140 One-liners No. 1 - 001-005

140 One-liners No. 1 - 001-005

parents talk to teen

A Closer Look at One-liners 001-005

Introduction to One-liners For Behaviour Management

One-Liners clearly and succinctly spell out the principles of successful behaviour management. Like proverbs, they do not necessarily apply in all circumstances. Please note the following regarding One-liners:

  • Two or more may focus on the same principle.
  • No one applies all of them all of the time.
  • You probably know many of the principles already.
  • Some people may find some of them challenging.
  • These principles are like ingredients in a recipe; leave any out, and the result is not favourable.
  • Ultimately, they are all interlinked.
  • They are logical, practical and do-able.
  • One-Liners are the result of research, practical life experiences, and a little bit of wisdom.
  • We each formulate our expectations as to how behaviour management should be carried out. The way we manage children is a result of our home background, life's experience, our education and training, our observations and the media. I would be surprised if anyone of us has a perfect approach.

As we all have different heredity, backgrounds, experience, training and knowledge in everything, including behaviour management, so our expectations, strategies, methods and style of implementation will not all be the same. Although we come from different starting points, in a way, we are all in the same boat. We can all do a better job, and we owe it to the children in our care to keep learning and fine-tuning our management skills.

Well! Here we are at last! Sit down, buckle up and hang on. You're in for the ride of your life!

One-liners 001 to 005

Parents, teachers and children should understand boundaries and consequences.

Imagine travelling in your car to work. You stop at a 'STOP' sign, look both ways, and when it is safe, you drive across the intersection. Shortly afterwards you are pulled over by the police. They inform you that you had incurred a $500 fine for not sounding your horn before you moved on from the 'STOP' sign.

You indignantly state, "There is no law to say you have to do that!"

The police reply, "Yes there is. The government passed a new law in last night."

You complain that the public was not informed and that it was not fair. You don't get anywhere with the police, so you take the matter to court where you receive a $1000 penalty for contempt of court, and, for not bowing as the judge walked in. When you have a chance to state your case, the kind judge says that the government has the right to change the laws and penalties at will, without informing the public.

Over the next week, you are fined $800 for not having your washing off the line by 2:00 pm, $800 again the next day for having your washing out before 2:00 pm, and $400 for having weeds in your front garden. You then get fined $100 for not leaving scraps out for the birds, $5000 for the marks on the road made by one of your kids falling off their bike, and you spend a night in jail for not having your drivers' license with you even though you were not driving a vehicle.

Imagine how insecure you would feel, how unjustly treated, how angry and upset!

Now imagine how a young child feels when, not knowing where your boundaries are, they step over one of those imaginary lines and get into trouble. How bewildering for a child when you laughed at them last time they did the same thing. What if your rules and consequences keep changing all the time, depending on how you feel.

Teachers and parents have a responsibility, before they hand out any consequences, to explain in detail the rules and what will happen if the children break them. Do the same thing for children of all ages. Even if they are not able to talk, they soon learn to connect words with actions. Ensure, however, that you make allowances for a child's age, reasoning ability, their short attention span and their short memory.

Insecurity in children, parents and teachers leads to more undesirable behaviour than you might think.

Children need to be encouraged.

You often read statements about encouraging children in books on parenting and behaviour management. But what does it mean to encourage a child? What is the child looking for in what you say?

Encouragement should not be goal oriented like, "If you keep practising you will be the best on the team." Talking this way sets a child up for disappointment and failure. They may not ever be the best in the team, no matter how much they practice.

The focus of encouragement should be on three main things, the child's effort, the child's choices, and acceptance by the giver of positive recognition. The needs or the child at that particular time and the circumstances will determine the order of priority. 

What does it sound like when you focus on your child's effort and your acceptance? "I like the way you are doing that.", "I can see you are making great progress.", "I know you don't like piano practice, but I'm proud of the way you are getting stuck into it. It shows real character.", "It makes me happy when you put a lot of effort into looking after your puppy. I know mum is happy too.", "You bring a lot of happiness and honour to our family when you don't retaliate when other children tease you."

