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  • Writer's pictureSusie Csorsz Brown

Change: Turtle steps

The quickest way to change your child’s behavior is to first change your own.

If you are playing tic-tac-toe, and you go second, your odds of winning the game are 1/3. If you go first, 2/3. Why? Because as a second player, you are reacting to the game that the first person is playing; you are basically waiting for the first player to make a mistake.

What, you may ask, does this have to do with parenting? Stop being the one to react; be the one to make the first move. Place your X or O first. Make the effort: you change your tone, your ideas, your interactions, the response will be different as well. No longer can your kid make the first move. He will be the one reacting, and since you are setting a different tone, the reaction will also be more positive.

We’re supposed to be the smarter and more responsible member of the family relationship, right? We’re supposed to know better. We're supposed to 'be the adult' (I know, NOT what you wanted to hear). Sometimes, though, especially in the heat of an argument or melt-down, it is so hard to remember all of the parenting advice, and behave in the recommended way. So instead, you just yell back or get angry. Please don’t think I’m chastising you; I have been there and done that myself. More times than I should probably admit.

Intentions are always good: you don’t intend to lose your temper. You don’t intend to nag your kids (or spouse). You don’t intend to snap. But it happens. So taking the first step and making a change in your behavior will stop the negative pattern. Changing a behavior can be a difficult thing, especially when the negative pattern has been going on for some time. Experts argue the exact number, but one can give an estimate: 30 days. Make the effort, consciously do the new steps for 30 days, and you’ll get there.

One tool that I like to use is a chart and breaking down the Big Behavior Change into little, or turtle steps. Big Change is too large and overwhelming; breaking it down into 5 little steps makes it more doable. You can take on a new turtle step each week, building toward your behavior change and – voila! – you’ve reached your goal. Works for parenting behaviors, eating behaviors, exercise goals, etc.

Change is hard, and can be scary. Scary things are avoided, right? But it doesn’t have to be that way. I keep saying, parenting is hard enough without resorting to negative and unpleasant behaviors. You love your kids; you should love your interactions with them. Even asking them to pick up their dirty clothes and toys can be more pleasant. But, you have to be the adult, and make a change for more positive interactions. Oh, sure, you won't be a smaller dress size after all this effort, but you'll get along better with your kids. And that is definitely worth the effort!

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