After I helped a parent with some behaviour management strategies the other day, she said, “Wow, no one has ever told me that before! You should tell everyone that.”
So, here’s ‘that’…
If you want your child to meet their needs in Sparky ways (loving and respectful of themselves, others and nature) then it is important to manage their behaviour in Sparky ways.
When our kids are attention seeking, oppositional, confrontational, fighting with siblings, or in any other way disrespectful – they are simply trying to meet their needs.
As Abraham Maslow pointed out over fifty years ago, human beings are continually motivated to meet their needs for survival, safety & security, love & belonging, self-worth and purpose.
Shady (our fearful side) is good at instinctively meeting our physical needs for survival and safety & security, after all, it is Shady’s job to keep us alive and safe and to protect us too.
Unfortunately, Shady is not good at meeting any of our other needs (the social, mental, emotional and spiritual ones) because when we behave in fearful ways we are often disrespectful of ourselves, others and the planet.
Sparky (our loving side) can help us meet all of our human needs, the entire package! When we meet our needs in loving ways we are respectful of ourselves, other people and nature.
Back to our kids’ behaviour…
Our role as parents and teachers is to help, support and teach our kids to meet their needs in loving, respectful ways. To do this it is important to be loving and respectful of our kids (and ourselves) in the process. Here are two important points to keep in mind:
a. If we react in a Shady way to reprimand our children we are actually teaching them (through modelling) to use threats, punishment and/or force to manipulate others.
b. If we give our children lots of attention (either positive or negative) when they are being disrespectful (which includes being abusive towards us), we are teaching them to be disrespectful to meet their needs. (This is called reinforcing negative behaviour by rewarding it with time, attention and special treatment.)
I’ll use a classroom example to illustrate:
An 8-year-old boy named Tom calls out in class, “I don’t have to do this work, it is stupid, you can’t make me do it. This totally sucks! I’m not doing it!” And the teacher replies, “Sit down and do that worksheet right now Tom, if you don’t do it now you will stay in at recess and do it.” This response sounds ‘fair enough’, but the problem is – this teacher has just taught the whole class that if you want someone to do something, you threaten them.
We’ve all heard a child say something like, “You have to do it my way, or you can’t play!” Where do you think they learnt this?
Other Shady techniques we use as teachers and parents to control children’s behaviour include put downs, “You idiot. You’re hopeless. Can’t you do anything right?” (either directly to the child or when talking about them to other people), bullying (when we use our power to make kids do what we want because they are scared of us), physical force (dragging them by the ear – don’t laugh, I saw a soccer dad do this recently), or negative comments that become negative affirmations like, “You always eat with your lips apart. What’s wrong with you?” There are many more Shady ways we control our kids, but that’s enough to make the point.
If we are serious about helping our children learn Sparky ways to meet their needs, then we need to use Sparky tools to manage them!
Here’s what the teacher could have said to Tom, “Oh Tom, sounds like you need something buddy. Are you hungry, tired, thirsty, do you need a run around? A cuddle? How can I help you?”
Tom may respond in a Sparky way, “Yeah I need a run, I’ll be back in 10 mins.” Great! Let him run!
Or a Shady way, “I don’t want you to cuddle me, you stink, I hate you!” To make sure we do not reinforce this behaviour (by giving Tom lots of attention and an audience) we need to say something like, “Go for a run for 10 mins Tom, that disrespectful behaviour isn’t helping you.”
In other words – respond to Shady behaviour in a Sparky way in the first instance, if your child continues to be Shady, minimise your interaction with them until they are respectful again.
We want to teach our kids to be respectful of themselves and others so we need to model respectful behaviour of ourselves and others. In other words, don’t reward your child for disrespectful behaviour. (Tom’s 10 min run isn’t a reward, it is a ‘time out’ he will do the worksheet when he gets back!)
Unfortunately, loving, respectful responses don’t come automatically to all parents and teachers – yet.
Shady responses to disrespectful behaviour have been programmed into our subconscious over generations! Our great grandparents, grandparents and parents managed us with fear, same with our teachers. The modelling we observed and the experiences we had when we were growing up, have resulted in us automatically responding in Shady ways to our own kids’ Shady behaviour.
Neuroscientists suggest that 95% of our behaviour is on autopilot (comes from our subconscious programming), that means 95% of the time we react to disrespectful behaviour from our kids in the same way we have always done.
Similarly, 95% of our children’s behaviour is on autopilot, that means they are trying to meet their needs the same way they met them before.
This Shady vs Shady behaviour and behaviour management just doesn’t work!
To break the cycle, parents and teachers (the grown-ups) can choose to use the 5% of our behaviour that we do control to consciously (or ‘mindfully’) use Sparky ways to manage our kid’s disrespectful behaviour.
For the other 95% of the time when we may lapse and automatically use Shady tactics, we have the gift of hindsight, which means we can apologise and enlist our kid’s suggestions as to how we could do it differently next time. This is where a plan like ‘going for a 10 min run’ could be agreed upon.
The change in management is not going to happen overnight, just like the change in your child’s behaviour is not going to happen overnight. But if you keep being Sparky in the face of Shady, you will change your subconscious programming and eventually you will be managing all Shady behaviour from your kids (and anyone else) in a Sparky way! If our generation of parents and teachers do this then our kids will automatically manage their kids in Sparky ways because that will be their automatic program!
Here are some Sparky ways you might like to try out…
(Remember – if your child responds with more disrespectful behaviour, don’t give them any more attention until they are respectful again.)
“Is your body okay?” Often our children are disrespectful because they are tired, hungry, thirsty, need a run around, need a cuddle or are not physically well, fixing their body helps them behave respectfully.
“Is that Sparky or Shady?” This question brings your child’s attention to their behaviour, because chances are high (95%) that they are just behaving on autopilot. Supporting children to be more aware of their behaviour increases activity in the frontal lobe of the brain which helps them self-regulate.
“Is that helping?” Again, this question brings your child’s attention into their frontal lobe which is the part of them that is aware of what they are thinking, saying and doing. If they keep being disrespectful after you have asked this question they are now doing it on purpose and not on autopilot – so withdraw your attention.
“Ask your Sparky, ‘What now?’” Getting your child to ask their Sparky for solutions to problems, empowers them to help themselves. Great training for when you are not there to help them.
“What’s wrong?” If you have the time and patience and your child is being respectful, you could ask your child to tell you all the Shady thoughts they are currently thinking. This helps them clear their mind of the fear (anger, sadness, guilt or worry) they are thinking over and over in their heads. When they repeat something they have already said, just say, “Yep, got that one, anything else?” When they can’t think of anything else get them to ask their Sparky “What now?” to get a solution to their problem.
Every time you use a Sparky response to your child’s disrespectful behaviour you are teaching them to solve their problems and meet their needs in Sparky ways! Yippee! Go the power of modelling!
Let me know if any of these work for you!