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How to Get Your Kids to Change Their Behavior

I’ve had the privilege of working with thousands of parents through my karate school and my StormProof Parenting™ workshops. As I talk with moms and dads, the most frequently asked question I hear is: “Mike, how can I get my kids to change their behavior?” While there is no easy answer to this dilemma, the best strategy that I’ve found is actually simple – constant discipline. Some parents may consider this idea an old-school line of thinking, but it holds a proven track record of success.

The root of the word discipline means to teach or disciple. When we discipline our kids, we instruct their minds, preparing them to live in a godly way by teaching them correct principles and habits. Some parents get concerned with the concept of discipline, because they’re unclear about how to administer consequences. But, actually, the thrust of discipline is less about consequences or more about teaching. When consequences are needed, they should have a teaching element attached for them to work with maximum impact.

In essence, discipline is teaching. And, as parents, we bring discipline to our kids all the time. For instance, some of the best teaching moments I’ve had with my children were when they were in an upbeat, positive, state of mind. This may be when you are coming home from a restaurant, spending time together at the beach or around the pool, playing games at the kitchen table, etc. Seize on the moments to speak into their lives.

Imagine that you are driving home from the movies. And, something in the film connected with a behavior you’ve been working on with one of your children. Use that situation as a teachable moment. By teaching them when they are in a peak emotional state, your words can penetrate deeper into their heart.

When is the best time to bring correction for improper behavior? The first time it happens. The moment you recognize wrong attitudes and actions, prune them – nip them in the bud. The problem in many families is that the parents think their kids’ behavior patterns grew from nothing, like a phantom vapor. The truth is that kids regularly test the boundaries of their parent’s tolerance by seeing what they can get away with. When they are not corrected for improper behavior, they will continue to do it. And, the opposite is just as powerful. When consequences are carried out, children will not continue in that behavior since it does not benefit them to do so.

Ecclesiastes 8:11 says, “When the sentence of a crime is not quickly carried out, the hearts of the people are filled with schemes to do wrong.” This proverb communicates the need for swift consequences, because people continue in bad behaviors when no consequences are attached to them. What is the motivation to change, if you can constantly getting away with doing things that are wrong?

Now, you might be thinking, “What’s the difference between consequence and punishment?” Discipline occurs out of love; punishment occurs out of anger. Enforcing consequences designed to teach in a relaxed manner is beneficial. Yelling, getting angry, or wanting to get back at your kids for misbehavior is punishment, which is destructive.

Our children’s actions require specific consequences – both for acceptable and unacceptable behavior. While praise and rewards should be given for obedience and initiative, removal of privileges and prompt correction should be implemented for disobedience and irresponsibility. In each situation, the consequence must be age appropriate and correspond with what they did wrong. In addition, all discipline needs to be done calmly.

I’ve found that the best way to connect an appropriate consequence with inappropriate behavior is to decide-in-advance (DIA). If you are married, sit down with your spouse, talk through specific issues about your kids, pray together, and determine the best course of action to take. If you are a single parent, take time to carefully and prayerfully consider what to do. Decide in advance which consequences should be given for specific inappropriate behavior (see the exercises below).

Once you decide on the consequences, clearly communicate them to your children. Warn them that if the unacceptable behavior continues, they will face the consequences. Let’s suppose that the problem you are dealing with is a school-aged child who won’t get up in the morning on time. Inform them, “Starting tomorrow you must get up cheerfully the first time I ask, or you will go to bed right after bath without playtime so that you can get more sleep.” You may have to do this for days before the behavior you want happens. But, don’t get discouraged. Be persistent and consistent. Consistency creates credibility, and credibility creates compliant behavior.

By the way, a lecture is not a consequence. Sometimes we spend too much time reasoning or explaining to our children why their behavior was wrong without applying any actual consequences. Also, a “tongue lashing” or a lecture is NOT a consequence. A consequence is the removal of a privilege. Taking away something that our kids really enjoy will get their attention. Yelling at them doesn’t work. The moment we start yelling, our teaching stops and they mentally tune us out. They just don’t hear what we are saying. Calmly removing a privilege, on the other hand, speaks volumes.

What privileges can you remove? Maybe it’s watching television, playing video games, surfing the Internet, hanging out with friends, or eating dessert. For many teenagers, having a cell phone is a coveted privilege that they don’t want to lose. Other privileges can include driving, playing on a sports team, shopping, going on vacation, and attending summer camp. The only rights your children have are a roof over their heads, meals, and a safe nurturing environment. Just about everything else is a privilege.

Practical consequences that are consistently enforced create boundaries that effectively deter kids from unacceptable behavior. For example, if your child’s grades don’t match up to their potential, consider suspending use of electronics so that they have more time to study. Cancel play dates and sleepovers so that they can focus completely on their school work. Of course, help them with homework, or find a tutor if needed. When the first few test grades improve, you can gradually restore full privileges.

You can also use privileges as motivation to be responsible around the house. This teaches young children the importance of contributing to the family. For example, you can say “You may play outside when you bed is make and the dishwasher is emptied.” This will also teach them the critically important life lesson of “work first, play second.”

Once your kids know what you expect and the consequences they face, then you must follow through with what you say you’ll do. The consequences your child needs may not be the easiest thing for you to carry out. But, whatever you say you’ll do, you must follow through. When you say, “If you do X, then Y is going to happen,” make sure that “Y” actually happens.

Discipline is a divine link between desire and destiny. In order for your child’s destiny to become a reality, they need the priceless gift of discipline – and you are the primary instrument God has commissioned to administer it!

StormProof Parenting – Discipline Exercise:

Help storm-proof your family by giving praise and rewards for obedience and initiative. And, use the removal of privileges as consequences for disobedience and irresponsibility. In each situation, the consequence must be age appropriate and correspond with what they did wrong. In addition, all discipline needs to be done calmly. However, I’ve found that the best way to connect an appropriate consequence with inappropriate behavior is to decide-in-advance (DIA).

Try this exercise below. Make a list of all the things your kids enjoy doing. Then, define these as privileges that should be tied to good behavior. Attach them to the conduct that you are trying to instill or correct.

THE TOP TEN PRIVILEGES MY KIDS ENJOY

  1. _____________________________
  1. _____________________________
  1. _____________________________
  1. _____________________________
  1. _____________________________
  1. _____________________________
  1. _____________________________
  1. _____________________________
  1. _____________________________
  1. _____________________________

DECIDE IN ADVANCE (DIA)

Each of our children’s negative actions (unacceptable behaviors) requires a specific consequence. Decide in advance what age appropriate expectations and consequence (or removal of privileges) will most motivate you child to acceptable behavior.

 

Unacceptable Behavior

 

Creative Consequence to Bring Change

Neglecting or failing to clean up room; not completing, or desiring to do chores.

 

 

____________________________________

Leaving messes around the house.

 

 

____________________________________

Hitting, kicking, or spitting on siblings or peers.

 

 

____________________________________

Whining and complaining.

 

 

____________________________________

Disrespecting parents or others in authority.

 

 

____________________________________

Not completing homework.

 

 

____________________________________

Breaking curfew.

 

 

____________________________________

 

_____________________________________

 

____________________________________

 

_____________________________________

 

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