No, I’m not lucky that I have well behaved children!

I often get comments about how lucky I am to have such well behaved children.  People who’s children are running around the restaurant shouting whilst mine are sitting and eating seem to think that they somehow just got unlucky with their kids, as if nature was just cruel to them and gave them children who won’t listen to them whilst mine (mostly) do as they are asked.

I want to share with you some behaviour management techniques that I learned during my time working with children with autistic spectrum disorders.  I had amazing results using these techniques to help autistic children cope in certain places / situations and I now use them (although in a much in a less structured fashion) with my own children.To put it bluntly – Children (all children) respond so much better to praise and positive reinforcement than they do time out and punishment. Time outs and punishments are simply a way for parents to vent their own anger and frustration on their children. They do not help the children to learn an alternative to the behaviour that they are being punished for.   At best you might be able to frighten the child into not doing the behaviour again for fear of receiving the punishment again, but how does that help them to learn or (heaven forbid) actually enjoy being well behaved, caring and helpful?  Well, it doesn’t.

Many parents focus so much in the bad behaviour that they forget to reward, or even teach, the good behaviour. The other day my son had a right strop because I asked him to help me around the house, it is something that we are asking more and more of him as he gets older (he is 9 now but I have used these techniques since he was a baby – children understand hugs way before they understand punishment!)I told him I wouldn’t force him to help out with the household jobs but I was taking away his tablet. This wasn’t really a punishment, more a consequence. I wasn’t going to force him to unload the dishwasher, but I wasn’t going to let him sit around watching minecraft videos instead!  Obviously, if I had said I wouldn’t force him to help, but then let him continue doing his own choice of activity, I would simply be raising a spoiled brat, and that’s not part of the plan!

He soon got up and helped me, at first reluctantly and with a little bit of a strop.  The moment he got up (before he had even done anything), I said “thanks mate, I appreciate your help”.  He actually emptied the dishwasher all by himself whilst I cleaned the surfaces.

Now clearly, the only reason he got up to help in the first place was because I had taken his tablet away. When he had finished I could have just given back his tablet and said “well you only helped because I took that away”.  My secret is to actually completely ignore the reason why he helped, and just focus on the fact that he helped.

I gave him a massive hug and again said “thank you son, that really helped me out I appreciate it” his mood lifted instantly (hugs are magic!) and instead of feeling like he had to help just to get his tablet back, he actually felt good about having helped out.  In fact he didn’t even ask for his tablet back straight away, he went off and put the TV on!  He seemed to have actually forgotten the reason why he started to help out!
From experience of always treating him this way I know I’ll have less and less trouble each time I ask him to help out.  Now don’t get me wrong here, I don’t now have a wonderchild who helps out with all the household chores and never complains!  I still have to nag him to pick up his dirty washing, put his empty cups n the sink, tidy his room, and all that stuff.  He moans about it, but he never refuses. Getting him to help more around the house is certainly a work in progress, but we are definitely making progress using positive reinforcement techniques and he will help out when asked.  I am still waiting patiently for the day when he starts to help out without being asked, I know it will come one day.

My children are polite, caring and easily managed. I don’t like the word control, but yes I guess I can control my children in the sense that if I ask them to behave a certain way in the park, library, restaurant, cinema, home , ect. they will – to an extent anyway, they are still kids after all, not robots!

I’ve used these techniques since they were toddlers. Started off with very simple instructions and adapted as their language and understanding has increased. When they were very small we had lots of tantrums because they didn’t understand why they weren’t allowed to do something, but that frustration was often relieved with being sown something that was appropriate for them to do. This isn’t just a distraction technique, it actually teaches them positive ways to behave.

I’m not perfect, both my kids still have occasional tantrums even now and I have been known to give out smacks and time outs, but that’s usually down to me not managing my own feelings correctly, I usually only slip up when I am stressed (then I need the time out more than they do!). I don’t think the odd occasion has done them any harm, in fact because it’s not all the time, I think they know they’ve really crossed a line when it happens!

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