A parent came to me confused about what behaviors she needed to be holding her kid accountable for. I told her there are two rules you need to follow about this. The first rule is that this can’t be a long list of behaviors. The second rule is that it whatever you put on that list must be important enough that you can’t ignore it.
The first rule is an attempt to narrow down what is important to you. A child can have many behaviors that may be bothersome to a parent. If you treat every behavior as important, you soon will be putting out lots of little fires which will make it that much harder when the big fire comes along. We all have limited time and energy. We need to prioritize what behaviors are the most important to us that we want our children to engage in.
The second rule is related to prioritization. If it’s important enough, don’t ignore it. There is a saying, “don’t cosign on your child’s behavior by not addressing it”. The concept of ignoring behaviors can be quite effective in changing annoying but inconsequential behaviors. If the behavior though is more significant, ignoring it will likely mean the odds go up your child may engage in that behavior again.
The key to effectively managing rule number two is having a plan in place on how you are not going to ignore the behavior. Too many parents go into this process without a well-thought-out plan on how to address the behaviors they need to manage with their children. They end up making impulsive decisions which sometimes can further damage their ability to be effective.
Since you know the behaviors you are going to address is a small list (see rule number one), it will afford you the opportunity to think through how you want to respond. This will play a key role in you being able to be more effective in the situation. Anticipating the problem area and planning for a response allows you to use the thinking part of your brain more effectively rather than trying to do so in the moment with your child when you and they are likely to be upset.
These two basic rules will save you a significant amount of wear and tear on your emotional and mental well-being as a parent. It also follows the basic tenant in parenting to keep things simple.
Parenting is hard enough. Don’t make it harder than it is.