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  • Susie Csorsz Brown

You first

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 (or win the game, as the case may be).

What, you may ask, does a child’s game have to do with parenting? My suggestion to you is the be the first player: Stop being the one to react; be the one to make the first move. Make the effort: you change your tone, your ideas, your interactions, the response will have to be different as well. No longer can your kid make the first move. You will be the one calling the shots. And yes, it is really that easy.

We are, as the adult(s) in the relationship, supposed to be the smart and more responsible member of the family relationship. We are supposed to know better. Sometimes, though, especially in the heat of an argument or a melt-down (yours or, perhaps more likely theirs), 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. Tears fly on both sides. It’s just drama drama drama; no one is happy, and nothing is solved. Please don’t think I’m chastising you; I have so been there and done that myself.

Intentions are always good: you don’t intend to lose your temper. You don’t intend to nag your kids. 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 over the exact number of days necessary but an estimate: 30 days. Make the effort, consciously do the new steps for 30 days, and you’ll get there. Focus on the behavior you want to see in yourself. The behavior change you get in return (from your kids, from your spouse) will come. You first.

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 big and overwhelming; breaking it down into 5 little steps makes it much more doable. You can take on a new turtle step each week, building toward your behavior change and – voila! – you’ve reached your goal. It works. Really. It 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. Parenting is hard enough without resorting to negative and unpleasant behaviors. You love your kids; you should enjoy, love and cherish your interactions with them. Changing your behavior can result in many more positive interactions. Even asking them to pick up their dirty clothes and toys can be more pleasant. I know, sounds unlikely, but … you’ll never know until you try it.

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