If yelling isn’t working, what’s next?-River City Counseling

In a recent blog post (“192 hours until kindergarten starts”), I wrote about how much I was looking forward to my son, KD, beginning kindergarten. I thought I’d get a break, and the challenges of parenting would somehow lessen.

I was wrong, wrong, wrong! Old challenges were simply replaced by a slew of new problems: getting into his uniform, packing his lunch, force-feeding protein to a kid who wants nothing to do with food for the first three hours of the day, rushing out the door, etc. And he has decided that it’s fun to get up even earlier than usual and stay awake later. Oh, and school lasts for only 3 hours, which leaves time for exactly one thing. Don’t bother trying to get a manicure along with your pedicure; there isn’t time. Needless to say, stress in our household remains elevated.

It’s fair to say that I’m not on my “A” game as a parent. Nothing horrible; CPS won’t be knocking on my door. I’ve simply gotten hooked into a negative cycle of being critical, threatening loss of privileges, actually taking privileges away, raising my voice, sending him to his room, etc.

I know I’m not alone. When parents are stressed, tired, etc., we’re all prone to being negative to our kids and threatening consequences. And when this doesn’t work, we sometimes raise the ante by increasing consequences and decibels. Deep down, we know this doesn’t work very well, but it’s tough to get out of the negative cycle, once the train has left the station.

I think and hope the solution lies in shifting our focus from the negatives to the positives. So when you notice your child doing what he’s supposed to, point it out. If you notice your child trying to do things better, even if nothing has changed, compliment her. If it feels fake or that you’re way overdoing it, get over it. Your kids won’t notice; they’ll simply appreciate the positive attention.

On top of this, our kids need to hear how highly we think of them (even when we’d rather drink castor oil and eat nails than be complimentary). Tell them you love them, hug them, tell them how proud of them you are, and generally be more affectionate. I know how difficult this can be, particularly when we’re frustrated with them. And it will probably feel a bit forced sometimes. Still, it’s worth a try…because it works.

Parents understand why it’s important to tell their kids they love them, but they frequently don’t see the value in complimenting their kids for doing things they think they should be doing or are already doing well. The answer is simple: because we want them to keep doing what they’re doing. (Full disclosure: these aren’t my original ideas. I’m borrowing liberally from a parenting program called Parent Project, which is a really solid parenting class for parents of strong-willed kids. If you’re struggling and feeling completely out of control, I encourage you to check-it-out at www.parentproject.com).

Don’t get confused and think we’re supposed to ignore it when Julia experiments with metal in the microwave and Johnny poops in the dog’s bowl and only focus on the positives. This couldn’t be further from the truth; if your kid messes-up he deserves consequences. But the hope is that by pointing out the positives and being affectionate, you’ll motivate your child to make good choices, rather than poor ones.  It’s as if the positive encouragement acts as preventive medicine.

I tried to take my own advice this morning. We all got off to a better start, in part because KD slept a bit later and woke-up in a better mood. Still, there were challenging moments, and I found myself getting frustrated. Fortunately, I caught myself, shifted my attitude by pointing out something I noticed he’d done well, and he started responding better.  I’m far from perfect, but I’m making progress….

One Response to If yelling isn’t working, what’s next?-River City Counseling
  1. Chris
    September 22, 2013 | 2:51 am

    Great post, Steve! And great advise to focus on the positive. I had never thought of it that way before, I realized that I’m always giving negative reinforcement instead. I bet your son loves that you write about him on these blogs–he’s famous!! So cool!

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