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Strategies for Combating Negative Behaviors

A few months ago, I wrote a post about how my perfect two-year-old little boy had transformed into a three-year-old with a case of the ‘troublesome threes.’ I originally thought this was just my son acting out as a regular three-year-old would, and that he would soon get over his behavior. However, as the months went by, his negative behaviors started becoming a problem even at school. Things like saying no, making faces at other children, not being able to keep his hands to himself, and talking back were problematic both at home and at school.

Because my husband travels often and works very long hours, I am the ‘default parent’ in our house. I immediately began blaming myself for his behaviors and was full of mommy guilt, thinking that it was all my fault. I felt terrible about myself and beat myself up every time I raised my voice. (Reading blog posts about seemingly-perfect parents didn’t help either). I was feeling down about myself and about my parenting. After a few months of feeling this way, I realized that I needed to get a doctor’s opinion about how to bring peace back to our house. I made an appointment to have a consultation with our pediatrician.

I have a friend and colleague who is a family clinician, so I spoke with her prior to seeing the pediatrician. She immediately asked if there had been any changes in our house since the behaviors began, and I didn’t think of anything immediately. But after mulling over it, I realized that these negative behaviors mostly started when my daughter turned one; all of a sudden, she was no longer just a baby. She was a talking, walking, playing person who was infringing on my son’s life. My friend also suggested writing an email to the doctor prior to our meeting so that I would be able to stay less emotional and also so that I wouldn’t forget anything I wanted to discuss. The pediatrician was very open to this suggestion, and when we did meet, it helped both of us to have this in front of us. I spoke with my son’s teachers and asked them to also write down the main issues at school. I took copious notes during our meeting which I will admit I read nightly so that I can work to become a better mother who reacts correctly to situations. (Because even though it’s my son’s behaviors I want to target, I can easily admit that I am in no way a perfect parent. I needed to change also).

Here are the strategies the doctor gave us to help both at home and at school:

1. Praise silly things like not talking back when he might have previously, or when he does something small correctly.

2. When he says no to something little, let it slide. Or, ask why. Try to understand why he does not want to do something we’ve asked.

3. Ask open-ended questions to combat lying. Don’t give him the opportunity to lie about small things.

4. Role play. My son is the mommy doll and I am the kid doll. Let him see how silly it sounds when he does unacceptable things.

5. As a parent, try not to be emotional. (This is the hardest for me!)

6. Make rewards for good behavior like alone time with mommy and daddy. My children do not need any more toys. But time with parents, alone, is a great motivator.

7. Use time outs sparingly. They should be somewhere he is completely removed from the situation. Follow them with ‘time ins.’ This clearly defines that the punishment is over. And more importantly, don’t discuss the infraction as soon as the time out is over when everyone is still emotional. Read a book later on that may mirror the situation and use that time to discuss the indiscretion.

After I met with the doctor, I wrote up strategies to use at school and shared them with his teachers. It’s been about a week and a half since we’ve implemented these changes, and I’m not going to say that our problems are over. I sometimes revert to my old behaviors and so does my son. Things are not perfect, but they are slowly getting better. My children are works in progress, and as parents, so are my husband and I. We do our best and try our hardest, and we want to instill the same in our children.

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What are some strategies you have used to negate poor behaviors at home or at school for your children?

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