Joslyn and Mike’s sensitive 4-year-old Tyler had perfected the art of out-of-control meltdowns, sassiness, and occasional aggression. When they came for coaching, they were exhausted from trying to manage this difficult behavior when it occurred. Through the coaching process Joslyn and Mike were learning to carefully teach, encourage and affirm wise behavior, even when it manifested in small ways. In general, Tyler was doing much better at home, but he was still easily over-stimulated in public places and could get out of control quickly. Joslyn shared her story:
We do it all the time. “Nice work! Great job! You’re so awesome!”
It’s nice to take notice and give energy to the good things our kids do. But throwing kids compliments like this without any substance is akin to throwing them popcorn when they’re hungry. It tastes good and kids want more, but it doesn’t really nourish.
If you really want a compliment to improve a child’s sense of significance and grow wisdom at the same time, give that same energy some substance. Like this:
Some parents worry that giving too many compliments might puff their kids up. Others thoughtlessly dole out praise without thought for the deeper impact. What kind of praise will communicate love to your kids without spoiling them?
“You’re the best!” feels good to hear. It also means that others are less great than me. Kids who hear it often might be inclined to compare themselves to others – their skills to other people’s skills. In that realm there’s almost always someone more skilled, so the striving to live up to the description can take on a fairly egotistical bent. Indeed, this sort of affirmation tends to puff up heads. But if your goal is to encourage a child — that is, fill them with courage to do what God created them to do — there is a better way to affirm.
Recently, Connected Families Co-Founder Lynne Jackson sat down with CF Family Therapist Chad Hayenga to get his thoughts on why kids misbehave to get our attention and how we can help them to get our attention in healthy ways instead.
We highly recommend watching the whole five minutes, because Lynne and Chad cover some important reasons for kids’ misbehavior as well as three helpful, practical tips to help kids get attention in healthy ways. Here is a snippet from their interview:
Many parents think that some sort of painful punishment is the best motivator for kids to improve their behavior. Other parents “focus on the positive” and offer rewards when kids do well.
Research about what motivates workers to do well reveals that extrinsic rewards are less important than intrinsic motivation, and that a key element of intrinsic motivation includes a sense of progress – that you are on track and moving in the right direction.
Could it be that progress motivates children also? Consider Shelly’s grace-filled story.
Did you know that one of the most critical times for a parent to affirm a child’s talents is when they misbehave? It’s true. We are all born with giftedness–but even good gifts can get twisted by sin (Romans 7:21 reminds us, “When I want to do good, evil is right there with me.”). The challenge for parents is identifying the “gifts” within the misbehavior; what we call “Gifts Gone Awry.”
Gifts That Have Gone Awry
All talents or gifts can be used for God’s purposes, but they can also be distorted by selfishness and sin and used to serve misbehavior. When this happens, the gift is still present, but it’s gone awry. To punish the misbehavior without affirming the talent behind it may both reinforce the child’s identification with the sin (I’m bad!) and stifle or weaken the talent’s use in honorable ways. It is therefore critical when correcting a child’s misbehavior to also affirm and find a positive use of the gift that fueled it.
Need help identifying the gift behind your child’s stubborness or stealing? It can be tough, but here are some examples of common misbehaviors and some gifts/talents that tend to drive them.
This is part of a series on “Discipline That Connects®: Four Powerful Messages All Kids Long to Hear”.
“No one has ever said anything like that to me!”
The rough-looking teen’s tough veneer had softened. I detected tears in his eyes.
Just minutes before this I’d asked Jared what he was good at. “Are you kidding?” He seemed angry. “Look at me.” Violent tattoos, tattered dark clothes, a defiant countenance and multiple piercings on his ears, nose, eyebrows and lips were suggestive of a hard life.
I asked if he was good at lying. “I’m great at it,” was his curt response, as if he wished the conversation would end.
“So you’re creative, and have a good memory,” I said with a little smile.
“What d’ya mean?” he was quick to ask. I had his interest.
I continued my questioning. “So you’re good at that — how about skipping school?”
He smirked a little. “Yeah!”
“How do you get away with it?” I continued.
Jared grew perhaps a little excited. “Well, me and my buddies distract the door monitor lady for each other and then take turns about who gets to leave that day.” He was proud.
“So you’re a good planner, you treat your friends fairly, and you’re all willing to sacrifice for each other. Add to that list your creativity and good memory and I’d say you’re a pretty talented guy. Imagine what might happen if you used some of those talents in ways that were more helpful to you and others, and less trouble!” My words were heartfelt.
So were Jared’s, as evidenced by his tears and soft tone. “No one has ever said anything like that to me!”
Jeremy and Anna were frustrated about the chaotic dinners at their house. It was definitely a “herding cats” experience to get their two boys to the table and then a “managing monkeys” experience once they all got there. Their younger son Ayden sometimes got quite belligerent about not coming to dinner.
As they started to go into detail about these woes in their coaching session, I shifted the focus and asked, “Was there a time recently when it went better?” They thought for a minute, then described a time when it had gone relatively smoothly. Together we identified the following success factors they had already discovered:
This understanding is critical, because in our haste to punish our children’s misbehavior, we may miss an opportunity to affirm and encourage God’s gifts in them.