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Spiritual Parenting Thought for the Week..

Motivating Children to Change Behavior

by Mimi Doe, copyright 2002


I have learned over the years, through trial and error, which approach for motivating behavior works best with each of my children. Elizabeth, 11, has been playing the piano for a year. I vowed to myself that I wouldn't nag her about practicing as it might clobber her inherent joy for music. If I've noticed that she's been too busy with other activities to spend time with the piano, I'll remind her how much I love to hear her play while I'm making dinner or ask if she remembers that song she worked on last month with a Hungarian beat. I'll move into the living room with paperwork and just "be" there and pretty soon she will drift in and begin playing.

Motivating children and helping them identify and change limiting patterns doesn't have to switch you into an authoritarian taskmaster who controls, punishes, or nags. Here are some alternatives:
  • Change your own behavior
    Notice what YOU are doing when your house feels calmer, there's no whining going on, your teenager is off the phone and talking to you. You are completely responsible for your own behavior and I promise it has a profound effect on the actions of those you live with. Begin this week paying attention to your child's positive behavior and make a note of what your actions were at the time. You might begin to see a connection.

  • Rules for living
    What are the set rules for living in your household? If you haven't articulated them it's time you do. These are the ground rules that help put the structure in place for positive behavior. For instance, you might believe in limiting television, phone calls, and computer time so your kids have the opportunity to read, talk to each other and focus on homework and hobbies. As long as you are clear about why the rules are in place and consistent with what the rules are, ultimately they become part of the fabric of your children's lives. If you begin to bargain or compromise these rules, children will feel the clarity begin to dissipate and their energy will funnel into negotiation skills rather than the behavior the rules were created to illicit.

  • Gotta have your love
    Children, no matter their age, want to please you. They are love-seeking beings. Your love, attention, interest, and authentic listening is the strongest positive motivator there is. Be mindful of this power and cautious not to withhold love when you are less then delighted with your kids. My husband recalls the harshest punishment he ever received was when he was a small boy and his parents had forbidden early morning cartoons. He snuck downstairs one Saturday morning and turned on the television. His father loomed in the doorway and crushed the little boy with these words, "I'm so disappointed in you. You've broken our bond of trust." Ouch.

  • Using time thoughtfully
    A recent study came out that says we spend on average 14-1/2 minutes per day with our kids, of which slightly more than 12-1/2 of these minutes are spent in one-way (parent to child) negative communication! Let the little things go and choose to create an atmosphere of praise and joy rather than criticism and judgment. A soulful home builds the spirits of those who live there. Set out to add more light and joy to your home so the time you all spend together is fulfilling. When the ground rules are set, praise is freely given for positive actions, love guides your words, and you spend time with your kids, then it doesn't matter if the jeans are a little ragged, the bed isn't made crisply, the test score is a B rather than an A, or the blocks aren't put in the appropriate bin.

  • Parental Goal
    What one sentence sums up your goal as a parent? Take a moment to write it down. Maybe you want to raise kids who grow into loving people or nourish your children to live out their dreams. Rely on your goal when reacting to your children's behavior. It makes your choices much clearer.
Changing patterns and establishing new ground rules can take time, but stick with it. Form a clear objective, visualize the actions you would like your child to take, and then be attentive and vocal when you see movement in that direction. A positive byproduct will be less stress and more collaboration in your household.


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Mimi Doe Copyright 2002, Mimi Doe
All rights reserved

Mimi Doe, author of "Busy But Balanced: Practical and Inspirational Ways to Create Closer, Calmer Families" (St. Martin's Press)

Busy But Balanced is an essential guide for chaotic lives, offered up with humor and love. It will inspire all parents.
        --John Gray, author of Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus

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