I have some bad news for some of you. There is no magical, easy, silver bullet approach to dealing with challenging childhood behaviors. If there was, there wouldn’t be shelves full of books on the topic in every book store and library. There would be one very short book and we would all have it memorized. There is no easy answer, but there is a series of attitudes and understandings and an assortment of tools and approaches, that we can choose from and use to address each individual challenging situation.
Positive guidance is based on the belief that any means of child guidance should focus on building up a child’s self-control rather than soley focusing on a behavioral outcome. It requires, perhaps, a shift in thinking. We first must realize that it is not our job (as parents and teachers) to eliminate conflict, disappointment, and frustration from the lives of our children, but it is rather to teach our children how to appropriately deal with those situations and emotions. We must also realize that a child’s behavior is not really a reflection on us and our abilities as a parent or teacher, but a reflection of the child’s choices. It is our position to help our children make better choices in the future by helping them build self-control and pro-social behaviors. Positive guidance focuses more on building the child’s control over self than the adult’s control over the child.
Perhaps I can better explain what positive guidance is by explaining what it is not. It is not your typical sticker chart or reward system for good behavior. These systems often get quick results, but their long-term influence on behavior is sparse. Once you run out of stickers, candies, or toys the child no longer has motivation. Likewise, children who respond to such circumstances in one situation, the classroom for example, have no incentive to carry over those good behaviors at home, or anywhere else.
Think of it this way. If I offered $50 to anyone who could do 10 push-ups, you would all at least attempt it, right? But does that mean I have effectively made you a healthier person or taught you to choose a healthier lifestyle for yourself? Of course not! You could collect your $50 and spend half of it on cheesecake and chocolates! (Please invite me if you do!) Now this is not to say that rewards and incentives should never be used. They must simply be used sparingly and appropriately.
Positive guidance is also not a matter of achieving good displays of behavior through fear or threats. Instead of gaining self-control, the child gives more and more control to the adult in an attempt to avoid punishment or displays of anger. Children who are motivated by fear often eventually manifest that fear in unhealthy ways such as rebellion, physical illness, or insecurities.
When you use positive guidance, you take a step back, check your own emotions, and calmly take on the role of encouraging, and training a child to build the social skills and self-control necessary for future challenges. You accept that just like learning to walk, social skills and self-control are learned and, just like learning to walk, there will be missteps along the way. In every learning opportunity- tying shoes, learning to read, etc.- we accept that children will make mistakes and that mistakes are OK. We encourage them to keep trying and they’ll get it right. We can approach behavior in the same way.
Children are certainly capable of intentional misbehavior, but adding our own emotions to theirs rarely serves a constructive purpose. Instead of looking at a child’s behavior as a personal affront to you, remove yourself from the equation and look at the learning opportunity created. Positive guidance includes the philosophy that every child has the potential for learning correct behavior (within a developmentally appropriate level) and that with guidance and practice, they will.
In the next post, we’ll look at the sources of children’s behavior so that we can better understand how to approach these opportunities and teach more authentically. Then I’ll be showing you how to more effectively implement some methods you’re probably already using and add a few new techniques to your routine. We can all use a well-stocked toolbox when it comes to handling behavior challenges!
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Top photo by Anissa Thompson.