Being proactive, with children, means helping them learn in a positive versus negative manner. That’s my approach on working with children, I think it gives you a lot less stress, it makes you feel better about yourself, it helps you develop great relationships with children.
There was this professor, his name was Douglas McGregor. He said that there were two types of behavior called Theory X, and Theory Y. Each one of these includes a very different assumption on how you’re supposed to approach behavior.
So, for example, Theory X people, basically demonstrate many beliefs, including the belief that discipline should come from the top down, and that all people beneath must follow according or be reprimanded for their actions or a lack thereof. McGregor believed that this theory was inadequate, especially when it pertains to children. So, people who have this Theory X assumption assume the following things: The average child doesn’t like good behavior, and they’ll avoid it at all costs. Theory X people also think that people who follow the Theory X assumptions, assume that the average child wishes to avoid responsibilities. Because children have a natural dislike for good behavior and responsibility, they must be coerced, they must be control, directed, or threatened with punishment in order to establish discipline. This is how people in the 1950’s and 60’s approached behavior, but society has changed.
Now, the other theory, Theory Y people are more consistent with building good behavior and responsibility with the average child. People that fall into this category, they’re considered motivators, leaders, and goal-oriented educators. The central principle on the Theory Y assumption is based on leading others to success through consistent direction and collaboration. So, Theory Y followers can transform most behaviors into a positive one without the need for consistent threats or punishments.
Theory Y people fall under a couple of assumptions. The first assumption is, the average child likes the feeling of good structure and discipline. For me being a martial arts instructor for the last 30 years, I wholeheartedly agree with this. When I say to my students, “let’s see who could sit like a black belt?” You should see the look on these kid’s faces when they race to cross their legs, put their hands on their knees, stick their chest out and sit really strong! They really like it! They embrace it.
Theory Y people also believe that the development of physical and mental growth is a natural process in children. It’s not something that happens overnight. Negative approaches to discipline only make children dislike the concept of good behavior. But, at the same time, positive approaches reinforce the child’s motivation to have good behavior. They also assume their children would become more responsible if they have clear guidelines to follow on a consistent basis. All that follows under one of the parenting skills or teaching skills that I refer to as “Prompting”. Prompting is basically setting your children up for making good behavior choices.
There’s five different ways that you can prompt good behavior based on my experience. The first way to prompt your behavior is good old fashioned rewarding. So, let’s say that you have a child who has a very unique rhythm. When you go to the movie theaters, he’s got ants in his pants, and he wiggles around his seat a lot and likes to get up and likes to interrupt. But he knows that he’s supposed to sit down and show respect for the other kids in the movie theater. He wants to sit still, and he wants to show respect but sometimes it just gets a little bit out of line. This is a great opportunity to reward your child if they do make good behavior choices while you’re watching a movie. So, saying something like “listen, Johnny, remember, we talked about sitting really still during the movie theater and try not to interrupt other people and make loud noises that are disruptive to other people? So, what I want to do is if you do very well, today, I’ll let you pick where we go for dessert after the movie”. If you’re a teacher, and you have children that sometimes have ants in their pants in class, and you say listen, we have a very important activity that we’re going to be covering right now. So, for the next 15 minutes, whoever listens the best or sits the best or puts forth the best effort, whatever it is, you get to pick the game that we play at recess, or you get to pick a game that we’re going to play in class. We do the same thing in our Life Skill martial arts classroom, setting them up by using a reward. “Okay, whoever is the loudest, the strongest, the sharpest today gets to the pick the game that we play at the end of the class!” So, prompting good behavior with the good old fashioned reward is strategy number one.
Strategy number two is what I like to call “Challenge vs Punishment”. This one’s a lot of fun, especially if you’re a parent, you can try this at home. Let’s say that you struggle with getting Johnny ready for dinner. Let’s say that he forget to wash his hands, he’s not cleaning up his toys, and he’s playing on his iPad before you have dinner and you want to try to get them into a good routine. You could do something like okay, Johnny, I challenge you. In the next five minutes, “When” you pick up all your toys, clean your hands and put your iPad away where it belongs and go sit at the dinner table within the next five minutes, “Then” I’ll do 10 push ups for you. Make it a fun little challenge like that. We do it in our martial arts class a lot where we’ll challenge them and say, “All right, we’re gonna do our warm-ups. When everybody tries really hard and answers really loud, then when you’re done with the warm ups, I’ll do 10 push ups!” Because you know, kids love to see the adults suffer! 🙂 So, “Challenge vs Punishment” is the prompting skill #2 that I really love to use with children.
