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Joyful Musings--a weekly blog

Joyful Parenting Coaching is focused on clarity, consistency, connection, being an effective parent, finding balance as a parent, and above all being a confident and joyous parent. 

Building the Consistency Muscle: Tip 3A: Model and Train

Elisabeth Stitt

So, you have prioritized your values (If not, go to previous step HERE) and are clear  about where you want to build your consistency muscle.  That's hugely important.

HERE'S AN EXAMPLE

Let's say you have decided to consistently require your children to speak respectfully.  Love that.  But do your children know what it means to speak respectfully? Probably not, so you have to teach them. 

STEP ONE: MODEL

Model respectful speech.  I hope this is obvious, but how can you expect your children to speak respectfully if you are not modeling that in all your interactions with others?  This includes how you speak about people.  If over dinner you complain what a neanderthal jerk your boss is, your children are going to hear that, so while it is okay to criticize people, make sure that it is in respectful language.  Perhaps you would say something like, "I wish my boss were up to date on the latest approaches and were more open to listening to fresh ideas."  Little ears are listening all the time!  How you speak to the people you love is even more important, so avoid the first two of John Gottman's Four Horsemen, criticism and contempt, at all costs.  Finally, use polite and loving language with your own children is key.  

STEP TWO: PRAISE

Catch Your Children Doing Good.  Remember, you have been catching your children doing good in order to develop your consistency muscle.  If the values exercise last week has you shifting your focus, go back to the step where you praise, praise, praise every time your child is (in this example) using respectful language.  Say, "I heard you say Thank You to your teacher.  That was so respectful."  or "When you asked your brother, 'May I please have it after you?', that was exactly the kind of respectful language we expect in this house."  Build up models for them so that they get a clearer and clearer idea of what you want before you make it a non-negotiable.  

STEP THREE: TEACH

A bi-product of kids being technologically advanced is that many of them lag in their interpersonal skills.  Compared to what you might have learned already at your child's age about how to get along well with others in the world, today's children spent many fewer hours figuring out how to speak in such a way that strengthens connections and warms relationships.  The more we use our phones to deposit checks and order the weeks groceries, the less kids see us interacting with a wide variety of people.  In the absence of daily modeling, we need to teach our kids skills explicitly.  

One of my favorite teaching methods is role playing.  Ask your kids what the would say in different situations and how they would say it.  Start with people they know--their teachers, coaches, school personnel like the crossing guard or the office manager.  Set the expectation that it is respectful to greet and acknowledge these people.  Teach them stock phrases like, "Hello, Mrs. Stitt, how are you today?"  Teach them how they can extend the conversation:  "Isn't this a lovely day?" or "Did you have a good weekend?" or "Happy Chinese New Year! It's the Year of the Rooster, you know!"  Tell them explicitly it is respectful to express an interest.  When you pick them up for school ask, "Whose day did you brighten today?"  

STEP FOUR: TRAIN

Once you have taught your kids what it means to be respectful, they will have an understanding of being respectful, but they still won't have the habit.  Before you start reprimanding your children for being disrespectful,  make sure that you have done enough training.  Think about how long it takes to train yourself to do something until it is absolutely automatic.  I am currently training myself to sit up straight.  It didn't used to be such an issue because while teaching I spent so many hours on my feet, but now that I am in front of the computer most of the day, I have to think about it very consciously.  Boy, is is a slow process! Your kids will need lots and lots and lots of gentle reminders, so when they do not speak respectfully (or clean up their toys or remember their chores, etc), do not assume they are being defiant!  This is so important.  You want your rules followed, and they will be, but it will take time before your kids are consistent.  

Your job for the time being is to CATCH THEM DOING GOOD when they do it right and to gently remind them when they forget. Let them know that they are in training, and you want to do whatever you can in supporting their remembering.  This is the time to brainstorm structures that will help them remember (I still have to set an alarm to keep track of which week is recycling week).  

Next week we will get to what to do when training period is over, and it is finally time to add some teeth to your rules.