Every time we interact with others, we are training them in how they will treat us in the future. This goes for both adults and children.
For example, if we need to repetitively ask children to put away their toys, our repetitive behaviour is teaching them to ignore us.
The way this works is that we ask politely at first, but then with each subsequent request we become more and more frustrated and irritable until we seriously blow our top. Yet despite our escalating frustration we are not putting any negative consequences in place until the end, where frustration sometimes results in physical punishment.
This approach teaches children that they can keep ignoring us until we are at our absolute wits’ end. It also teaches them that the only consequence that matters is physical violence. This trains children to wait for external direction and stops them learning to be internally motivated in their everyday behaviours.
This situation is a lose-lose for everyone involved. Children receive no proper guidance and leadership from which to model, and parents feel constantly stressed about being ignored and anxious about inappropriately smacking their children.
Instead we need to make a time (NOT in the heat of the moment) where we sit down with children and clearly discuss expectations around behaviour. A crucial part of this discussion will be about negative consequences. For example, if the toys are not put away immediately then the children will receive an immediate negative consequence like time out or removal of their favourite toy from their bedroom.
These negative consequences are always delivered dispassionately. For example, ‘oh well, it was your choice to not put away your toys, so this is the consequence – just learn from this and think more carefully next time’.
Children then quickly learn to take proper ‘internal’ responsibility for their behaviour and come to understand the limits on social behaviours, making them more socially skilled and competent. At the same time, parents learn to take their roles as leaders seriously and they never need be frustrated again.