Tips to stop behaviors

Published 9:06 am Saturday, March 13, 2010

QUESTION: I want to be in good relationship with my children, but sometimes I wonder if I tolerate inappropriate behavior because I don’t want them to be angry.

ANSWER: A healthy parent-child relationship includes times of confrontation. It’s our job to intentionally determine our tolerance level. If we are not ready to ignore a negative behavior, then we are responsible for intervening quickly while we can be both firm and friendly. If we’re going to be effective in our restrictions, we need to have guidelines and options ready when we set boundaries. There are times when every parent needs to express “absolutely not” as a child grows up. However, a lot of thought needs to go into every area that requires a strong “no,” so that a child can successfully re-direct his behavior or energy.

Here are four illustrations of skilled adults stopping children’s behaviors they do not choose to tolerate:

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An angry youngster who is not to name-call or swear is given markers and paper and encouraged to draw – small children scribble intensely, older children are descriptively detailed.

Children running inappropriately inside are quickly directed to sit down and count – small children to 10, older children to 100 – before they are free to interact at a slower pace.

The parent of a squirming child in an adult meeting can: 1) outline her handprints on a piece of paper, 2) take off a shoe and sock and massage her foot, 3) softly trace her face, ears and neck with a fingertip, 4) make a face on each of the child’s fingers with a ballpoint pen.

Children whose playful tickling has turned to unhappy poking can be redirected to a game of hand skill and concentration: the parent and one child position their hands palm to palm, but not quite touching. The parent then begins moving his hands slowly in any pattern, while the child follows — patterns can become more involved and faster. It’s then the child’s turn to lead and then the children’s turn to interact as leader and follower together.

It’s obvious that each of these situations which interrupt and redirect inappropriate behavior requires parental involvement. The more skilled we become at moving quickly and positively into our child’s space with an acceptable option, the more cooperative our child becomes and the more satisfying life together becomes.

Maryanne Law is the executive director of the Praenting Resource Center in Austin.