Many parents use the beginning of a new year to reflect on changes they would like to make in themselves and with their children.  Maybe you would like your child to be a better listener, be more respectful, or get along with siblings better.  Big goals and ideas are great, but to make real change, we suggest you think smaller.

You may wonder why you should start small if my child knows how to be good and is just not doing it.  It seems that children often “know” how to do something especially if they have done it before, but they do not do the behavior consistently.  Is that manipulative?  Is it defiant?  Usually the answer is “no” to both questions.  In fact, knowing something and not doing it are pretty common in human behavior.  Do we eat the government recommended food groups each day, do we avoid sugar, quit smoking, and stay off our cell phones while driving?  For many of us we know not to do certain things and still do them no matter how risky.

So how do we get the behaviors we want in children?  There are two key parts of the answer:  small steps that gradually build to the final behaviors you want and practice.  Your child “knows” how to clean up all of his toys, but he does not always do it.  Remember that is “normal” for most of us.  Try small steps like asking your child to pick up a couple of toys, maybe even help her, and praise that over the next few days and weeks. Then, when she has mastered that,  move to larger steps (5 toys away) and slowly add steps to the final behavior of cleaning up all of the toys.  Also, have your child practice the behavior you want.  To develop habits and change the brain, practice should be repeated.  She can pretend (role-play) to clean up toys and you should praise her for it.

Think of learning a musical instrument.  One starts out slowly with the little parts-practicing notes and scales, and only later moves to more complex pieces.  In learning this instrument, practice would be essential.  Playing a few notes once in a while does not do it.  Your child will really learn the behavior and continue it in the future if you start small and practice.

Small Changes Can Make a Big Difference

There are many small things you can do to help make life easier and get more cooperation at home.  Here are a few suggestions.  Pick one and try it today!

  • Be clear.  Give your child specific directions.  Don’t just say “clean your room” instead say “please put your dirty clothes in the hamper, books on the shelf, and stuffed animals on your bed.”
  • Mind your manners.  Say “please” when you are giving directions.
  • Look on the bright side.  Notice when your child is listening to you instead of just when they are not.
  • Take a hint from Elsa.  Choose one small thing a day (shoes in the hallway or backpack on the floor) and let it go if your child does not comply.