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How to Be More Consistent with Your Children

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Mrs. Ellis and her five children moved into a school district where I worked. Within the first week, each child had been sent to the principal at least once. I asked Mrs. Ellis to meet with me. She agreed. I began to give her my pep talk on consistency. She interrupted. "I know I need to be consistent," she said. "Right now I am tired. I need a little vacation from consistency."

She had five children who needed consistent follow-through. It took a lot out of her to be consistent. Every now and then, she let go. She gave up-not completely, just temporarily. That was the problem.

You cannot be consistent some of the time. You must be consistent all the time. That is not easy: it is exhausting, it drains your energy, it weakens your spirit. Here are seven strategies that will help you be more consistent.

Emphasize Priority Behaviors
The first strategy that will help you be more consistent is the idea of priority behavior. A priority behavior is a behavior that you are going to manage with special diligence and focus. A priority behavior can be positive. If you want your children to cooperate with each other, cooperation is the priority behavior, so focus on cooperation. Catch your children cooperating and praise them. This will teach your children that you value cooperation.

A priority behavior can be a misbehavior. Many children develop misbehavior patterns. They display the same misbehavior-such as arguing, whining, or disobeying-repeatedly. Your child may exhibit several misbehavior patterns. Attempting to work on all of them at once would be impossible for you and confusing for your child, so choose one or two patterns as priority misbehaviors. Be aware of these misbehaviors at all times. Never give in. Do not reward them. Be consistent. This will not be easy. There will be times when you are tired and will not want to follow through. If you do not, you will pay for it later.

Priority behaviors help you focus. It is difficult to be consistent with every misbehavior. Identify one or two priority behaviors and focus your energy on them. Be consistent and diligent with priority behaviors. Your children will learn to behave more quickly.

Remember to be positive. Every misbehavior has an opposite, positive behavior. Watch for positive behaviors while you are consistent with priority misbehaviors. Suppose your child's priority misbehavior is having tantrums. Be consistent and never reward the priority misbehavior. Never reward any tantrum. You must also reinforce your child for not having tantrums: "I'm glad to see that you did not cry when I told you that you could not have a candy bar. I really appreciate that. Thank you."

When you are consistent with priority behaviors, it will have a positive effect on all other behaviors. Your children will generalize what they learn from one situation to another. It is like having a two-for-one sale on good behavior: be consistent with priority behaviors and get improvement in other behaviors free. How could you refuse such a deal?

Give Yourself Tangible Reminders
Using tangible reminders is the second strategy that helps you be more consistent. Write little notes to yourself: "Do not give in to tantrums," "Catch your children playing quietly." Put a sign on your bathroom mirror: "Look for cooperation." Put a sign on the refrigerator: "Stay calm. Do not argue." Notes and signs help you remember to be consistent. They help you remember to focus on priority behaviors.

I learned this my first year teaching. Kenny and Aaron were my two top students. Handsome, articulate leaders, thirteen years old, they were very much alike. That was their problem. They hated each other and were on each other's case constantly. I tried being positive, but I was not consistent enough. It was too hard; I had tunnel vision, and could only see the misbehavior. I had to do something. I decided to put a sign in the back of my classroom.

Catch Kenny and Aaron
being pleasant to each other!!
It was like magic. The sign was not to remind Kenny and Aaron to be pleasant to each other but to help me be consistent and positive. It helped me focus on a positive behavior. The class thought it was a dumb idea at first, but by the end of the week, every student in my class wanted their own sign on the wall. They loved all the attention. I loved all the cooperation and good behavior.

Practice Patience
The third strategy that you need to be more consistent is patience. Parents want quick changes-children do not. Children do not change misbehavior patterns easily. Misbehaviors that have been mastered take time to give up. Just because you decide to be consistent, your child's misbehavior will not change overnight. You will have to be patient.

Patience is difficult-you want immediate results for your energy and commitment-but think about things from your child's point of view. If you have been using threats and warnings before taking action, your child has learned that this is how you behave. Now you have changed. You are consistent. You are following through. Your child will be confused and resist change-"I don't understand this, Dad. You always yell three or four times before you really mean it." It takes time and energy to change your behavior, and your child is no different. Be patient.



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From How to Behave So Your Children Will, Too!. Copyright � Sal Severe, 2000. Used by arrangement with Viking Penguin, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

If you'd like to buy this book, click here or on the book cover. Get a 15% discount with the coupon code FENPARENT.


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