Are you tired of making rules for your kids, only to quickly abandon these rules when they don’t work?
Have you always wanted to be respected by your kids, instead of having them ignore your attempts to create rules and family routines?
Do you see your friend’s kids respond positively when their parents correct their behavior and you wish you could do that with your kids too?
Well, this article is all about creating a behavior plan that:
- Is effective in increasing the behaviors you want your child to use and decreasing those behaviors that you don’t want them to use
- Is based upon the morals and values that you believe are important so that you are happy and fulfilled in your parenting
- Can be customized based upon unique and individual family circumstances, challenges, and situations.
This is the behavior plan that I recommend to all of my private family clients and now I’m giving it to you. Before you read through all of the 5 steps, take a minute to download the worksheet that goes along with this article.
I’ve found that the parents that are successful with changing their child’s behavior through creating a behavior plan are those parents that have taken the time to write down their thoughts. Science tells us that when we write down our plans and goals, we are more likely to be successful in these goals – especially in the long-term.
The research is conclusive. Dr. Gail Matthews, a psychology professor at Dominican University in California, did a study on goal-setting with 267 participants. She found that you are 42 percent more likely to achieve your goals just by writing them down.
Ready? Let’s continue learning about the 5 steps…
Step 1: Identify Your Personal Passions, Values, and Beliefs
As you will come to realize when reading through the 5 steps, the key to having a behavior plan that works is predictability, consistency, and follow-through.
Being vague in knowing what you want from the behavior plan is the best way to set your child up for failure; as such, every parent should have an understanding of their personal passions, values, and beliefs and they should use these passions, values, and beliefs as a guide in creating the behavior plan.
For example, I’m not talking about:
- Kind of knowing you believe in doing the right thing most of the time
- Once in a while you practice your faith (mostly when you’re around other people of your faith)
- Telling your kids that helping the homeless is important to you, but never finding the time to volunteer at the shelter or donate your unused possessions cluttering your garage.
What I’m talking about are specific and clear character traits about you that you live by example and, that you want to pass down to your kids, such as:
- You’ve always been passionate about protecting animals so you partner with the local dog shelter, and you regularly take in foster dogs until a long-term home is located for them.
- You value honesty and hard work, so the family rule is that homework is always done on time and that everyone in the household goes to work and school as expected unless they are truly sick.
- Your belief in your faith is important to you, so practicing your faith on a daily basis is part of the family routine.
Do you see the difference in the two examples above? When you take the time to think through what you really believe in, you are more likely to integrate those beliefs into your own life (thus making you a happier and more fulfilled person) and you show by example how important these traits are to your kids.
Becoming crystal clear on your passions, values, and beliefs is hugely important. In my experience, the parents with kids who are happy, decent, and have developed their own interests and hobbies have parents who have taken the time to become clear on what they believe in.
Take a minute to write down on the worksheet your individual passions, values, and beliefs. It’s ok if they’re different from what your parents, siblings, friends, or co-workers believe – this plan is about YOU and YOUR FAMILY. Search your heart and be honest about these important traits.
Because parents who create plans based upon internalized values will be more driven to persevere with the plan when the going gets tough. Maybe this is why you’ve given up on rules that you’ve created in the past – either you didn’t fully believe in the rules or you didn’t even know why you made the rules in the first place.
Knowing WHY you created the rules and BELIEVING in the value behind the rules gives you the energy you will need to enforce the rules later on. But more on that in step 4…
Step 2: Identify The Family Rules
Now that you have identified your personal passions, values, and beliefs, use those traits to develop your family rules and guidelines.
In this step, it’s super important to address 3 points.
First, know what behaviors your want your child to decrease. Most of the time, parents create rules that don’t address behavior at all, such as, “Be nice to your brother/sister.” However, the problem is when parents do this, they leave themselves open to interpretation by their kids.
For example, your kid might have interpreted “be nice to your brother/sister” as “I’ll not kill my brother/sister when they annoy me today,” but what you really meant was, “Don’t call your brother/sister a mean name.”
See the difference?
When you are clear about what behaviors are unacceptable, then your kids have very little wiggle room to test you. It also cuts down on wasting time by arguing and discussing whether or not your child actually broke a rule.
Next, know what behaviors you want you child to increase. It’s very rare for parents to think of this step. A lot of behavior plans fail when the parent only responds to unwanted behaviors, but psychological science tells us that acknowledging/rewarding desired behavior is the “secret sauce” of a successful behavior plan.
Here is an example that I gave to a parenting group that I led this past week. One particular Mom and Dad in the group wanted to create a rule that their daughter had to be out of bed, dressed, and ready to leave for school on time or she would earn a consequence.
So, the behavior that this family wanted to encourage was their daughter getting ready for school on her own and on time. Little acknowledgments of the daughter’s desired behavior will go a long way in encouraging this behavior to continue.
So, how do you reward desired behavior? Do you buy them a video game every time they do something right?
Rewards don’t have to be things, they can be privileges.
