Simple Solutions- Part 4: Teaching Our Children Calmly and Effectively
“Pleasing words are a honeycomb, sweet to the taste and healthful to the body” – Proverbs 16: 24
If we look into Sacred Scripture, our Lord’s teaching ministry lasted for three years and culminated in His passion, death and resurrection. Two thousand years later, His teachings still continue to attract countless disciples from far and wide.
The word disciple comes from the Latin word discipulus meaning “a learner”. In living out our vocation, we have to remember that if our children are learners, then our calling as parents is to teach. And who best to look up to but our Master Teacher, Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ Himself.
Our Lord’s relationship with his disciples was based on love and respect. His disciples, in turn, obeyed Jesus not out of fear but out of a deep desire to love Him back.
One of the main goals of behavior modification science is the successful eradication of specific unfavorable behaviors. While this is a just and noble cause, we, as Catholics, believe that we are more than just beings defined by our behaviors. We are human beings made in the image and likeness of our Heavenly Father.
Consequently, it is essential to teach our children good behavior in a respectful manner in order that the dignity our Lord has bestowed upon them remain intact. Moreover, our goal as parents is not only to help extinguish unfavorable behaviors but to teach our children to always do good out of love for our Lord and out of love for each other.
Four Simple Solutions
1. Focus On The Why of The Behavior
When dealing with negative behaviors, it is important to understand that there is a vital connection between a person’s environment, emotion and behavior. As parents, we are so used to focusing on and reacting to negative behaviors immediately. What we should really focus on is what led up to the behavior itself. Most of us don’t realize that several events, and possibly several emotions, have taken place before a certain misbehavior occurred. We have to find out what happened first.
Children, especially younger children, have yet to master acceptable ways to express and communicate their emotions. This takes time and patience. When a child exhibits negative behavior, it was probably caused by a specific event that triggered a certain emotion, particularly, anger or frustration. When negative behaviors occur, almost often, the child is simply saying: “Something happened to me and I’m feeling an emotion right now and I don’t know what to do with it.”
Our role then is to help them pinpoint their emotion and teach them how to act on those emotions in a more acceptable manner.
2. Provide More Acceptable Behaviors
Before working with children with special needs, I would be quick to give my own children a consequence immediately after witnessing negative behavior.
But I realized that I not only needed to find out what happened first but I also needed to help my child pinpoint their emotions. More importantly, I needed to discourage negative behavior by providing them with more acceptable ways to behave in the future.
Child is playing quietly with blocks and moments later, screams and kicks blocks all over the floor.
Parent: What happened?
Child: I was building a tower with blocks and Baby Sister came and toppled my tower over!!! I worked so hard on it!!!!
Parent: How did that make you feel?
Child: It made me feel SO mad!!!
Parent: Listen, I understand that you feel upset and mad right now especially after working so hard on your tower. But screaming and kicking blocks all over the place is not acceptable. Screaming doesn’t help and kicking can hurt others around you. Kicking and screaming is not love. If you scream and kick again, you may not play on the computer for an entire week. Do you understand?
Parent: So next time you get upset, instead of screaming and kicking, maybe you could:
- Use words and tell Big Sister or Mom what happened OR
- Say “I need a break” and quietly go to your room.
Which one would your rather do?
Child: I’d rather go to my room and cry in there.
Parent: Beautiful. Do you want to practice?
At this time point, the parent can role play and be Baby Sister. Pretend to knock over your child’s tower and let your child practice going quietly to his room. You can role play up to three times. Remember that presenting them with more acceptable ways to behave is the most important part of the teaching process.
3. Praise Good Behavior Often
It is important to praise your children while they are showing good behavior. Try not to give them attention only during negative behaviors. Ideally, for every negative behavior you are striving to modify, remember to notice and praise at least three positive behaviors your child is already exhibiting. The more you praise good behavior, the more they will realize how pleasing they are in your eyes and in the eyes of our Lord.
Thank you for cleaning up right away when Mama asked you to. You make Jesus so very happy when you do right away obedience.
When you use words instead of crying, you make Mama and Papa happy.
Thank you for making the right choice. Heaven is smiling down on you.
4. Use Heavenly Motivation
This technique helps build up heavenly enthusiasm and works beautifully before a task or chore is even assigned. It also helps us busy parents not to always assign certain tasks and chores to older children.
Most young children love the word “extra” and so they are eager to find out what they need to do to earn them. If more than one child wants to do the same task, simply assign a different task to the other children.
Each time we use this technique, we are teaching children that instant rewards are not important and that imitating the saints and doing things out of love for Jesus should be reward enough.
Parent: Who wants to show Jesus extra love?
Child: I do, I do, I do!!!!
Parent: Beautiful. Can you help Mama put away the toys?
Other variations include:
Who wants to show Mama extra love?
Who wants to make Mama extra happy?
Who wants to offer Jesus and Mama Mary extra love?
Who wants to show obedience like the angels in Heaven?
Who wants to make a sacrifice for poor sinners?
Who wants to make a sacrifice for the souls in Purgatory?
Who wants to be an angel and help Mama (assign task)?
Who wants to be a saint and help Mama (assign task)?
Can you be like St. Anthony and help me find something?
Can you be like St. Francis and help feed the pets?
Can you be like St. Stanislaus and help me cook dinner?
Can you be like St. Martha and help me with the dishes?
Love Is Key
Our children are our most precious gifts from Heaven. They need to be reminded often how much our Lord loves them. They need to be reminded how much we love them and that we made a promise to Jesus during their Baptism to teach them so that they can one day get to Heaven.
My prayer is that these simple techniques will help more and more parents mirror our Savior’s deep and abiding love for the gift of our children.
Parents’ Prayer For Their Children
O God the Father of mankind, who hast given unto me these my children, and committed them to my charge to bring them up for Thee, and to prepare them for eternal life: help me with Thy heavenly grace, that I may be able to fulfill this most sacred duty and stewardship. Teach me both what to give and what to withhold; when to reprove and when to forbear; make me to be gentle, yet firm; considerate and watchful; and deliver me equally from the weakness of indulgence, and the excess of severity; and grant that, both by word and example, I may be careful to lead them in the ways of wisdom and true piety, so that at last I may, with them, be admitted to the unspeakable joys of our true home in heaven, in the company of the blessed Angels and Saints. Amen.
This is the fourth in this series of articles: