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Talking With Your Child About Their Behavior

Updated: Mar 31, 2023

So you have a child (or 2 or 3...) whose behavior is disrupting the whole household. Guess what, it can get better! It's going to take some work. Your're going to need your child's buy-in. Depending on your child's maturity and language skills, you want them to be part of the solution. Elementary age kids should definitely be part of the planning process for behavior improvement, sometimes older preschool children can as well! Here are my basic steps when creating a parent-child behavior modification meeting.

1.Come up with an ideal time. Is your child most fresh and calm in the mornings or are they ready for a good talk around bed time? Find a time when the other kids are busy and you can have privacy. Include your parenting partner or another caregiver if applicable. If your child is in the middle of their "negative behavior" ie tantrum, back talk, or general super fun obnoxiousness, that is not the right time. Both you and your child have to be in a good place to create a plan for change!

2. When you start the meeting, set the town. Be explicit! "Your mom and I would like to have a chat with you about some different behavior we're seeing." "Dad and I have noticed that you seem really frustrated lately and we'd like to have a little meeting with you to see if we can help." Or something of that nature.

3. Keep your tone warm and inviting. You want your kid to be your "partner" in modifying thier behavior. If you aren't in a place where you can do this and you are concerned your tone may sound judgy, angry or frustrated. That's ok, you are human! However, recognize that it's not the time to have this conversation. Sometimes it's best to send your partner in for a solo convo if they feel less emotional (if applicable) and sometimes it means the timing isn't right and it's ok to wait.

4. When you start the meeting, see if they can come up with the reason why you've asked to talk and let them describe in their own words. Add to it. No judgment, calm, cool and even. They are not in trouble, remember you are having a meeting. Ask questions like "have you felt like your behavior was any different lately?" "Have you noticed that mommy and I have been yelling more?" Yep- it's ok to admit that, you are human and they should know that it's ok to make mistakes. Follow up that statement with "I really don't like yelling at you and I know it's not kind, I'm really sorry. Let's work together so we're both less frustrated." Modeling that parents also continually work on their behavior and understand the importance of taking responsibility and apologizing is a very powerful lesson.

5. When you have discussed what may be the cause of the behavior (if your child knows) then brainstorm ways to work on improvement together! Maybe your child is over tired and you need to work on bedtime timing and routine? Maybe they are getting hungry in between meals? Perhaps homework is getting harder, something is bugging them at school and so on?? Your child may not be able to reflect on all of this in the moment, however, initiating this type of talk let's them know that you want to discuss this with them and gives you the opportunity to model interpretation of our own behavior. They may have more explanations for you in the coming days.

6. Use this time as an opportunity to also praise your child on ways their behavior has been positive, so that the conversation doesn't feel all negative. Maybe you're impressed with the conversation itself, tell them!

7. Come up with a plan that is mutually agreed upon. Ask them what kind of help they want from you, how and when they want it? Then it's your turn to tell them very clearly what you expect them to work on and change.

8. Continually review and tweak the plan with them. I often like to review the plan at the beginning and end of the day. Some kids want their own copy!

Sometimes it helps to have someone with "fresh eyes" help facilitate these conversations and plans for success. That is exactly what a Behavioral Coach does! Reach out today to schedule your initial consultation. Now scheduling in person and virtual sessions for busy families!

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