Here he is, our once sweet little three year old, just turning four. His parents are enrolling him in preschool and with some trepidation. Josh has been caught hitting his younger sister, more than once. Josh’s parents have tried yelling, spanking, time-out, and taking away privileges. Yesterday he sneakily hit her again.
We could spend some time backtracking with Josh and his family. The sweet 2 year old kissing his newborn sister is just a faded memory. The three year old in tears, telling mommy that Carlie broke his block tower is a long way from the four-year-old terror who takes matters into his own hands when two year old Carlie runs off with a favorite car. Carlie seems to get the brunt of Josh’s anger, yet she continues to challenge him—and do you think she might be enjoying the combat?
Their parents are functioning in a purely reactive mode. They are catching Josh as much as possible when he is naughty in their effort to protect Carlie. When Carlie screams, they come running.
What could they do instead, right now about this challenging behavior that would be proactive? First and foremost, they need to understand and trust in the truth of the matter. They cannot change Josh’s or Carlie’s behavior without changing their own behavior first. We can all change our own behavior. It is very difficult and we may find all sorts of excuses, but unless we are proactive in changing our own behavior, we will have no positive effect upon changing the behavior of our children.
Here is what this mom and dad need to change: they need to sit down with their children and play with them. Previously they have hoped that good behavior would occur magically by providing nice toys. Josh isn’t a bad little kid but he needs a role model, a way to behave with Carlie even when he is frustrated. He needs to experience mom and dad saying, “Oh well, I guess Carlie made off with that car. I think I can find another one.” And for her part, Carlie needs to see that she does not instigate a game of chase when she makes off with the infamous car.
This proactive approach is very different from sitting with the children and telling them what they should or should not do. This approach is about one of the major principles of good discipline, -- speak and act only in ways you would like your children to speak and act.