Building Consistency: Tip Two: Build the Positive
The next trick in building the consistency muscle is to teach your children to trust you by following through on your promises for good things that you will enjoy, too—a trip to the park this afternoon, say, or a family movie night this weekend.
Why is this a good next step? One, it builds good will and family connection. Our lives are so hurried these days that we actually spend very little time with our kids that is just for fun. By the time you have gone to work and your child has gone to school, sports and other extra curricular activities, when is there time for play? Pick something fun that you want, too; that way it will be easy for you to follow through on.
What if it is time to go to the promised movie and your kids have been being complete monsters? You still go to the movies. You didn't promise them a trip to the movies for good behavior (not this time, at least), you just promised them. You can tell them, I am upset about how much you have been fighting with each other--and we are going to talk about that--but right now I promised we would go to the movies, so let's go and have fun.
With catching your kids being good, they didn't even know you were working on a new way of parenting, but this trip to the movie you announced out loud. That means that when you keep your word, not only do your kids have fun, they learn that they can trust your word. You have done what you said you will do.
CONNECTING YOUR PROMISES TO GOOD BEHAVIOR
Once you have gotten in the habit of promising fun times and delivering, you can provide the treat as a reward for catching them being good. Let's say that dinner was a peaceful affair where kids ate without a fuss and there was pleasant conversation. Certainly you can comment on it by telling them you noticed and appreciate their good behavior, but you can also go one step farther: Say, "Dinner was such a pleasure tonight it makes me want to go out of my way for you. Why don't I do the dishes later, and we can play a game for 30 minutes." If this offer is met with any negativity or bargaining ("Mom, games are stupid. Let's watch t.v."), just stay cheerfully firm and nonchalant: "Well, I thought a game would be fun--and you know the rule is no t.v. during the week--but if you don't want to play, I'll just do the dishes. Then walk away and don't worry about it. Even if they don't admit it, they will register that good things come when they behave.
Later, you can offer a positive consequence as a reward (bribe?) for cooperative behavior. For example, your kids might be wanting your attention when you are in the middle of something that you need to get done. They want something from you! Use this chance to ask for their help in return for what they want (your undivided attention). For example, you might say, “If you guys helped and we got these leaves raked up in the next fifteen minutes, there would be enough time for us to play bananagrams before I have to make dinner.” Again, the trick here is to really make happen what you have said will happen. Don’t make the offer unless you are committed to bananagrams. Of course, your children may choose to keep whining at you or to do cartwheels rather than help you. That’s okay. You don’t need to say anything as you go in to start making dinner. You put out an offer for a treat, and you are prepared to follow through. It’s a good bet that next time you propose a swap of your attention for their help, they’ll consider testing out your offer.
On a good day, your children might even begin to help you without being asked. Hurray! That is the perfect time to reward the good behavior: “You kids have been such a big help. I’ve got an extra half hour. Let’s put the timer on and see how many rounds of bananagrams we can fit in before I start dinner.” Notice how in each of these cases there hasn’t been any lecturing—just identifying positive consequences for cooperative behavior. You don’t need to connect the dots for your kids: The positive reward will do that for you.
One last thought. At this point in your training, don't put your kids in “or else” situations. As soon as you say “You kids need to help me pick up these leaves or else,” you have set yourself up in opposition to them when you are trying to build their cooperation. By offering them a reward for cooperating, they get to choose to step up to the plate. Or not. Choice is a key way to build cooperation. Don’t worry if they choose not to cooperate at first. Eventually they will. Just keep offering positive rewards with no guilt attached when they don’t take the bait.
At the end of the day, kids want to be cooperative, but they are only human: They also want to feel that they are in control. By offering them choice, they feel free to step up and contribute positively to the family.
Do you want support in building your consistency muscle? It's not too late to join the Winter Coaching Program and get the benefit of a community of parents as well as one-on-one coaching.
In the mean time, leave a comment below or on the Joyful Parenting Coaching Facebook Page about how your efforts are going.