Dear Dr. Bill,
Our 7-year-old son is driving us crazy. He is disobedient, he talks back, and we’re always getting into arguments with him about doing his homework and keeping his room clean. We try to discuss things with him in a calm, mature way, but we usually end up getting angry and yelling at him. Then we feel terrible afterwards. What are we doing wrong?
Many parents try to use words and reasons to convince their young children to behave. This method simply doesn’t work…in fact it leads to FAILURE and FRUSTRATION. That’s because words and reasons rarely change a child’s behavior…CONSEQUENCES change behavior.
You use POSITIVE consequences to INCREASE a POSITIVE BEHAVIOR, and NEGATIVE consequences to DECREASE a NEGATIVE BEHAVIOR.
In order to work, consequences need to be IMMEDIATE, CONSISTENT, and POWERFUL.
Kids have short attention spans and short memories. Consequences can’t wait until tomorrow. You can increase their immediacy by using tokens or a point system.
Be consistent with your consequences, or your child will learn you that you don’t really mean what you say. You need to follow through even when you’re tired and don’t feel like it.
Finally, if a consequence doesn’t mean anything to your child, it won’t work. A new “Barbie” outfit may be a powerful motivator for a 7-year-old girl today, but she may care less about Barbie a year from now.
An excellent book you may find helpful is “The Well Behaved Child” by Dr. John Rosemond.
Thanks for writing Steve. If you have a question for me about family issues or Christian living, click the “Questions” link on the Family Expert page.
Listen to today’s audio here.