Change seldom follows as a result of criticism; use this simple formula instead.
Your son procrastinates. Your daughter texts too much. Your step-son argues every point with you. Which of those scenarios annoys you most? How do you react? Do you criticize those people, hoping your sarcastic comments will change their behavior? All the criticism in the world won't change another person's behavior. Instead, try using this simple C.H.A.N.G.E. Method. You may not change everyone's behavior, but you will feel better about yourself and the other person!
Let's use the procrastinating son as an example. While you read, imagine whatever pushes your criticism buttons.
- Change your opinion of the bad behavior. Is this really your problem? Your son is supposed to call the members of his team to remind them of a special meeting on Tuesday night. It's now Tuesday afternoon and he hasn't made the calls yet. You could nag and nag until he stomps upstairs and calls, probably too late for some team members to make the meeting. You could yell at him about his sense of responsibility. Or quite simply, you could consider that this is not your problem and get on with your life! He'll learn soon enough through natural consequences that calling too late has disappointed the members of his team and his coach.
- Honor the person over the behavior. Maybe your daughter would rather watch her favorite TV show than do the dishes like you asked her. Can you blame her? Wouldn't you rather watch your show than make dinner, do the laundry, or vacuum the living room? Help your child to understand that you still accept her as a valuable member of the family, even if she does procrastinate a bit, as long as she gets her assigned chore done when her show is over. Turning the TV off, yelling about responsibility, and dragging her into the kitchen does nothing to improve parent-child relationships. However, showing her that you acknowledge that she wants to watch a certain show before she does the dishes will go a long way to gaining cooperation at other times.
- Accept the behavior you cannot change. Acceptance is a huge part of family peace. Maybe your daughter procrastinates because she feels she can't live up to your standards. Maybe her ability to clean the hamster cage isn't quite what you expected. Maybe it's time to accept that she is too young to do an adequate job and do the task yourself until she is older. Understand that children are not as adept as adults. Either accept the less-than-perfect job, or do it yourself!
- Notice the good behavior before the bad. The theory of leaving well enough alone does not work when you're trying to change a child's behavior. Find something that your child does right and encourage that behavior to continue. Maybe he always feeds the dog in the morning without being asked. If you ignore that behavior as something he's supposed to do anyway, you aren't motivating him to continue. You also aren't motivating him to do anything else around the house. However, if you yell at him for leaving his dirty laundry all over the house, for leaving his bike out in the rain, and for getting a D in math, you're setting him up for failure because you are noticing only the negative aspects of his life.
- Grow with the changed behavior. If you find that your daughter is maintaining the changed behavior you think is right for her, then gradually add a new way to become a better person. Suppose you finally got her to do homework before she goes out to play with her friends. She has been doing this every day for two weeks because you have set up a reward system that agrees with him. Now let's suppose that she needs to keep his room clean. Help her to see the success she has enjoyed by getting her homework done, then show her that her things will be easier to find when she cleans up her room and maintains that cleanliness. When you gradually help your child to change, the transformation will be strong and long-lasting. However, when you expect everything to change at once, you will meet with negativity and attitude.
- Encourage a continuation of the good behavior. Keep a chart of good behavior, post good papers on the fridge, verbally reassure your child, tell others about his or her accomplishments in his presence. All of these little recognitions will build into a mountain of self-esteem. Your child will only see the good things he is doing, rather than the inappropriate behavior. We notice what others notice in ourselves. So, be vigilant when your child does something right and encourage him or her to continue with that behavior.
Parenting is never easy. But if you are kind, caring, and aware of your child's assets, he or she will develop into a kind, caring, successful adult one day. And isn't that what we all want for our children?
Renee Heiss is the co-author of The EnteleTrons Series of books for lower elementary children. This series teaches about intellectual topics, character education, and language literacy together in one book. See more about this series at www.EnteleTrons.com