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For Every ‘Bad' Behavior, There is a Missing Skill

As parents, we receive a lot of advice on how to teach our children what not to do. We learn how to effectively enforce consequences, give our children choices, and set healthy boundaries. Teaching our children how we don't want them to behave is only as good as far as we teach our children how we do want them to behave. Simply telling them over and over again usually is not enough. We first have to model good behavior for our children. The day of the parental mantra do as I say, not as I do is coming to a close. Parents are realizing that kids are imitators more than they are listeners. How parents act is how children will act. Children are more likely to listen when they see their parents abiding by the same rules and participating in behavioral changes rather than dictating them. Parents who get involved in their children's changes have the greatest effect. Creating behavioral changes isn't about just teaching a child how to behave, but teaching a child how to learn how to behave, by making behavioral choices for themselves. We can ask a child Why did you do that? and they may not have an answer. We can ask a child Why didn't you choose differently and they may not have known there was another option. What is missing is a particular skill which our child is lacking in that moment. Behaviors are skill sets based on decision making. Without the necessary decision making skills, behaviors don't change. When we witness poor decision making we have to first and foremost ask ourselves What skill was missing? Then, we can intervene and use critical thinking skills to help our child learn for themselves. In those moments we aren't just teaching them, we're teaching them to learn. First, we can point out the situation and bring the details to their awareness, helping them recognize their wants and needs. Second, we can challenge them to think about a solution, since the behavioral decision making they are practicing isn't working for them, or for the family. Through this process, children learn how to think for themselves and teach themselves to find new ways of behaving. Parents learn to engage with their children's process rather than try to control it. Children need a sense of autonomy in order to rely on their ability to have positive thinking followed by positive behaviors.

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