By Dr. Kevin Leman
Angry words yelled at you. Doors slammed in your face. Eyes rolled. The silent treatment. Temper tantrums in public. Fighting with siblings at home. Sound familiar?
If your kids regularly embarrass and frustrate you with their disrespect and rebellion, you may think you're fighting a losing battle with them. But you can win their respect – and quickly, too – without a futile power struggle.
Here's how you can change your kids' attitude, behavior, and character for the better within just a few days:
Consider what needs to change. Observe what's going on in your household, and reflect on what areas in your relationships with your kids bother you. Think and pray about how you'd like things to change. Then set specific goals, decide to work toward them, and expect to succeed.
Change yourself first. Recognize that you're an important role model for your kids. They follow your example often. So if they're demonstrating attitudes, behaviors, and character traits that you don't like, you need to take an honest look at your own life to determine if you're setting an unhealthy example for them. Do you yell when you're angry or break the promises you make? If so, your kids are learning to do the same. Once you identify problems in your own life, ask God to help you overcome them and do the work you need to do to break bad habits and start good ones. Also take a hard look at your attitude toward your kids, and how your behavior toward them reflects that attitude. Think and pray about what changes you need to make in how you relate to your children so you can enjoy a mutually respectful and trusting relationship with them.
Expect the best. Your kids will either rise or sink to the level of expectations you set for them. Understand that if you expect them to misbehave, they will. Start communicating higher expectations to your kids. Let them know that you believe they're capable of better attitudes and behaviors, and that you expect them to develop strong character. Communicate your high expectations clearly to them. When you expect the best, you'll get it.
Ask key questions. Whenever one of your kids does something that bothers you, ask yourself: "Why is he or she doing what this? What's the purpose?", "How do I, as the parent, feel in this situation?" and "Is this a mountain (something that will matter in the long run) or a molehill (a situation that will either take care of itself or that is a small concern in the grand scheme of what you're trying to accomplish in your child's life). Keep in mind that all kids will sometimes fail, make mistakes, or say or do something embarrassing. Rather than dwelling on those incidents, focus on how your kids develop character in the long run. Correct bothersome behavior and move on with the bigger picture in mind.
Let reality be the teacher. Don't rescue your kids from the consequences of their failure to take responsibility for what they should do. Instead, allow them to experience the natural consequences so they'll learn to be more responsible the next time.
Respond rather than reacting. Think before speaking or acting when your kids say or do something that bothers you. Don't let your emotions get the better of you. Stay calm and rational. If you're calm, consistent, and always do what you say you'll do, you'll earn their respect and trust.
Don't do for your kids what they can and should be doing for themselves. Refuse to do tasks that your kids have the responsibility to do. Let the tasks go undone until your kids step up to the plate to do them. For example, if your son was supposed to do his laundry but didn't and now doesn't have clean clothes for school, have him wear dirty clothes until he does the laundry himself as he should have done.
Withhold one thing until another thing is completed. If your kids haven't done what you've asked them to do, insist that they complete it before you'll allow them to do what they want to do. For example, if your daughter hasn't done her homework, make sure she completes it before allowing her to invite a friend over to play.
Start with the end in mind. Think and pray about the kind of people you want your kids to be several years from now, and after they grow up. What character qualities are most important to you, and why? What steps can you take now to encourage your kids to develop these qualities?
Make spending time with your kids a priority. Often, kids misbehave as a way of getting their parents' attention. No amount of training your kids to behave well will pay off if you're not spending enough time with them. Make it a high priority to spend as much time as you possibly can with your kids, so you can build the close relationships they need with you. If you treat your children well – giving them respect and unconditional love – they'll naturally want to treat you well.
Use an authoritative parenting style. Avoid the unhealthy extremes of being too permissive or too controlling. Instead, be an authoritative parent, who: Gives your kids age-appropriate choices and formulates guidelines with them; Provides decision-making opportunities to your kids; Develops consistent, loving discipline; Asks your kids the facts about a situation and what they think before jumping to conclusions; Encourage your kids to think for themselves while maintaining a healthy respect for themselves and others; Holds your kids accountable; Looks out for the welfare, yet lets them experience the natural consequences of their mistakes; and Conveys respect, self-worth, and love to your kids.
Say it once and walk away. Give your kids instructions just once, and expect them to obey the first time. Don't repeat your instructions. Simply say what you need to say once, then walk away. If your kids don't comply the first time around, enforce a consequence so they'll learn that you're serious about having them obey the first time you tell them something. You don't need to remind, threaten, warn, harass, or coax your kids. You simply have to give them clear instructions once and enforce consequences if they don't comply.
Empower your kids. Give your kids three crucial things that will empower them to grow strong character: acceptance from you, a sense of belonging in your family, a opportunities to build competence by taking on increased responsibilities.
Encourage instead of praising. Rather than giving your kids praise that isn't tied to something they actually do, encourage them when you notice specific things they do that you appreciate. While general praise can seem insincere and backfire, specific encouragement will motivate your kids to keep trying their best.
Be consistent and remain positive. Always communicate the same clear set of high expectations, and follow through on the consequences. Ask God to help you stay calm and positive as your kids learn and grow. Celebrate the progress you see!
Adapted from Have a New Kid by Friday: How to Change your Child's Attitude, Behavior, and Character in 5 Days, copyright 2008 by Dr. Kevin Leman. Published by Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group, Grand Rapids, Mich., http://www.revellbooks.com/.
Dr. Kevin Leman is an internationally known psychologist, radio and television personality, and speaker who has taught and entertained audiences worldwide with his wit and commonsense psychology. He has made house calls for hundreds of radio and television programs, and has also served as a contributing family psychologist to Good Morning America. A bestselling and award-winning author, Dr. Leman has written more than 30 books about marriage and family issues. Dr. Leman and his wife, Sande, live in Tucson, Arizona. They have five children and two grandchildren.