the morning and do the same things in the same order. The routine makes sense to us, feels right, and gets the job done. If something unexpected happens, like not having any water or electricity, or the coffee maker blows a gasket and spews the much needed coffee all over the counter, it tends to “ruin our day.”

Likewise, if you go into work and get pulled into the bosses office to be told that your outfit is inappropriate work attire, and you are like, “Wait a minute, I’ve worn this same outfit at least eight times before. What is wrong with it today? What changed?”

Several years ago, our local Walmart was renovated, and in the process they moved everything around. I walked in one day with a list of 10 things, thinking this was going to be an easy-peasy quick in and out. I found myself standing still with my cart, looking around and wondering if I was actually in Walmart. People all around me were saying things like, “Where is the bread? Where did they put the toilet paper?” It’s kind of funny when something as mundane as a store changing its rows around can send a whole community of grownups over the edge, but there you have it.

We like to know where things are, how things work, what to expect, what is likely to happen next, and that we know how to handle what happens next.

Now, imagine for a minute that you are a small child. The world is huge, a lot of it doesn’t make sense, and quite frankly, it can be scary. There are monsters and things you can’t touch. There are one hundred and one ways that you can be injured. You are just trying to have a good time and get what you want (food, attention, a toy). One day, mom lays on the couch not feeling well, and you are allowed to trash the whole house – 7000 pieces of Legos are laying all over the floor, just waiting to cripple a bare footed person. The next day, mom is up and feeling better – and you aren’t allowed to make a mess at all! What? I have to put away every toy when I’m done with it before I get out another one? WHYYYYYY????

The following happens every day in every community in the USA, and it’s been blogged about before, but it is worth repeating. The kid is in the shopping cart at the store. He is pitching a fit. Mom says, “Jimmy, stop that. Stop crying and whining. You are driving me crazy. If you don’t stop it, I’m going to take you to the car. Stop it. If you don’t stop it, you’ll be going to bed early. I mean it, stop it. You are going to get a spanking. Seriously, I am going to spank you. IF you stop crying, I’ll buy you a toy. How about a Power Ranger? You stop crying and I’ll buy you a Power Ranger. I have such a headache. Please stop it. We only need a few more things, we’ll be done in 10 minutes. Blah, blah, blah, yadda, yadda, threat, threat, etc. etc.”

What this mom just did, really, was to say, “Don’t bother to listen to anything I say. Nothing that I threaten is actually going to happen. Despite the fact that I have indicated that your behavior is upsetting and actually making me ill, I have no intention of doing anything about it. Carry on and I will buy you a new toy as a reward for bad behavior!”

What should have happened? When mom said, “If it doesn’t stop, I will take you to the car” she should have given Jimmy 30 seconds to stop, and when he didn’t, she should have taken him out of the cart, and directly to the car. Period. Why? Because, a parent, who is supposed to be an authority figure, needs to DO WHAT THEY SAY. Consistency.

Tracy, have you ever done that? Have you ever removed a child from a public situation because of their behavior? Because I see what you’re saying, but in practice……

YES! Yes, I have (twice) removed my oldest son from a public place because of his behavior between the ages of two and three. Once at Walmart, and once at a restaurant. Was it fun? No. But, did you see what I just said? I had to do it twice….only twice. After that, if I said that his behavior was inappropriate and needed to stop, he KNEW, beyond a shadow of a doubt that there would be consequences, and he wasn’t going to like them.


Have the same rules at home every day. From loudness level, to table behavior, to bedtime, to TV time….establish clear rules and consistently enforce them.
Have the same rules for being out in public all of the time. From loudness level, to table behavior, to holding hands in parking lots, to touching things on shelves…establish clear expectations of conduct, and consistently enforce them.
Have a clear, consistent set of consequences for behavior that violates the above rules, and enforce those consequences immediately, and consistently.

Some of you are going to read this and feel like you missed the boat. “I WISH I had followed a strategy like this, but now my kids are 9 and 6, totally out of control and it’s too late.” Good news! It is never too late to make life affirming changes. Never. However, it is going to be a different process with older kids. Rather than stress everyone out by doing a total home make-over, pick ONE thing that needs to change for your sanity, and work on that. If it is bedtime, with kids this age, you simply sit them down in the afternoon (not in the middle of the nightly meltdown) and explain that AS OF TODAY bedtime is going to be different. Explain what the problem is, why it is no longer acceptable, what the new routine will be, and what the consequences will be if the new rules are not followed. Approaching bedtime, review again what the new rules are, set clear expectations of behavior, remind them of unpleasant consequences that will occur if rules are not followed, and consider offering a positive reward for a job well and correctly done. If rules are not followed, immediately follow your consequence plan. If rules are followed and you have an excellent bedtime exchange, make sure you praise them the next morning! Repeat the above for as many nights as necessary, however, do NOT allow this to turn into a discussion/negotiation. For the first few nights, you may have to explain/re-explain the changes, expectations and consequences…but after the third time, I would no longer discuss. Once bedtime is calm and satisfactory, pick another area that needs changed and repeat all of the above steps.

Some of you are going to feel uncomfortable with this whole post and think it sounds military – like. Do kids really need “rules” for everything, all the time? Yes, they do, but stop thinking of them as “rules” and think of it more like “this is how we do things at our house so that everybody is happy and comfortable.” Folks, I’ve got news for you: this whole world we live in is based on rules and people telling you what to do. Your job tells you what time to be there, when you can take a break, what you will do while you are there, and what time you can leave. The school district tells you what time your kid needs to be there, how many days he needs to be there, and what the consequences will be if he isn’t. The “law” tells you everything from where you can park, to how loud your music can be. The sooner your kids understand that there are “rules” or a code of conduct for almost every situation, the sooner your child will try to learn and follow those socially accepted norms.

Let’s go back to little Jimmy in the shopping cart for a moment. This poor kid does not see his parent as an authority figure. That means that the parent is not able to stop Jimmy from doing something dangerous, such as running out in front of a car. Because, when mom screams, “STOP!!!!” Jimmy doesn’t. Insisting that your child listen to you, immediately, is for their safety, first and foremost. Moving along a few years, since Jimmy has never been taught to obey an authority figure, he is not likely to listen to a bus driver, or a teacher, and certainly not another child’s parent. Those of us who work in child related fields (education, therapy, and psychology) can tell you flat out that little Jimmy, at three, is almost certainly going to be a child at six who is disruptive and disobedient in school. Because he doesn’t listen, and doesn’t follow social norms, he will have difficulty maintaining positive social interactions with teachers and peers. School will not be a pleasant experience for him, and therefore, he is not likely to do well. IF he is ever invited to another child’s house for a playdate or birthday party, he will almost certainly never be invited back, because he does not listen to the grownups, and can’t follow rules.

Parents who do not set expectations for behavior, have a consistent set of rules to be followed and who do not administer consequences consistently are not doing their children any favors. Helping your child to understand social norms and to become a productive, law abiding citizen is one of the most important things you can do for your child. And yes, that process starts in infancy, from the moment they can roll over and start getting into things on their own.


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