Sunday, July 5, 2009

Parenting - Modeling

What are we teaching our children through our interactions with them? I have found that my sons are the greatest negotiators in the world! Our youngest son has mastered this skill so well that he managed to get a dollar from the little league photographer! I asked how he did it and he said “she asked me to smile and I didn’t then she said she would give me a dollar if I smiled and I did!” (and you should see the smile – ear to ear) Where did he learn this skill? Well, I know he has not taken a negotiating course in elementary school so it must be that he is learning this skill through his interaction with me and my husband. How does this happen? It happens very subtly over time. As parents we are so easily distracted by everything going on in our day to day lives that we don’t realize some of the things we are teaching our children through our interaction with them. Children are like sponges. They pick up everything we do and say and then model it in their life to see what works and what doesn’t work. They keep what works and try something else when it doesn’t work. Now that I have been enlightened to their negotiating ways, I try to pay close attention to how my son talks with me when he is trying to get his outcome to a situation. I encourage him when he is using his negotiating talents in a positive way and discourage him when he is being manipulative. Here is an example: He wants us to stop at 7-Eleven to get a slurpy after church. I don’t respond yes or no and he is assuming my answer is going to be no (because in his world “I always say no” sound familiar?). So, he begins to complain about things that he knows are my hot buttons. I am working on diffusing these hot buttons within me and one way I do this is to remember to focus on his actions. So, I mention to him that his disrespectful attitude is preventing him from getting the slurpy. In the past his complaining would make me feel guilty and therefore result in him getting what he wants. Now that I have changed my reaction to his complaining he will have to find another way to negotiate his outcome. Later that day I asked him to turn off the lights in the kitchen. He did this without complaining or hesitation and I looked into his eyes, smiled and thanked him. I mentioned to him that “this is how I want us to interact with each other and this cooperative behavior will result in you receiving a slurpy without even asking for it! Are you interested in changing your child’s behavior? First identify what this behavior is and look at the situations surrounding it. Are you doing or saying anything that might encourage this behavior? Talk with the child about the behavior and explain that you would like to help him/her behave in a different way. Explain how this behavior affects you. Use age appropriate language and check in with the child to ensure they understand what you are communicating to them. Share what you have noticed about yourself that has contributed to the development of this behavior. Explain that the two of you can work together to bring about a positive change in your relationship. Remind the child that you love them very much. This exploring, communicating and changing experience is teaching the child that two people are responsible for creating a loving and collaborative relationship. And this learning will help them in the relationships they form for the rest of their lives.