Mum, dad and their two kids are at a large gathering with friends. They have two kids; Adam 10 and Marko 6. Here's a commentary of dad's comments to Marko throughout the afternoon... "I've just told you, Marko. Don't interrupt", "Don't touch that. Put it back - you know better", "Put that down", "Marko, leave it alone", "Leave me alone", "Go and do something - anything!", "You're driving me crazy", "That's silly", "That's so naughty, Marko", "If you don't stop we're going home".
Later, at home, dad asked Marko why he was being so naughty. His response was insightful; "I just wanted some noticement, dad!"
This response gets to the heart of the matter. All of us crave a little 'noticement', or attention, and we all develop behaviours that 'we think' works to get us noticed. Like it or not, we are the main attention dispensers for our kids. Kids crave our attention and it reflects the way in which human beings are designed. Our brains are hard-wired for interaction and we seek attention to create connection and stimulation. We all need attention because having our presence acknowledged indicates that we belong. Being connected and attached to parents is a primary ingredient for an emotionally healthy life.
First, there's some science to be mastered!
Providing our kids with the sort of attention that leads them in positive directions requires an understanding of a little theory. Here it is. You see, 'praise' and 'reprimand' both tick the box for kids to get attention. That's right, many kids will take the attention in whatever package it comes in - being nagged, lectured, yelled at, sooked over, overly attended to or genuinely thanked for cooperative behaviour - it's all good to them! They don't discriminate. Equally, some parents don't discriminate between positive and negative attention giving. They just react without giving thought to the types of behaviour they are really encouraging. When observed from outside, these mistakes are frustratingly obvious to others. Yet, one fact remains; our everyday responses provide our kids with strong, continuous feedback. It is us who encourages our children's behaviour for better or worse. It is us who deliver the message.
Let us explain with these scenarios...
Frank says in annoyance, "That's it, William, that's plain silly! How many times do I have to ask you? Off to your room for time-out and don't come back until I tell you."
On this occasion, William heads off to his room and reappears in 32 seconds with an impish little look on his face. Even though William is 11 years old that look still melts his father's heart, so William is allowed to return. He continues to seek more and more attention through silliness for the rest of the afternoon. Frank has rewarded William's annoying behaviour and guaranteed it will continue.
Frank says in annoyance, "That's it, William, that's just silly! How many times do I have to ask you? Off to your room for time-out and don't come back until I tell you."
On this occasion William heads off to his room and reappears in 32 seconds with the usual impish little look on his face. William is 11 years old, and his father feels as though he's too old to keep on trying to get away with 'silly' behaviour by using 'the cutsie routine'. So, in front of guests, Frank 'boils over' at William. William looks crestfallen. Frank eventually stops and the guests squirm uncomfortably. Frank has just rewarded William's attention seeking behaviour. Deep inside William's psyche, he believes this gala show of words and emotion in front of guests has given him spectacular attention and cemented his position in the family. After all, dad does love him unconditionally! So, William will continue to seek more and more attention in the same kind of way. Frank has rewarded William's annoying behaviour and guaranteed it will continue.
In both scenarios Frank spotted the 'bad habit', but couldn't take the next step; to gradually replace a behaviour that is not working for William with a new, more 'desirable' habit.
Recipe rescue: the 'art' of giving attention to the behaviours you want!
The starting point for this recipe rescue is to accept our job.....