Friday, June 10, 2011

Say 'Yes' more to your child

By Focus on the Family Malaysia

One of the first words in a child’s vocabulary is “NO”—usually accompanied by an emphatic shaking of the head. Where do children learn this? There’s a chance that they learned it from their parents.

What makes us say “no” more readily than saying “yes”? One of the reasons is that we are concerned about the child’s safety. By saying “no” we seek to mark out the boundaries to protect him from harm and danger.

Such boundaries are necessary. Besides protecting the child, these boundaries also provide emotional security.

The problem is sometimes the boundaries get too narrow and restrictive. Then we need to examine whether we are saying “no” just for our convenience or for the good of the child. By being overprotective we could deprive children of the opportunity to learn to protect themselves.

Another reason for saying “no” is that we do not want to spoil the child. This could be a valid reason provided we also know when to say “yes”.

The next time your child come to you with a request, perhaps it will be good to pause for a moment and think before you utter “NO”. Instead of “No, you can’t go out to play”, you could answer “Yes, you can, at five o’clock when it isn’t so hot”. That’s a lot more positive than a flat “No”.

Question 1

I find I’m more likely to say no to my children than to say yes, even when I don’t feel strongly about the permission they are seeking. I wonder why I automatically respond so negatively.

Answer: It is easy to fall into the habit of saying "no" to our kids.

“No, you can’t go outside.”

“No, you can’t have a cookie.”

“No, you can’t use the telephone.”

“No, you can’t spend the night with a friend.”

We could have answered affirmatively to all of these requests, but we chose almost automatically to respond in the negative. Why? Because we didn’t take time to stop and think about the consequences; because the activity could cause us more work or strain; because there could be danger in the request; because our children ask for a thousand favours a day and we find it convenient to refuse them all.

While every child needs to be acquainted with denial of some of his or her more extravagant wishes, there is also a need for parents to consider each request on its own merit. There are so many necessary "nos" in life that we should say "yes" whenever we can.

Question 2

The children in our neighborhood are bratty with one another and disrespectful with adults. This upsets me, but I don’t know what to do about it. I don’t have a right to discipline the children of my neighbours, so they get away with murder. How can I deal with this?

Answer: Parents in a neighbourhood need to learn to talk to each other about their kids – although that is difficult to do! There is no quicker way to anger one mother than for another woman to criticize her precious cub.

It is a delicate subject, indeed. That’s why the typical neighbourhood is like yours, providing little feedback to parents in regard to the behaviour of their children. The kids know there are no lines of communication between adults, and they take advantage of the barrier.

What each block needs is a mother who has the courage to say to her neighbours, “I want to be told what my child does when she is beyond her own yard. If she is a brat with other children, I would like to know it. If she is disrespectful with adults, please mention it to me. I will not consider it tattling, and I won’t resent your coming to me. I hope I can share my insights regarding your children, too. None of our kids is perfect, and we’ll know better how to teach them if we can talk openly to each other as adults.”

Until this openness exists between parents living nearby, the children will create and live by their own rules in the neighbourhood.

Question 3

I worry about putting undue emphasis on materialism with my kids. Do rewards have to be in the form of money or toys?

Answer: Certainly not. A word of praise is a great enticement to some children. An interesting snack can also get their attention, although that has its downside.

When my daughter was three years of age, I began to teach her some prereading skills, including how to recognize the letters of the alphabet. By planning the training sessions to occur after dinner each evening, bits of chocolate candy provided the chief source of motivation. (I was less concerned about the effects of excess sugar consumption in those days than I am now).

Late one afternoon I was sitting on the floor drilling her on several new letters when a tremendous crash shook the neighbourhood. The whole family rushed outside to see what had happened. A teenager had overturned his car on our quiet residential street. He was not badly hurt, but his automobile was a mess.

We sprayed the smoldering car with water and called the police. It was not until the excitement passed that we realized our daughter had not followed us out of the house. I returned to the den where I found her elbow-deep in the large bag of candy I had left behind.

She must have put a half-pound of chocolate in her mouth, and most of the remainder was distributed around her chin, nose, and forehead. When she saw me coming, she managed to jam another handful into her chipmunk cheeks. From this experience, I learned one of the limitations of using material, or at least edible, rewards.

Anything the child wants can be used as a reinforcer, from praise to pizza to playtime.

Question 4

My four-year-old daughter, Karen, is a whiner. She rarely speaks in a normal voice anymore. How can I break her of this habit?

Answer: There is a process called “extinction” that is very useful in situations like this. Here is how it works: Any behaviour that has been learned by reinforcement (i.e., by rewards) can be unlearned by withholding those rewards. It sounds complex, but the technique is simple and very applicable to Karen’s problem.

Why do you think she whines instead of speaking in a normal voice? Because you have rewarded that sound by letting it get your attention!

As long as Karen is speaking in her usual voice you are too busy to listen to her. Like most toddlers, she probably babbles all day long, so you have often tuned out most of her verbiage. But when she speaks in a grating, irritating, obnoxious tone, you turn to see what is wrong. Therefore, Karen’s whining brings results; her normal voice does not, and she becomes a whiner.

In order to break the habit of whining, you must simply reverse the process. You should begin by saying, “I can’t hear you because you’re whining, Karen. I have funny ears; they just can’t hear whining.”

After this message has been passed along for a day or two, you should show no indication of having heard a moan-tone. You should then offer immediate attention to anything she says in a normal voice.

If this control of reward is applied properly, I guarantee it to achieve the desired results. Most human learning is based on this principle, and the consequences are certain and definite. Of course, Grandma and Uncle Albert may continue to reinforce the behaviour you are trying to eliminate, and they can keep it alive.

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