Ever roll your eyes and and internally judge a child as a “drama queen” or “king”?
Time to stop judging and start guiding that drama talent to empower kids to turn their misbehavior around! And here’s why:
On the continuum from absolutely counterproductive to wonderfully life-changing, lectures from an angry parent are stuck fast to the unhelpful side of the continuum. Farther toward the middle is asking a child to verbally describe a wiser action after they’ve blown it. But much farther to the helpful side, inching toward life-changing, is to physically practice a better choice — to act it out, and then celebrate it.
This is a principle confirmed by Dr. Alan Kazdin, president of the American Psychological Association and director of the Yale Parenting Center. He tells parents that the key to behavior change is “creating opportunities to practice good behavior and following up with praise.” Here’s why this approach works:
- The physical practice creates a motor memory, which is much more easily accessed and put into action than just a concept of what a child might have done differently.
- God built us to seek joy, so the celebration is like a magnet that draws the child toward the more helpful choice at the next opportunity.
One mom shares her story about the helpfulness of this approach with her intense, expressive daughter:
JJ (who was less than two) was climbing on the kitchen chair to get on the table while his older sister Sierra was eating. Each time I would tell him to not climb on the chair and the table, because it isn’t safe, then I’d remove him. One time he waited until I left the room briefly to scramble up onto his perch of power. But Big Sis took it upon herself to push him off the chair before he could get to the table. JJ crashed to the floor and burst into tears. We were all a bit upset by this turn of events, so I calmly asked Sierra to take a break in her room while I comforted JJ. When I went down to her room, we talked about it.
“Honey, that really hurt JJ when you pushed him down.”
“Mom, I was trying to keep him safe because you told him not to climb on the chair!”
I affirmed her good intentions, and then we brainstormed what else she could have done. Then we went back to the kitchen, I set him next to the chair, and we practiced it a couple of times: “Mom, JJ is climbing on the chair! It’s not safe!” she announced. We ended the practice with a high five and my heartfelt gratitude for her effort to use the safest way to protect JJ.
The next time her brother climbed on the chair, Sierra was able to access the helpful response, because it wasn’t just an idea — the practice and the celebration had created a road map in her brain.
So whether or not your child truly has a flair for drama, to really empower change help her to physically practice a helpful response and then celebrate!