It’s no secret that parental influence on children’s behavior is huge; after all, their discipline, education, and overall development is on our shoulders, right? But is it really influence we’re after, or merely change? Here’s a list of strategies to relinquish, and one powerful strategy to embrace.
Every child comes to this world with his unique character, abilities and traits; we can’t, and shouldn’t, pretend our little ones are completely blank sheets that we can shape and form as we like. They are, who they are. However, what is the journey of parenting if not the constant pursuit for a better future, an easier being, a happier life experience for the ones we love most?
We want them to be kind, so that the world will be kind to them. We want them to study hard, for doors to open up as they come near. We want them to be friendly, so that they’ll never suffer solitude. We want them to be empathetic, compassionate and patient; yet we want them to fight for what’s truly theirs, to be strong enough to follow their hearts, and courageous enough to follow their dreams.
Wow. Being a parent is the hardest job in the world!
Let’s take a look at the strategies most widely used by parents in the hope to change their children’s behavior (and note how I shifted from “influence”, to “change”):
All parents do it. They threaten to leave, they threaten to not come, they threaten to take something away or to prevent something from happening. What we are really doing is triggering our children’s survival instinct by causing them to fear a consequence, and fear-driven learning always comes back to haunt us. Here’s a detailed account on why threats don’t work, even when they sometimes seem effective.
Punishments are realizations of the mentioned threats. If threats worked, we wouldn’t need punishments, would we? 🙂 So we tried an ineffective strategy to change our child’s behavior (threats), and now we take that same ineffective strategy and escalate it. When put this way, does it still seem like a good idea?
The only thing we really do when we punish a child, is asserting our so called “power” over him to make him feel even worse. And where did we ever get the idea that if we want to make someone do better, we first need to make him feel worse?
Rewards always strike parents as a strategy in gentle and peaceful parenting, because, hey – who doesn’t like a reward? It’s positive, it’s nice, why not make a child do something in return for a reward?
The first reason is that what parents usually offer as reward are the same things they previously threatened to take – mostly time and connection (“common honey, finish up your homework so we’ll have time for a bedtime story”, “if you won’t turn the TV off now we won’t go to the zoo tomorrow”!).
When we do this we condition our love – our kids now have to do something to gain what should be given to them naturally. This teaches the child that our love and connection are something he needs to work for; it’s a painful lesson to learn and I see the effects of this strategy with all adults I meet. And they don’t even know that.
The second is a collective reason against rewards, threats, and punishments: whenever we use these strategies we try to change a child’s behavior through external forces – instead of influencing him from within. Instead of triggering his heart and soul to do better because that’s what all people want at all times – to do better.
So How Can Parents Be an Influence on Their Child’s Behavior?
First and foremost it will be a general change of approach, a paradigm shift if you will. Here are the four main perception switches I guide parents who join my parent coaching program through:
- Replace force with power: it is when we feel most defeated as parents that we use this so called power of threats, punishments, and rewards. When we can’t seem to make it work positively – we try negatively. Funny isn’t it? 🙂
- Use connection as the only positive motivator: be sure that when a child is acting out, it’s because he feels disconnected. View all impulsive behaviors as calls for connection.
- Ignore the behavior – meet the need. The behavior is the very last link of this chain called the human experience. Prior to it there is always a feeling, and even before it – there is always a need. When needs are met, pleasant feelings arise and most behaviors are pleasant. When needs are not met, unpleasant feelings surface through challenging behaviors. Trying to change the behavior without addressing the need is futile.
- Somewhere along the way we started believing that our role as parents is to teach, educate, and discipline. While some aspects of parenting might include some of these, our biggest, and most important task as parents is to serve as role models and model everything we want our children to become. “Children see – children do” is a super accurate saying. To influence a child’s behavior, we must, first, review our own.
Think, Understand, Influence
We need to stop trying to change, and start trying to influence.
Our children are our mirrors; as long as we’ll experience ourselves are bigger and stronger, they will experience themselves as weaker and smaller. As long as we’ll continue entertaining the idea of size and power, and believe it matters, we will continue dealing with children who assert power. As long as we’ll continue believing that there are motivators other than connection, we will continue meeting children for whom connection is everything but the main goal. As long as we’ll continue forcing external change, we’ll continue meeting children who are disconnected from their most primal, inner need to simply be good for the ones they are connected to.
And what’s a pleasant life, really, if not a positive connection?
Join my parenting support group on Facebook and connect with me, if you’d like. I know I would 🙂