I’ve been avoiding this particular post, because I cannot think of any clever way to say what’s on my mind. But I have had to learn this (following) lesson several times so far. I’m hoping that if I write it down I will remember it permanently.
Lately we have been in a contentious phase in our family. It seemed like the kids were always fighting, and nothing I was doing seemed to help. The more they fought, the crankier I got. The crankier I got, the more they fought with each other. You see the vicious cycle.
I had started to take the attitude of “I am going to put a stop to this once and for all! I will not allow this kind of contention in our home!” I would jump on them (not literally) at the slightest provocation, in hopes of “nipping it in the bud.”
Now that it is in writing, it’s easy to see how silly and ineffective that strategy would be, but it had gradually come to that. I was feeling desperate, and didn’t know what else to do.
Knowing of my desperation, my friend Laura loaned me a book called The Power of Positive Parenting. The morning she dropped it off, I sat down and read several chapters.
The theory behind the whole book is that children will continue behaving the way that is most effectively re-enforced. The best way to get rid of bad behavior is to spend your time and energy praising the good behaviors. Children will gradually gravitate toward the behaviors that are rewarded.
I know it sounds really simple, but it was a lightbulb-over-my-head moment. Of course! I was focusing so much on the bad, that it had become all that I could see!
The author also pointed out that we can never control our children. Our job as parents is to control ourselves, and the atmosphere in our homes. If we fail to react to our children’s unpleasant behaviors, instead remaining cheerful and consistent, we can maintain a positive atmosphere. Children will adjust their behaviors to fit that environment.
OBVIOUSLY there are times when this doesn’t happen right away, and the book does address that. But the principle rings true to me.
I began that very day to change my behavior. When the kids got home from school, I immediately looked for things, even little things, that I could praise. If I could sense a conflict coming, I would smoothly change the subject to avert disaster. Almost instantly, the kids could sense a change. They caught right on, and started being nice to each other.
I could not believe the difference! That very afternoon the boys started to argue about who got to play video games first. After just a few seconds of disagreement Josh said “It’s okay, Caleb. You can go first.” Caleb responded with “Thanks Josh. After I’m done I’ll show you how to set up your own game.” My jaw dropped!
I continued the strategy, and continued to see a HUGE difference! A couple of days later Savannah said, “I don’t know why, but it just seems like we have had a really good feeling in our family lately.” Amazing.
The only problem is… that places a whole lot of responsibility on me! I have to be perfectly calm and in control of myself at all times. Even when the kids are being rotten. Sometimes I want to be rotten right back!
The book says “If what you are about to do or say doesn’t have a high probability of making the situation better… don’t do it! Don’t say it!” Several times this week I have found myself standing still as a statue, waiting until I have a response that will improve the situation instead of making it worse. It’s really hard!
I think one of the most frustrating things as a parent is not knowing what to do. To know that what I’m doing is not quite right, but not have any better ideas is the worst! I feel energized and empowered now, because I have a good plan. Even if I will have to learn this same lesson again and again…