I bet the answer is not as well as you think you do.
Sure, you might know her favorite kind of music or his least favorite food, but do you know developmentally where your child is? Do you know if the behaviors he or she is exhibiting (especially those that are driving you crazy) are typical for his or her age?
This was the topic of this evening’s parenting class I’m taking from parent educator, Geri Clouse. You can find her website and the classes she offers here. Her classes are life changing!
Geri asserts that most misbehavior is actually a developmental issue: when your child seems to act up or misbehave, he or she is responding to expectations that are not tuned to where he or she is developmentally. Most behavior is normal because of where a child is developmentally. The times when a child’s behavior is “bumpy” is actually when a child is developing either physically, mentally, or emotionally.
Tonight in class, Geri had us write on big sheets of paper the challenging behaviors we were dealing with. We split into groups reflecting our children’s ages and wrote down these behaviors.
AND, do you know what? Most of us listed the same annoying behaviors! As we talked in our groups we were surprised because most of us thought that we had these behaviors because we were doing something wrong as parents–or that something was wrong with our children. But what we discovered is that, at least for 6-7-8 year old children, they have a great need to move around, their feelings are easily hurt, peers are becoming very important, and EVERYTHING HAS TO BE FAIR.
So, what are parents to do?
Geri’s advice: be nurturing teachers.
Non nurturing responses to behavior are when a parent yells, shames, threatens, punishes or spanks. The child doesn’t learn anything from these responses to their behavior because –and this was a light bulb moment–you can’t change behavior unless you have something to replace it with!
You want your eight year old to sit down and do his homework? Threatening, punishing or yelling isn’t going to help. It doesn’t change his behavior by replacing it with something.
We need to respond to misbehavior–and man is this tough in when you are in the throes of a situation–in ways that do not hurt people (especially our young people) or draw people further apart. That is exactly what all of those non-nurturing behaviors do.
We must respond to behavior (which is driven by a child’s current development stage) by teaching the child what is right, wanted, acceptable and appropriate–in a nurturing way. Someone asked about consequences: Shouldn’t all misbehavior have a consequence? Geri’s response: rarely do consequences work because they aren’t directly related to the misbehavior and, repeat after me, they don’t replace the behavior that you don’t want with the behavior that you do. In essence, consequences don’t necessarily teach the child a new skill with which to replace the behavior that you don’t want.
One of the best ways to replace a misbehavior is with a behavior that you want. For the homework scenario, Geri suggests giving the child a choice, “Do you want to start your homework now or after your snack?” This gives the child power and autonomy to make a decision even though you have set the boundaries by giving choices.
We also received a list of starting sentences that teach children (and parents!) what to say but also model nurturing (but still assertive) ways to communicate.
Last week I practiced the “I want. . .” statements.
My children seemed to be ignoring any and all requests: Please turn off the television. Please sit down and do your homework now. Please don’t push your brother. (I was asking politely. . .)
The “I want. . .” sentences clearly stated what I wanted, “I want you to turn off the television now and work on your homework.” I never yelled. I repeated, but developmentally that is what you do with eight and nine year olds. And when they didn’t respond, I didn’t yell, but I used another I statement, “I feel frustrated when you don’t listen.”
The “I want” statements helped me by clarifying in my head exactly what I wanted the children to do: You tell the child what you want, not what you don’t want. But, Geri’s handout had all kinds of starters for expressing your feelings . . .and by using them I’m modeling for the children how to effectively communicate what I want and feel.
Geri suggests that on your child’s birthday, you Goggle the developmental stage of your child or better yet, she showed us her own tattered copies of child development books compiled by the Gesell Institute. Here is one on eight year olds that I’m going to get! And, I may as well stock up on all the other levels too. (I’m going to a couple of baby showers so I think I may even give a few of these for the first couple of years as gifts!)
Ultimately by learning about the developmental stages of our children, we can respond to them in ways that show compassion, empathy, patience. . .and love. And, whether you are a child or an adult, it is only through love that we truly learn.