Dear Dr. Bill,
Lately I feel like I'm always yelling "Don't do this!” and “Do that!" I feel like my kids don't listen to me when I ask them to do something like put toys away or help clear the dinner table. Then I lose my patience and end up yelling at them! What can I do to change, and how can I help them to become better listeners?
A lot of parents try to use words and reasons to convince their kids to behave. Then they get frustrated and angry when their child doesn’t listen. Here’s the problem: as I’ve mentioned, before, words and reasons don’t change behavior…consequences change behavior.
Instead of reasoning, pleading, or nagging your kids, try using consequences. A consequence is something good or bad that happens as a result of a particular behavior. Consequences can be both positive and negative.
You use positive consequences when you want to increase a positive behavior, and negative consequences when you want to decrease a negative behavior.
Let’s say your 8-year-old son has trouble getting his homework done after school. First, set a specific goal for him. You might say “Johnny, I need you to finish your math sheets by 5PM. If you do, I’ll let you have an extra half hour of video game time tonight.”
But let’s assume that Johnny doesn’t finish his homework by 5. In fact, let’s say it’s now 7, and he hasn’t even looked at it. A negative consequence--spelled out clearly in advance--might be that Johnny doesn’t get ANY video game time that night.
As you learn to use consequences effectively, you’ll find that your interactions with your children will be much more positive. Your kids will clearly understand what’s expected of them, and you’ll feel more confident as a parent.
Thanks for writing Coleen! I’m Bill Maier for WBCL.