The most common question I get asked is: “How do I get it to stop?!”
By it, they mean behaviour. What parents are asking is: “How do I get my child’s challenging behaviour to stop?!”
Life would be so much better if the battles, the meltdowns, the lashing out, the screaming and the crying would stop. Wouldn’t it?
If he was happier, or if he would listen or just did as he was told, family life would be great. It would be calmer, and you’d enjoy spending time together as a family.
So it makes sense that you want to find out how to get those battles and challenging behaviour to stop.
The problem is that it’s not how behaviour works.
Behaviour only happens when a feeling is triggered. A feeling happens when a thought is triggered. And a thought gets triggered if a need isn’t met.
Or if there’s a risk that a need isn’t going to be met.
As long as you focus on what you see – the behaviour – the chance of it going away is slim. Oh, it might go away, but I guarantee that something else will replace it. And there’s a good chance it WON’T be a behaviour you like.
What you focus on grows
“What you focus on grows, what you think about expands, and what you dwell upon determines your destiny.”
— Robin S. Sharma
This is a well-known principle in the personal development world. Not so well known in the parenting world. But it should be.
Think of a day that went well.
A day where life was pretty happy, calm and dare I even say it? Fun!
How many positive things about your child can you list?
Now think of a day that didn’t go well.
A day where your child’s behaviour is full-on challenging.
How many positive things about your child can you list? Hmm….not so easy, is it?
From my personal experience, I know days that do not go well are not filled with 24 hours of challenging behaviours. But it sure feels like they are!
I also know that days that go well aren’t filled with 24 perfect hours. If we focused on what wasn’t perfect on the “good” day, we’d find tons of examples of times when things didn’t go well.
Our brains are designed to save us time and effort.
We get bombarded with so much information that our brains need a focus to filter out what we don’t need from what we do need. That means we can only see, hear and experience the information that supports our focus.
This is why when life feels really challenging, all we see are the challenges. This makes it difficult to get out of this negative loop we find ourselves in.
Are you focusing on the right things?
Rubbish. We feel we’re rubbish at this parenting job. We feel hard done by life. We feel so many negative emotions, and think so many negative thoughts. It’s hard to think of what we want because we don’t believe it can happen to us.
There are two shifts you can make that will help you break out of this negative cycle.
Shift #1: Flip that switch. What do you WANT?
You’re probably thinking, “Yeah, but a happy, calm and fun-filled family life takes more than just thinking positively.”
I know that. The secret to having a family life you desire lies in understanding your child, strategies to support and teach your child, and understanding yourself.
Look at the figure again.
How you think is one of the most important factors in saying goodbye to those challenging behaviours.
As the saying goes:
“Change your thoughts, and you change your world.”
– Norman Vincent Peale
What do you want?
If your life was a movie, and your current life is the opening scene, what can we see in the FINAL scene of your movie? What are the children doing? What are you doing? If viewers had the volume off, what images would they see showing them that you got your happy ending?
I use this exercise with clients to help them get clear on what they want. Sometimes they give me a sad laugh because the happy ending feels impossible to them. But let yourself go there. Let yourself dream.
What does it look like?
Once you know what you want, you’ve already started shifting your focus to something better. You implant a tiny grain of hope in your brain. Your brain LOVES hope. Keep trying to find moments that gives you hope instead of hopelessness and fear.
Shift #2: Ask better questions
When you see behaviour that isn’t what you want, and you catch yourself thinking, “How do I get them to STOP doing X?” ask yourself:
- What’s this REALLY about?
- What are they trying to tell me?
- What do I want them to do instead? Can they even do that, or do I need to teach them?
- Is there anything I’m doing that’s making the situation worse?
- How can I make it easier for them to “behave”?
These questions will start pointing you in the direction of strategies that will help support your child and teach them what to do instead. With understanding and support, challenging behaviour will decrease, and family life won’t get worse in the process.
Behaviour might not improve overnight, but the situation you’re finding yourself in didn’t happen overnight either.