Step 1: Providing Clear Expectations
Now that we are clear about which good behavior we would like to see replace the misbehavior, we need to make sure that we have realistic expectations. If we expect our children to do something that they have little chance of being able to do, they will probably be unsuccessful and we all will be frustrated. Our goal is to gradually expect a little more from our children than they have done before.
Here are some common ways that parents expect too much from their children.
Sometimes children misbehave when we don’t make it clear what we expect them to do. For example, a child may not know what his mother requires when she says “Behave!” Or, a child may think they have the option to say “no” when his father asks “Can you turn off your video game now?”, rather than giving a command.
Children are most likely to listen when parents first get their attention, and then give a specific command that makes it clear what they need to do to be successful. In short, we want to provide effective commands, instead of making a request.
Here are some examples:
1. Pick up your toys. instead of... Can you pick up your toys now?
2. Please turn off the TV. instead of... Don’t you think it is time to turn off the TV?
3. It is time for dinner. Come to the table. instead of... Dinner’s ready.
4. Choose another toy to play with. instead of... Play nice with your sister, okay?
Giving mixed messages
Children often do what we do as parents, rather than what we say. Make sure you act the way you want your child to act. If you yell when you get angry, then your child will be more likely to yell when he is angry. If you stay calm and talk through problems, this will encourage your child to do the same. In addition, make sure that all caregivers (especially Mom and Dad, but also grandparents, nannies) are giving similar messages.
Asking Too Much
Sometimes parents ask their children to do something they are not able to do. This might include asking a child with ADHD to complete a list of five tasks or expecting a 4-year-old to play by herself for an hour. Just because other children are capable of completing a task, does not means your child will be able to at this point in time. The best guide to what a child is likely able to do, is what he has regularly done before.
Sometimes it is better to prevent a misbehavior by planning ahead, then to expect a child to handle a challenging situation. For example, children are more likely to misbehave when they are tired, hungry, bored, or under stress. Anticipating times and places where these factors make it hard for a child to cooperate can help parents prepare for or prevent misbehavior.
Goals for Setting Clear and Reasonable Expectations
You have identified the following good behaviors to replace the misbehaviors that are causing concern:
Thinking about how have communicated to your child in the past, which of the following changes do you think it would be most helpful to giving your child clear and reasonable expectations?
You can review your behavior plan on the next page.