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By: Tammy Sassoon, M.s.ed

All parents want their children to be kind, respectful, and thoughtful human beings.

Is there a formula we can follow to foster this considerate way of behaving? The answer is YES! The formula has two parts and here it is:

1.   Give zero attention to negative behaviors. That means no eye contact, no eyebrow raising, no voice raising, no hand moving, or doing anything at all that conveys you feel disturbed by the behavior you’ve seen. Instead, expectyour children to misbehave at times, since all human beings make mistakes. This attitude of expecting downfall will help you achieve a much calmer atmosphere in your home.

2.   Give your child a lot of attention when things aregoing well. Connect during this incident-free time by interacting with them in ways they would appreciate. A smile, a good joke or a sweet conversation can all go a very long way.

Why does this formula work?

Children will repeat any behavior that they get rewarded
for – and believe it or not, their parents getting emotional about their misbehavior is a form of reward. Why? Because all human beings crave connection. Our kids prefer positive connection, but they will certainly take negative connection, too, because it gets them noticed. A mother may think she is not responding to herchild while he engages in misbehaviors, but what she doesn’t realize is that hand motions and tone of voice convey lots and lots of negative attention. Just as we’d never give our children ice cream after they misbehaved, we need to show that we won’t expend any emotion or energy on them when things are going wrong.

Do not, Gd forbid, mistake this for rejecting a child who is misbehaving. That would be a very damaging thing to do. We are in no way rejecting him; we are simply not using up negative emotional energy in response to him.

On the flip side, make sure to let your child know that he or she will get lots of your emotional energy when things are going well. During moments like these, it’s easy to create lots of long-lasting, positive connections. Still, don’t wait for successful interludes to create them! If your child is struggling with a particular behavior, do not wait for him to do something wonderful before you acknowledge him or her. Instead, give the child a very small, manageable task that he will enjoy and, upon completion, give him acknowledgement. For example, if you know your child only reluctantly does things for his siblings, yet enjoys being given independence, ask him to walk his younger brother to school (You can just imagine how bigthis will make him feel!) When he comes back, acknowledge what a kind big brother he has shown himself to be.

Creating successful familial interaction is a choice we have as parents. Talk to your kids, laugh with them, enjoy them! They will eventually come to realize that this dynamic is so much more pleasant than the tension brought on by destructive behavior. Try it and see for yourself!