Parents and teachers often need to plan what they are going to say to give encouragement. Be very careful to avoid saying anything that will engender pride in children. You will rarely find this approach in the media. More on this point as you work through future One-Liners.

Managing your own behaviour stimulates a reciprocal response.

Unconsciously we nearly all, adults and children alike, act like little mirrors. Mirrors reflect back the image that stands in front of them but the older we get, the less we like it. But from an emotional point of view, we tend to reflect back to other people their emotions. If you stop to think about it, how many times has someone been angry with you and that same negative emotion begins to well up inside you? Or you meet a stranger, and they are all smiles showing they are delighted to be in your company. Through the words they use and the body language they display, they tell you they would love to have you as a friend. What would be your emotional response? If it were me, I would get this warm, fuzzy feeling inside and begin to reflect back to this stranger the same positive emotions they communicated to you. We call this reciprocal response mirroring.

In almost every case my mirroring has not only been in the words I use but in my body language as well. The most productive form of communication is whole body communication, i.e. words and body language. Most of this type of engagement is unconscious apart from the fact that we are well aware of our emotional response.

Children may be little, but they can reflect emotions 'big time'. Parents have discovered their children correcting their siblings, pets or stuffed toys with the same tone, inflexion and mood as the parents use when correcting the children. Have you ever felt anger rising when your kids were angry at you? Have you noticed that when you are happy and smile at smaller members of your family while keeping good eye contact with them, that they will usually smile back?

Children, as well as adults, can hide their emotions for various reasons. We can internalise anger or irritability because we have a fair idea that matters would become worse if we let our emotions show. So children, when we are irritable with them, may internalise their irritable response. Not being able to express their true feelings they can unconsciously become resentful and distance themselves from us. If this happens once in a while, but communication and relationships are positive most of the time, then longer lasting emotional damage may not be experienced. But let this happen on a regular basis then long-term alienation and distancing can result. It is beneficial if parents create a safe haven for children to express their emotions. On these occasions, parents must not allow children to reply in a discourteous manner but demand that their children's responses are calm and respectful.

There are families where there is much sibling rivalry; arguments occur on a regular basis. But if someone outside the family verbally attacks one of them the rest of the children band together to defend the abused one. The ripple effect comes into play when one member of a group, e.g. family or class of children, is in trouble and is chastised or criticised. Even though the rest of the group are not the focus of the correction, the other members of the group often feel as if they were the guilty one. Group dynamics work that way. It happens when members have a strong identity with the other members of the group. Parents, supervisors and teachers should be aware that this happens. You will be able to short-circuit the ripple effect if you correct in private.

We often say that someone has made us angry, or irritable. That is not the case. We each have the freedom to choose how we will react to every circumstance. Have you noticed that some people remain calm and placid where other people would get angry? We cannot blame our character as an excuse to react in negative ways because we can change our character. We have to take responsibility for our behaviour and realise that our choices can make either for a happier or more miserable future.

Provide children with positive recognition, and they will be more likely to make better choices.

If we want our children to make good choices, it is imperative that we give them encouraging feedback when they do. But for a moment I would like to focus on the frequency of giving feedback. Parents and teachers begin to sound like a stuck gramophone record when they make positive comments about everything the child does during the day. Eventually, the comments may become meaningless to the child.

Keeping in mind that younger children need more encouragement and positive recognition than older ones, you don't need to give a great deal of positive feedback for them to sense that they are appreciated. The number of times per day a child should be encouraged will vary, but the with words should be well chosen, given with sincerity and directed towards the choices the child makes. Focus on the things the child finds hardest to do.

Research has found that random reward is one of the best motivators, that's why gaming machines make so much money. Feedback, given to children when they least expect it often has a greater impact.

Ultimately the goal is for children to have such a feeling of self-worth they don't need to be propped up by others' opinions, i.e. we need to work on a child's self-worth as well as weaning them off the emotional props they need in early life. Just like a child needs a parent's finger to hold on to when they are beginning to walk, so a young child needs emotional support. As the younger child develops the physical and mental skills to walk on their own, so an older child needs to develop the strength to stand on their own feet emotionally.

