Using Communication to Change Misbehavior
In my last post, I wrote about connection, the first of the three steps taught in the Parent Encouragement Program by author, Kathryn Reynolds Lewis. The second step outlined in her book, The Good News about Bad Behavior is communication. It is important to note that communication follows connection.
How often do we try to control children through ineffective communication such as bossing, ordering, nagging, instructing etc without first establishing rapport with a child? Instead, Lewis maintains that once we establish an empathetic connection, another level of communication is possible that is collaborative and proactive. Based on clinical child psychologist, Ross Greene’s disciplinary method of collaboration and proactive solutions, Lewis gives practical suggestions that not only challenge misbehavior but also teach children coping skills. Teaching children to manage their behavior in the future is better than simply punishing behavior in the present.
Here are some practical suggestions from Lewis based on Greene’s research:
- Begin by taking the time to listen to the child and gain their perspective on the problem. This may include identifying the trigger for the misbehavior. Listening is a key part of all communication. Too often we expect children to listen to adults but rarely model good listening ourselves.
- Identify emotions. This means your emotions as the adult as well as the child’s emotions. If necessary take some time to moderate your own emotions if they will get in the way of communication. Be curious about the incident rather than angry or disappointed in order to effect the most change.
- Consider any misbehavior a teachable moment. Rather than assuming the child ‘knew better’, assume they need to be taught a better way that serves them and others. Treat misbehavior as you would a child who failed a test in math. Would you assume they ‘knew better’? Or would you assume they did the best they could but needed some additional teaching of math skills? Make the same assumption about behavior.
- Be proactive and plan for the future. An important part of any behavior change involves identifying triggers and anticipating them recurring in the future. How will the child handle the problem in the future? What steps can they take? Make sure the steps are positive things they can do rather just things they shouldn’t do.