Be There To Show You Care

It’s time to have a conversation about young people and all the things they do that are wonderful, inclusive, respectful, and responsible.

You have to do more than just wave a magic wand to get good behavior out of children. © Can Stock Photo Inc. / darrin

Unfortunately, these aspects are often overlooked. And when we do see them, we either don’t identify them as a choice or we are surprised that we “caught” children being good. Of course, even youngsters with severe misbehaviors spend a lot of time behaving well.

It is our job as adult caregivers to see as much of the good as we can; to spend time getting to know kids well enough to understand their choices in the context of who they are; and to give kids the support and resources they need to continue to make healthy choices.

Better than “catching” them doing something, we should become mindful of their individual strengths.

Right Here, Right Now

Most adults spend their mental energy in one of two places—either in the past, thinking about what has happened, or in the future, thinking about what will happen. We definitely have to be responsible for learning from the past and making good choices for the future. However, focusing on the past or future gets in the way of where we actually spend our time—the present.

The first step in helping children develop more positive behavior is to see it happening, to actually notice the choices they are making while they are making them. We must be there with them, paying attention to what they are doing and following their train of thought and expression.

It means putting down the phone, minimizing other interactions, and doing only one thing at a time.

Being truly present can be challenging. My daughter is 3½ years old, which means she is fully and deeply into pretend play. My wife or I—along with princesses and rainbow unicorns—are almost always involved in her fictitious scenarios.

While totally fascinating on some level, these games are fairly boring when we are in the middle of them.

My daughter doesn’t have enough world experience to make up some great adventure. She plays either the mom going to work, a princess waving her wand, or a researcher studying rainbow unicorns. (Those are her words. We can sometimes be a bit nerdy in our house.)

It’s easy for me to mindlessly “play” in her game. But, of course, then I miss something critical. She becomes frustrated when I don’t hear something, or aggravated that I don’t follow along, and she consequently becomes disrespectful.

I could easily correct the “bad behavior,” but I would be missing a huge opportunity to see some of the unbelievably creative, inspired, and thoughtful behavior (all things I want her to do more of). That would also be an ineffective way to teach her better ways to handle negative feelings.

When was the last time you listened respectfully to someone who first ignored you, and then gave you critical feedback? Adults don’t do that. Why would kids?

Be present in the present. © Can Stock Photo Inc. / svl861

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