How would you deal with mouthy kids? My younger ones see my older kids being rude to each other, and sometimes to me and my husband. Even when my older ones get in trouble, the younger ones copy them.
Dear Diana, How would you deal with mouthy kids? My younger ones see my older kids being rude to each other, and sometimes to me and my husband. Even when my older ones get in trouble, the younger ones copy them. Now I have all four kids mouthing off to each other — and to us. I’m getting frustrated and trying to get it under control. Mom of four
Dear Mom of four, It sounds as if you want to end rude behavior and improve your children’s sibling relationships. Teach them outside the event, rather than wait for them to be rude to each other. Teach them at another time, and provide extensive, positive recognition when you do see an effort. Recognize the behaviors you don’t want, provide replacement behaviors for what you expect, and always reward the positive changes you see.
Recognition and rewards are critical in changing behavior. To recognize positive behavior, get up and go to your child, touch him gently, and tell him exactly what you just observed: “I saw you share your toy with your brother, and I am so proud of you.” His immediate reward is your touch and positive attention. If children don’t have a reason to change their behavior, they won’t. Remember, nothing changes if nothing changes. Some parents may yell or punish, which may stop an undesired behavior immediately, out of fear in that moment, but it will not end it completely or teach a replacement behavior.
It is very important to clearly identify unacceptable behavior and teach at a time when your child can learn. Children cannot listen or learn when they are “getting in trouble,” so provide a relaxed environment to teach your lessons. Bake some cookies or prepare a healthy fruit salad and invite everyone to a “Round Table.” Offering food at your family meeting sends an unspoken message of comfort.
Let your children know that the rules are changing; you expect them to be thoughtful and kind toward each other, and they may no longer be rude or hurtful to you, your husband, their siblings, or anyone. Be very specific. Use their words, expressions, and tone of voice, but don’t ever repeat any vulgarity that they may have used. Engage them by asking each child to think of something hurtful he has said recently, for which he is sorry. Let each know that you will be watching carefully, and rewarding everyone who gets through the day without being rude or hurtful. Rewards include extra bedtime stories, board games, or an opportunity to spend special time with you. Vote on a family signal that you will use to remind anyone who has been rude, so they can apologize immediately.
To enhance sibling relations and your overall family dynamics, provide each child with his own “acts of kindness jar,” for which he can earn magic stones. Let each child know that you will be watching and giving magic stones for all acts of kindness they show toward each other. I suggested this to a mom of a 15-year-old who said her daughter thought the whole idea was ridiculous. Still, she began to change her behavior very shortly after she started earning “magic rocks.” Nobody is ever too old to appreciate recognition or praise.
Diana Boggia, M.Ed., is a parenting educator. Find more information on developing family meetings, or Round Tables, and other parenting resources at her website, www.yourperfectchild.com.