This week we have another guest post from featured contributor Esther Schiedel. We hope that you find it useful and look forward to future posts from Esther.
In my years of parenting, I often acted and reacted to my children in ways that weren’t very effective and that sometimes made the situation worse. As I worked on making changes in my behavior, I learned that changing behavior isn’t easy. Here are some ideas that have helped me, and continue to help me. I am still not a perfect parent or grandparent! These are research-based ideas, drawn from The Incredible Years, Nurturing Parenting and other parenting curriculums. They are ideas I have found helpful to me.
- Focus on one skill or change. Be as specific as possible: “I am going to spend 10 minutes playing with my preschooler every weekday at 9 am.” It’s fine to make other changes at the same time, but focus on one.
- Make it a positive action. You can’t do a don’t. Every relationship can benefit from spending time focused on that person—playing, listening, doing something fun together, or working on something together. Relationship expert John Gottman recommends a ratio of at least 5 positive interactions to each negative interaction. If you want to stop doing something—like yelling at your children—come up with a substitute action to do when you feel like yelling. Writing a note, doing jumping jacks, throwing ice cubes into the sink—you might want to brainstorm a list with a friend or with your children.
- Involve others. Explain your plan and ask for their help and support. Tell them what would be helpful to you as you make changes. Don’t waste time criticizing other’s approaches, but concentrate on your own efforts to change. Find or create a support group of others who are making changes—especially if those around you are not supportive. Parenting classes are a great place to get support and to make friends.
- Expect resistance. Changes—even positive ones—can trigger negative responses from those around you. Family and friends may be skeptical or even outright hostile. Children may misbehave to get you to react the way you used to because that is what they know and expect from you. It can help to acknowledge their confusion while explaining your new approach and addressing any misbehavior calmly but firmly. “I know I usually yell at you. But I don’t enjoy doing that and I don’t think you like hearing me. You know how to listen to my quiet voice, too. The toys still need to be put away.”
- Use reminders: electronic or old-fashioned. Try notes, checklists, calendars, alarms, timers, friends, relatives, your children, etc. Create or request reminders that are polite and reaffirming.
- Track your progress. Praise and reward yourself for accomplishments—no matter how small. Star charts aren’t just for kids.
- Be nice to yourself. Keep your inner and outer self-talk positive. When you mess up, you can admit it (and perhaps apologize) and say “_____ is hard to do but I am working on it.” When you are successful, celebrate that achievement.
- Learn from your mistakes and from the times that went well. What things interfere with, and what things help, your efforts to change? If you don’t seem to be able to make the change, step back and analyze the situation and the factors involved.
- Be patient. Real changes take time.
- Keep at it. According to researchers Prochaska, Norcross, and DiClemente, in their book Changing for Good, real, lasting change usually takes a spiral pattern—up, level, dipping back down, then around and up a little more.
We often wish our children would change their behavior, but for that to happen, we usually have to change our behavior towards them. Moreover, being a parent means our behavior has to keep changing because our children keep growing and changing. Change isn’t easy, but it is possible. You can do it.
Esther Schiedel is parent to three adults, grandparent to two boys, and a Certified Family Life Educator. She provides parenting education through classes and workshops through LBCC and through her business, Sharing Strengths. She became interested in parenting education when she became a parent and had a need for more information and support.