Strategies for Behavior

I’ve been reading How to Talk so Kids will Listen & Listen So Kids will Talk. It’s by the same folks that wrote Siblings without Rivalry. I really enjoyed that book several years ago and felt that it gave me some good strategies for dealing with conflict between the two older boys. It’s particularly good for freeing children from roles that they are pushed into by being opposites. Here’s my post from reading it almost three years ago. It may be time to read it again!

Anyway, I’m only about halfway through the book because I’ve been trying to study and implement the strategies as I read about them. To be clear, I fall into my old patterns often. I think one thing we do too much of is piling on. We go on and on about why a behavior is unacceptable and often if one of us corrects behavior, the other feels compelled to correct it too, and I think it makes the child feel ganged up on. We do this to avoid good cop/bad cop, but it’s not good either.

A few things I try to remember: “All feelings are acceptable. Not all actions are allowed.” Example: Yesterday, Seamus and Gilbert were playing. Then Seamus jumped in front of Gilbert in line and Gilbert yelled and told him to move. He didn’t, and Gilbert shoved him over into the dirt. I gave Gilbert a time out, which had him hopping mad. I explained, “You are really angry at Seamus for getting in front of you. That’s okay to be very angry. You can be so angry with him you just want to shove over the whole playground, but you can’t hit or push him down.” It seemed to get through a little bit. He recovered quicker than usual.

Another thing I try to remember. Your message to the child should be, “I think you are a capable person who may need to figure out a way to solve this problem.” NOT “Your behavior is indicative of your basic inability to do anything.” Children should know that their parents believe in their ability to problem solve and move toward autonomy. Example: At breakfast Seamus picked up his (syrup-soaked) waffle with his hands and started eating it. I told him to use his fork. Patrick reiterated. I jumped back in. It was spiraling south quickly. He sat back and looked dejected and said he wasn’t going to eat any more food. I offered to cut up his waffle. He refused. We all took a breather. Then I turned to him (remembering the book) and said, “Seamus I think you can probably figure out how to make the pieces smaller yourself, if you give the knife and fork a try.” He was quiet for a few seconds, then he attempted it, was successful, and finished his waffle and half of Gilbert’s breakfast.

Part of the book is about retraining yourself when talking with children. The chapters I’ve read so far are about feelings, engaging cooperation, and avoiding punishment. I’ve found a few of the ideas really helpful–like observing a situation instead of harping on it. Example, “There are clothes on the steps.” I’ve said this, and the boy responsible runs and moves them. Now, I’ve also said it to no response, so there’s that. I’m about to start the chapter on Encouraging Autonomy. I’d like to try some of the problem solving techniques in the avoiding punishment chapter, but we’ll have to wait for a good opportunity.

Perhaps more on this later…



  1. What age must a child be to use these practices? I’m nanny for a child of 18 months who is not extremely verbal, but does understand quite a bit. He is an only child and, so far, rules the roost. During meals (he does not feed himself), when he doesn’t want what is offered, he strikes out with his hand, food flies, then becomes more upset when the food is offered again, throws toys, books, etc., leading to a meltdown. How is this type of situation better handled? I would love the advice from a mother of 3! xxDenise

  2. This is awesome! Though you make me feel a little bit like I just wasted at least one year of parenting. They would be so much more confident and amazing had I read this post a long time ago.

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