Even so, as adults, it is nice to walk hand in hand with someone you are close to, although you don't need assistance to walk. It is equally so that at times it is nice to walk hand in hand emotionally with someone we care for, especially when we need some support to get through the tough times. People who are emotionally stable have less chance of becoming socially neurotic or drifting into unhealthy relationships that involve dependency or co-dependency.

Buying your child's affection is teaching them to expect rewards for giving affection.

Genuine affection and appreciation are earned, not bought. Of course, we all want our children to like us, appreciate us and to return our love. What can we do, then, to bond with our kids and for them to truly care about us?

Decades ago I was listening to a talk-back radio program. The guest presented the results of a research project that endeavoured to answer the question, 'What do children really want from their parents?' A significant number of children were asked to select one out of a list of things children often ask from their parents, e.g. a new bike, a holiday at the beach, money, going to Disneyland. By far the most selected item was, 'Spending time with your parents.'

Life is hectic, and we find it difficult to fit in all we think we need to do. We also need to set aside some quality time for ourselves. As a result, many parents get into the habit of giving things to their children rather than giving of themselves. What kind of 'spending time' do children need? It is not watching television or videos together. It is not going together to other canned forms of entertainment like theme parks or parties.

Quality time can be as simple as playing 'Paper, Scissors, Rock' together for five or ten minutes. At a family meeting, brainstorm as many types of quality time as possible. Let each child select the type they would prefer, considering the time available.  The best options for developing character are types of quality time that are constructive, like making things, tidying the yard, mending toys, a bike ride, gardening, things that develop physical and mental skills, getting out into nature to learn the names of different birds, stars, shells, animals, etc. It will surprise you how many very productive activities there are.

Now the very, very best one is helping people less fortunate than yourselves, e.g. helping the old lady on the corner keep her yard tidy, or doing something to earn money to help orphans in India or elsewhere.

Consider these when planning quality talk time with your children:

  • A quiet and relaxing place with no background noise.
  • The more natural the environment, the better.
  • One-on-one is always more bonding - whole family quality time is also valuable.
  • As a general rule, spend equal time with each child. You may have to vary the time depending on the children's ages.
  • If indoors, find a private place where you will not be interrupted.
  • Tell others that you don't want to be interrupted unless it is essential.
  • Encourage your child to talk about whatever they want.
  • Don't come up with solutions unless they request them.
  • Give your opinions sparingly.
  • Put yourself in their shoes and show empathy and understanding.
  • Accept any criticisms and admit any faults.
  • Begin by asking them a question, then ask them if they want to ask you a question.
  • Ask open, not closed, questions, e.g. "What do you suggest we do about our noisy neighbours?" Closed questions have one-word answers like' "Yes." or "No."
  • If for some unforeseen circumstance you cannot keep your quality time appointment with your child, apologise, let them know that you understand their disappointment. Make another appointment, allocating twice the original amount of time to compensate for the delay.
    Don't get me wrong; I'm not against giving gifts but give them sparingly. Better to give your time and attention instead.

The danger of buying your child's love or cooperation with money, gifts or favours is you are setting them up for serious difficulties later on in life. What you are teaching your child is that when you like someone you give them gifts, therefore your child will expect everyone who likes them to prove it by continually giving them gifts and doing them favours. They will determine how much someone likes them by the value of the gifts and the number of favours given. Rather, we need to teach our children, and practice it ourselves, that when people like a person, they like to share experiences together.

A shared experience is the glue that bonds people together, and sometimes that goes for negative experiences as well. Not that you would seek for negative experiences as they seem to crop up regularly without invitation.

With children, the receiving of gifts is mostly a 'me' thing, but shared experiences are more about 'us'. In the case of mature adults, exchanging gifts can be a 'shared experience' if both have the right motives. But, have you ever started comparing the value of the gifts you give with those you received in return? Have you ever said to yourself, "I wish they had given me something else." If you have, what is your primary focus, 'me' or 'us'? 


Richard Warden


Next Article in this Article Series: 140 One-liners No. 2 - 006-010

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