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Four Secret Strategies to Better Manage Behavior Without Punishment

February 19, 2016

In addition to my counseling practice for most maters of family life, I am frequently providing workshops. This week, three: one for parents of high school students, another for parents of elementary students and the third for students in grades 5, 6 and 7.

As in all my parent workshops, I ask what issues they are facing and what they would like me to speak about. Both groups advised of unmanageable behavior and a disconnect between themselves and their kids.

In view of their common issues for both groups I spoke about how we as humans need to feel a connection to others, most notably our loved ones in order to feel whole and worthy. When we feel whole and worthy, then behavior is typically more reasonable and if not, we can influence the other on the basis of the relationship.

What most parents do not realize these days is that social, economic and technological pressures have created this disconnect in families and as such we are seeing more squirrely (anxious) looking kids. It is as if they are flailing around not knowing what to do and thus get caught up in inappropriate behavior and given our disconnect, we the parents have limited influence to restore connection or behavior.

The answer is not in better punishment, scolding or shaming. The answer is in managing our guilt for lack of availability, taking responsibility for those things we allow to disconnect us from our kids and then restoring our connection.

  1. Time over stuff: As for our guilt, no longer can we assuage it by giving our children stuff. Giving stuff suggests to kids that stuff is more important than relationships and we the parent we only be valued for the stuff we provide. No stuff, no value. Of course kids who are constantly given stuff don’t otherwise listen to parents. Rather than stuff, give 10 minutes of special attention to engage in a quick activity or admire something of the child.
  2. Disconnect to reconnect: As much as parents all complained about their kid’s use of tablets, smart phones and social media, truth was, so too do parents preoccupy themselves with such things, even when purportedly talking or being with their kids. Turn the devices off – at least certain times of the day, such as at meals and at bedtime. Be truly present and undistracted when with your child. That you turn off your device (actually off, not on vibrate) is a huge signal to your child that they are of value to you over and above anything else. Then you are in a position to truly reconnect.
  3. Reconnect through normal activities: Have time together as a family, typically through shared mealtime. Shared mealtime can be breakfast, lunch or dinner. Statistically, the more shared mealtime together, the better children’s behavior and the more likely you can transfer your values and morals to your kids directly as opposed to their picking up whatever by surfing the Internet.
  4. Parent with intention: Lastly with the parents, I talked about being in charge benevolently. Not all expectations are a discussion. Just like in school, when the teacher says, take out your books, this is a demand, not a question. So too parents need to act with reasonable authority and a tone of voice that demonstrates not anger, hostility or fear, but a clarity that what is being sought, is actually required. We also role played just what that looks like and how to follow through behaviorally while still being reasonable and connected. Examples provided were given specific to different ages.

These workshops were so engaging. Parents quickly and easily shared their concerns and challenges. We generated laundry lists of alternative strategies to address specific behavior while all the time restoring connections to then maintain healthy relationships.

This quick video may help understand how to manage behavior without punishment:

As for meeting with the middle school students, they were remarkably well mannered and behaved. Some of that was the outcome of good teachers under the guidance of a good principal and some of that was owing my own classroom management skills, all based upon making a respectful connection. In fact, when asking the students what they thought of me, several replied how they felt respected.

With the students we discussed the role of the social worker, self-esteem, bullying, respect and strategies for getting along with others. Considerable time was spent discussing sarcasm. Just as cigarettes are a gateway drug to other drugs, sarcasm can be considered a gateway behavior to abusive behavior. If we can help students (and parents) to understand and manage the use of sarcasm so as not to shame, embarrass or demean others, we reduce the risk of escalating conflict and other forms of either verbally or physically abusive behavior.

Great kids, great parents, great teachers, great school administrators, great week.

I am Gary Direnfeld and I am a social worker. Need help managing child behavior? Call me.

Know someone else who might need counseling? Please scroll down and share this article.

Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW

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Gary Direnfeld is a social worker. Courts in Ontario, Canada, consider him an expert in social work, marital and family therapy, child development, parent-child relations and custody and access matters. Gary is the host of the TV reality show, Newlywed, Nearly Dead, parenting columnist for the Hamilton Spectator and author of Marriage Rescue: Overcoming the ten deadly sins in failing relationships. Gary maintains a private practice in Dundas and Georgina Ontario, providing a range of services for people in distress. He speaks at conferences and workshops throughout North America.

If your relationship is faltering, then set it as your priority.

Read: Marriage Rescue: Overcoming ten deadly sins in failing relationships.

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