Jamie Waldvogel is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst, Founder and CEO of Behave Your Best, LLC, a behavioral consultation company on a mission to shift parenting from the reactive, punishment-based discipline to more positive, proactive teaching to prevent patterns of unwanted behavior.

We’ve all heard that we have a generation of entitled children on our hands. But we rarely hear people discussing how this might have happened or what we can do to prevent this in future generations. As a parent, we often feel a strong sense of anxiety to “get it right.” As a behavioral consultant, parents ask me all the time, “Did I mess him/her up?”  (The answer is NO!)

Rather than speculating about why we may have gotten ourselves into this situation, I’m going to focus on offering tips to prevent this pattern of behavior in future generations:

  1. Be aware of the timing of your interactions with your child. Avoid honoring his/her requests when they are made with whining, demands, and threats. Instead, pause for a moment, and cue your child to make the request in the more appropriate way before honoring his/her request. Your goal is to honor the request contingent on desired behavior, as opposed to contingent on unwanted behavior. In short, if whining works for your child, he/she will continue whining.
  2. Ignoring isn’t enough! Popular culture wants us to believe that if a child is engaged in unwanted behavior for attention, we should ignore. This is a partially correct statement. A skilled behavioral consultant will be sure to identify what else you want your child to do instead and create opportunities to teach that expectation.
  3. Pretend you are a light switch!™ The frontal lobe, which is responsible for reasoning, problem-solving, and abstract thinking doesn’t finish developing until children are 18-24 years old. So protectively, our frontal lobe is designed to shut down when we are distressed (i.e., fight, flight, or freeze). We teach parents to respect that “switch” by shifting into non-verbal support when your child experiences stressors. Think of the toddler who is really upset about something those of us with a frontal lobe find minimally stressful, and then something across the room catches his/her eye and “switch,” he/she is happy as can be. When a child carries on and on beyond a minute or two, they are likely displaying unwanted learned behavior.
  4. Use your praise wisely! Carol Dweck is a researcher out of Stanford University that has devoted her career to studying praise and its effects on children’s motivation. In summary, her work suggests we should limit praise, as praise is only one form of attention. If we are going to praise, use behavior specific praise such as, “I like how you put your dishes away after dinner without me reminding you.” Preserve your behavior specific praise for those times when your child has done something new and wonderful. After that, simply interact with them and provide attention in the form of comments, ask questions, or simply watch and smile while they are intrinsically motivated to continue to practice that new skill. Her work also suggests we limit person-centered praise, such as, “You are so smart.”
  5. Be clear with your expectations. Use a statement if you expect your child to complete a task immediately. For example, “I need you to put your coat away.” If you are making a suggestion and your child saying “no” is an option, it is ok to ask a question. For example, “Should we go outside and play?” Avoid asking a question if you expect your child to do the task immediately, and if it is not an option for your child to say “no.” This is a great way for you to remain consistent with your expectations. As a mom of two boys, 5 years and 19 months, if I make a mistake and ask a question when I expected my child to do the task now, I apologize to him for my mistake and rephrase the question as an statement.

If you’d like to learn more about the “light switch” technique, visit the Workshops OnDemand page of our website: www.behaveyourbest.com

The material contained herein is for informational purposes only, and is not intended to create or constitute an attorney-client relationship between Schromen Law, LLC and the reader.  The views expressed in this article are not a statement of support or endorsement by Schromen Law, LLC.  The information contained herein is not offered as legal or medical advice and should not be construed as legal or medical advice.

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