In this instance, the reward should help the child understand why procrastinating actually decreases her quality of life. I recommended to this Mom that if her daughter got ready on her own and on time, Mom should so something for her daughter that she normally wouldn’t have time to do because she would normally be too busy micromanaging her daughter in the morning.
For example, Mom could make her daughter a hot breakfast, iron her daughter’s outfit for the day, or some other little bonus task. And I advised Mom to be very subtle about how she presented this to her daughter.
For example, Mom might say, “Thanks for getting up and getting yourself ready this morning. I had some extra time, so i made you bacon and eggs for breakfast.”
Remember that kids crave attention – so give them attention for behaviors that you want them to use on a regular basis. You’re kind or rewarding yourself at the same time!
The last point is to be clear and specific with what you want. I think you are probably understanding by now that the more clear and specific you are concerning the rules, the more likely you and your child will be on the same page with them.
Now, practice being clear and specific by writing 3-5 rules in the worksheet. Remember to specify the behaviors that will earn a consequence and the behaviors that will be rewarded.
Step 3: Communicate The Rules
In this step, you will make a plan to communicate these rules to your kids.
Try to find a time where you and the kids are not busy or stressed. The tone of this meeting should be that you are ultimately in charge, but that you are happy to answer questions that come up so that your kids understand the rules, consequences, and rewards 100%.
Be prepared for:
- Your kids to be unhappy with the rules
- Your kids attempting to compromise with you on the rules (remember – you are in charge! If the compromise that the kids propose violate any of your passions, values, and beliefs, then don’t compromise!!)
- To answer question after question, after question, after question about the new rules (classic kid tactic – kids know that being annoying works. So don’t let it!)
Remember that one of the goals for creating a behavior plan is to provide predictability to your child’s daily routine. If your child can predict the outcome of their behavior (i.e. a consequence vs. a reward), then they will be more likely to follow your rules.
Step 4: Follow Through With Consequences and Rewards.
I’ll be honest with you, this is THE HARDEST STEP.
Once you have created your plan and communicated it to the family, it is up to YOU to follow through on the consequences and rewards.
Where do most parents fail in this step? They fail to be consistent. Again, research tells us that a consistent consequence/reward schedule is the fastest way to change your child’s behavior.
In contrast, an inconsistent consequence/reward schedule (i.e. sometimes you follow through and sometimes you don’t) virtually guarantees that you kid will never adhere to your rule and change their behavior.
Being consistent can be mentally taxing, physically tiring, and emotionally draining. In order to set yourself up for success in this area, try the following:
- Create a support system for yourself. This could be a network of other parents or it could be your spouse, sibling, or friend. The support network’s job is to let you vent your frustrations while encouraging your to remain strong during difficult times.
- Share some of the burden with your spouse. If your child’s parent lives in the home or you have a good co-parenting relationship, allow the other parent to “be the bad guy” sometimes. You don’t always have to be the enforcer!
- After you give the consequence, disengage. Many parents get sucked into an argument with their child after following through on a consequence. This is such a mistake because following through on a consequence is a very emotional time for both yourself and your child – this means that you are both not thinking clearly. Make it a rule to discuss the situation with your child when you have both calmed down.
- Create a mantra such as “It feels like this plan is not working right now, but it has worked in the past. I just have to push through this moment.” Creating these personal mantras helps us get through tough times.
You can do it! I know you can! 🙂
Step 5: Give The Plan Time To Work.
Finally, you must come to terms with the fact that the new behavior plan won’t work overnight – it takes time to work.
Your new behavior plan will take longer to work if:
- Your kids are older (the older the kids are, the smarter they become in testing the boundaries)
- You have created rules or guidelines in the past that were quickly abandoned (your kids need to put you through the paces first to make sure you are serious about this new plan)
- You were not specific or clear enough at the beginning (that’s ok – just adjust the plan and keep going).
As you are waiting for the plan to work, you want your kid’s behavior to become worse.
Did I just say that the behavior plan makes your kid’s behavior worse??
Yes I did.
Again, science tells us that before our kids give in to a new rule or routine, their behavior must get worse before it gets better. This is called the extinction burst.
Remember the old tv show SuperNanny? Remember how the toddler threw what seemed like the world’s biggest tantrum as they were forced to sit in the “naughty chair”? Remember also how the parent cried in the next room while Jo Frost wisely counseled the parent that this behavior was normal? Then, all of a sudden, the child gave in to the rule and life became great.
When your kid is acting out and you want to give up, just think of me standing beside you telling you “Don’t give up just when the plan is about to work!”
Take Home Message
If you get anything from this extremely long post today, just remember that predictability, consistency, and follow-through are the keys to a behavior plan that works.
If you take the time to think through steps 1-3 and follow through with steps 4-5, then you will have a family environment where there is peace, order, and happiness.
When you take control of the tone of your family by implementing rules and guidelines that align with your personal passions, values, and beliefs, then you will have found the satisfaction and fulfillment that you have been searching for.