The month of December is now characterized by elves on the shelves serving as Santa’s eyes and ears! Trees, décor, and lights are handy visual reminders for children (and parents) that Santa is watching and is everywhere. That, coupled with how close the arrival of Christmas is, makes it so much easier when parents remind their child to be on their best behavior and have the advice taken seriously. However, there are eleven more months in the year; how do we get our kids to behave when the Christmas lights and decor are taken down and the Elf on the Shelf is packed away? My kids are young so I’m still learning every day but I do have a few tips that have worked for me.
- Model good behavior
Our kids are constantly picking up information from their environment. They are most certainly looking to their parents for cues about how to act and handle certain situations. It is our duty to show them with our own behavior how to cope with situations in which we do not get our way. If you get upset, it’s okay to let your child know that something has caused you to feel frustrated or mad. Then show your child how you calm yourself down. Do you like listening to music or taking a few deep breaths? Say what you’re doing out loud. You can also point out when another adult does something good such as sharing or displaying courteous behavior. I like to point out when a person holds the door open for another or offers a hand to someone who needs assistance. Ensuring that your child witnesses people doing good things in their daily life will help them understand that behavior is to be replicated in their own lives.
- Reserve your attention
I know that sounds strange but it really is an effective way to encourage good behavior. You should give your child attention but you should reserve it when they are displaying negative behaviors. Our instincts as parents is to say nothing when our child says please or thank you but raise a fuss when they don’t pick up their toys. By doing this we are absent-mindedly reinforcing the negative behavior. It starts to inform our children that bad behavior receives attention while positive behavior does not. The next time your child does something that is positive, call it out specifically and give them praise for it. You can also give positive reinforcement by caring touch such as a rub or pat on the back when they are doing something good.
- Follow through
This one can be very hard either due to personal determination, physical location, or some other reason. If you tell your child something, make sure you’re absolutely prepared to follow through with it. If you consistently break your promises, your child will start to realize that you don’t actually mean what you say and that will make it very difficult when it comes time to correct negative behavior. For instance, if you tell your child to stop throwing food or you’re going to leave the restaurant, you must mean it. If they throw food again be prepared to get up and leave the restaurant. This might mean having or asking for togo boxes earlier on in the meal.
- Set clear expectations
Make sure you give your child specific instructions on what you want them to do. For example, before I head into the grocery store with my children I tell them that they are not to pick up anything and that they must keep their arms and legs inside the cart at all times. Then I explicitly let them know what the consequences will be if they do not follow my instructions. If it’s a time-out when we get home, I let them know exactly where they will sit in time out, for how long, and what the timer sounds like when they can get up. Letting your child know what to expect before walking into a situation helps them better adhere to guidelines and display positive behaviors.
- Santa is always watching
From time to time but mainly when they are doing something good, I like to remind my children that Santa is constantly updating his Naughty and Nice List. I ask if they remember getting letters from Santa Claus. I use a free service that sends my children a personalized letter from Santa. It’s so special that they always nod an excited yes.
We should always remember that our children are young individuals and sometimes that are going to do things we don’t want them to. Ask yourself if the behavior really needs correcting for safety or if it’s a minor thing that just frustrates us. The small stuff is nothing to be too concerned about as it may just be a part of who they are as an individual. We certainly want them to grow up being the best version of themselves.