First things first: I am no expert on parenting. Most days I’m either sending up desperate prayers for wisdom or lying in the fetal position as my 3-year old sends himself flailing on the floor after a failed attempt at putting on his own shirt or, heaven forbid, being given the wrong cup at the dinner table. OK, the fetal position is a bit of a stretch, but you get the picture. Threes are tough! And I never really realized this until recently because my first has always been pretty logical and mostly non-reactive. All that to say, I’ve had to take a step back and do some evaluating to figure out how to help my little man through his dramatic season. Today I want to pass along some information that I recently read in The Connected Child (recommended in a friend’s blog a few times, so I finally downloaded a copy of my own). Although the book is written primarily to adoptive parents, it has plenty of great advice for everyone with kids. One particular insight made a lot of sense to me- changing behavior through repeated practice. In the book it’s referred to as “the beauty of the re-do”.
Here’s how it works in real life. Say your toddler, when asked to share a toy, instead throws it in anger because his turn is over (completely hypothetical, of course ;)). Every single time he throws he gets a meaningful consequence of some kind, so you’re puzzled. Why in the world would he continue to throw toys when he knows for a fact that the result will not be pleasant?
The authors of the book say that one of the reasons is that the child’s brain has cemented the wrong behavior (throwing) and not had adequate training to produce the right behavior. We see this in grown-ups all the time. We do what we’re in the habit of doing, not necessarily what we know is best for us. So the question becomes, how do we change the child’s habit?
Proverbs 22:6 says to “train up a child in the way he should go; when he is old he will not depart from it.” Here’s google’s definition for train: “to teach a particular skill through practice and instruction over a period of time.” The keyword is practice; it’s allowing the child to physically rehearse the right behavior. So often I was correcting my son’s behavior and giving a consequence, but I didn’t actually go back and allow him to re-enact the situation and make the right choice.
The key is having them practice what you preach.
Here’s a quote from The Connected Child about why this is so effective:
“By actively replacing misbehavior with correct behavior in your child’s memory banks, you can help the child encode competency. A re-do ‘erases’ the muscle memory of the failed behavior and gives the child the physical and emotional experience of substituting a successful one in its place. Re-do’s are a wonderful tool for reshaping behavior. They help a child feel successful and activate motor memory.”
In the example above, the child would be taken back to the place where the misbehavior happened and guided through gently handing the toy to his friend or sibling. Once practiced, the child would be praised to reinforce the right behavior and build confidence in his ability to stay calm and make a good choice. This method can work for anything from table manners (making the child repeat “May I please have…”) to chores (having the child re-do the chore when it’s not done properly) to treating others with respect (making the child re-phrase or change the tone of his/her words).
So there you have it: “the beauty of the re-do”, a common-sense principle that helps the right behavior stick. I hope it’s helpful for you (and me)!