What are your goals for your children?
When I ask this question to the parents I work with, I get a variety of responses.
- I want them to act right.
- I want them to obey.
- I want them to treat others right.
- I want them to have a better life than I have had.
- I want them to be successful.
- Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera
I have come to believe that most of us really want our kids to become self-sufficient and productive members of society that are benevolent and have concern for the well-being of others. All of these goals make sense to me. However, these goals for our children are not super specific.
Part of our job as parents is to define the expectations we have for our children. If we are not specific about this, our kiddos can get confused.
“Bobby, I told you to be good at school this morning before you ever got out of the car. When I asked you to make sure you understood, you told me that you were going to be good, but then your teacher sent home a bad note.”
Bobby came home feeling frustrated, confused, and discouraged because he really wanted to “be good” like his dad told him before he got out of the car. The message that Bobby might tell himself is, “I don't know what I am doing and I keep messing up. I don’t even know why I bother. Maybe I am not a good kid.”
For the past few years, many of my clients have been 5-10 years old. This is a fun age to work with. However, many of these kiddos have been referred to me because of poor self-regulation that leads to behavioral problems at home, school, or both. When I ask them about behaviors that keep them out of trouble, they almost without exception have told me, “I have to be good.”
When I ask about specific good behaviors, they can't tell me. Sometimes, they say something like, “I have to do what my teacher says.” This is a start, but it is a very limited understanding of what is expected of them.
In early childhood, a child's brain is not sophisticated enough to make connections regarding specific processing on how to get goals met. It's not that they don't want to. It is that they can't.
In other words, the child is not always able to process “be good” without some specific explanation.
Here is an example:
Step 1: Be sure to use your ears before you speak so that you can make sure you understand what your teacher wants you to do. (God gives us two ears and one mouth for a reason.)
Step 2: If you don’t understand, ask for your teacher to help you understand.
Step 3: Once you are clear on what you are being asked to do, say, “Yes ma’am (or yes sir).”
Step 4: Do what was asked without arguing about it.
Setting Clear Expectations:
1. Sit down and specifically write out 3 goals that you want to work on with your kids each month.
Not what I mean: “We want our child to stay out of trouble at school.”
What I do mean: “We want our child to say yes ma’am or yes sir when he is asked to do things
by his teachers at least 4 days a week."
The more specific you can be, the more clear the message will be. Also, keep in mind that
training kids is a process. Pick just a few specific things to work on at one time to avoid feeling completely overwhelmed or overwhelming your child.
2. Sit down with your child regularly to talk about the goals that you have developed. This is an opportunity to discuss what is working and what adjustments will be necessary. Be sure to offer positive feedback and instill hope. “I believe in you, kiddo.”
Defining expectations for your child can be difficult. If you are feeling frustrated with your child’s behavior or you could use some help in communicating your expectations in a meaningful way, I can help!
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