The next one is “Using Examples”. So, prompting good behavior by pointing out other people who are behaving the right way. For example, at Life Skill, when we see one student wiggling, and we really want him to sit legs cross hands with his knees at that moment because I’m explaining how to do a drill, we use an example right next to them. So, we’ll say “I love how Peter’s sitting, legs cross hands on his knees. Johnny, can you set just like him?” So, giving him a great example to follow especially if there’s somebody relatable to their age, they definitely are more, they use mirror neurons to children closer to their age. So, if you’re pulling out good examples, that helps them follow along accordingly. So, for example, if your a parent and you’re out at dinner, and you look over scope, the restaurant, see if you could see a kid who’s sitting well, who has good manners and point them up. I like how that kid over there is sitting. She’s sitting nice and quiet. Look, she has a napkin in her lap and she’s being very respectful for dinner. So, using that as an example for your child to follow along.
Now, I caution you, when you’re pointing out examples, try not to use the same child every time because you don’t want to have those teacher’s pets. If you’re constantly pointing out the same child in class, it can be a little frustrating for the students who don’t quite have those same behavioral skills just yet. So, try to mix it up. Another thing is, is to try to catch them when they are leading by good example. So, let’s say that your child is one who’s typically very wiggly, very hyper during dinner, catch him when he is sitting still because there’s got to be one small fraction of a second, when Johnny is sitting still at dinner, catch him at that perfect time and say “This is the perfect example of how I like for you to behave when we’re at dinner.” Or the same thing if you’re a teacher in class, and you have that one little kid who’s super hyper in his seat, catch him when he’s sitting still and say, “This is the perfect example of how I’d like you to behave in class.”
Skill number four is “Extrinsic motivation, extrinsic role models”. For example, one particular day at Life Skill, all the kids were really off. So, we just stopped the kids, and asked them to huddle up and we whispered, “You guys are making me look bad. You’re wiggling all over the place. See your parents are watching me, and I want your parents to be really proud of me. So, can you guys make me look good by standing feet together, hands by your side? Yes Sir?”
If they’re very young kids, you can even get them to use their imagination. For example, saying “What would Batman do right now? Would Batman be misbehaving? Would Batman cry because he didn’t get ice cream?” Or even if you’re a teacher in class, you know, using the sports heroes, like “Would Michael Phelps be wiggling on his desk right now?” Although Michael Phelps did have ADD and he probably wasn’t, you don’t have to tell your kids that! 🙂
Now, skill #5 is using “Intrinsic Motivation”. The hierarchy of intrinsic motivation is basically when they choose to make good behavior choices that are beyond their normal expectations. For example, “I want everybody to do 10 push-ups. But if you want to be a blackbelt, I want you to do 20 push-ups. But if you want to be a master, I want you to do 30 push-ups. But… if you want to make me and your parents proud, I want you to do 40 push-ups. But if you want to really go all out and push yourself and see how strong you are, and make yourself proud, I want you to do 50 push-ups right now!” It was amazing! Almost every single kid did 40-50 push-ups.
So, you can use it as a challenge. For example, “You got 15 minutes to clean up your room, and get ready for bed. But if you want to make me proud, let’s see if you can do it in 10 minutes. But if you are a “Rock star/Child of the year”, you’d do it in 5 minutes!”
As you’ve probably noticed, you’ve seen that there are many studies going on concerning the brain and neuroplasticity, which means that the brain is actually moldable. So, even if you have a child who tends to lean towards making poor behavior choices, by utilizing these five prompting strategies, you can essentially help your child rewire his/her brain to start to make better behavior choices.
Hope this information helps.