How to actually change
your child’s behavior
July 10, 2023
[Kyle]: In today's episode we are going to talk about how to change your kids behavior. I mean, I know you've been spotting it over the summer and you're like “man, I sure wish that would change”. Well, we're going to give you some tips on how to do that.
[Kyle]: Hello, and welcome to episode 78 of The Art of Raising Humans. I’m Kyle.
[Sara]: And I’m Sara.
[Kyle]: And we're right in the middle of summer, aren't we?
[Sara]: Oh, it's hot.
[Kyle]: This episode should be coming out around July 10th, so I bet it's gonna be even more miserable.
[Sara]: It’s even hotter.
[Kyle]: So, if you don't live in Oklahoma like we do, maybe you're having a better time of it. But down here, it is hot.
[Sara]: Yeah, it's nearing 100 already.
[Kyle]: We don't prefer that and then this past weekend, we had an awesome storm come to town, right?
[Sara]: Yeah, we did. Made the news.
[Kyle]: And took out the electricity in our house and other people's houses. So, it's been quite a summer so far, you know?
[Kyle]: A lot of good bonding while they all slept in our room because there was no power and the fear of tornadoes coming, right? So, anyway, so we've had a lot of adventures. I hope you guys who are listening to this are having a lot of adventures this summer. A lot of fun getting to connect with your kids and enjoy your kids. But you know, Sara, what I find that comes up a lot in the summer is a lot of interactions with your kids, you start thinking about ways to change their behavior, you know? Because when you're spending more time with them, you're like “I don't really like that, or enjoy that. I wish that would change” or “I'm sick and tired of that”, right?
[Sara]: Right, and you might even be looking already to the school year coming and go “okay, we need this to be done before the school year” or “I want this to be better come the school year”.
[Kyle]: I know a lot of parents I'm helping; they have dreams where they want to have a relaxed time over the summer, enjoying themselves, but they also want to get some better habits in place, some better routines, all these kinds of things. So, they have--
[Sara]: You think “I've got this window; I want to take advantage of it. It's a great time; got a couple of months to practice”.
[Kyle]: So, a lot of the discussions I'm having with parents is on this topic of, how do we actually change our kids behavior? You know, when we see a behavior that we don't like, whatever that is, it could be something as little as how to organize their room to they're fighting with their siblings all the time, or their big emotions. They're yelling at us, you know, they're talking to us in ways we don't like or doing things we think are dangerous or whatever, right? So, all types of things, from how small kids all the way up to big teenagers, that parents are asking “how do we shift this? How do we change it?”, you know?
[Kyle]: And so, that's a lot of conversations we're having and before we jump into that, I want to ask all our listeners, if you've been enjoying the podcast, to please share this with people. Comment, like it. We'd love it when you comment on it and tell us how it's impacting your life and I know just in general, we hear a lot of people will tell us they listen to this episode or that other episode and how it impacted them. We'd love to hear from you personally. You can always go to our website, which is parentinglegacy.com, and when you go there, we have a lot more content for you. We have videos and courses that you can take that will help you get ready for this upcoming school year and also just have a better summer in general. But let's dive into it. So, first I wanted to ask you, Sara, what's some ways in general that people try to change kids’ behavior? What's some ways you hear people trying to do that?
[Sara]: Okay. So, sticker charts. So, “here's what you need to do…”. Sticker charts for getting that done for younger kids. Yelling at them.
[Kyle]: Uh huh, yeah.
[Sara]: “Maybe if I can just--"
[Kyle]: It’s a real common one.
[Sara]: Yeah. “If I can just get mad at them, they'll be uncomfortable and they'll change their ways”.
[Kyle]: Yeah. “They'll see that I definitely don't like it, so maybe they'll change it”. I've never used that one.
[Sara]: No, you never.
[Kyle]: You know, what's some other ones they like to use?
[Sara]: Genuinely teaching them, modeling it, you know?
[Sara]: “Oh, here's how you do the dishes. Let me show you how to do it”.
[Kyle]: Yeah, yeah. I think lectures is real common.
[Sara]: Yeah. We think “Oh, they're not doing because they just still don't understand. So maybe if I say it 15 more times…”. Yeah.
[Kyle]: Taking things away, you know? I mean, I'm sure no parents ever tried taking the phone away. That's a real common one, taking the phone away.
[Sara]: Some kind of-- The reward would be the sticker chart. So, maybe a reward or a punishment. So, do it or else. Or do it in order to get this carrot.
[Kyle]: I think one I hear a lot, too, is find out what your kid loves and don't let them have that until they do the thing, right? So, some people they like friends, so don't let them hang out with them. They like that video game system, so take that away, you know? So, it really is typically around power. The parent feels powerless to change the behavior. So, they try to then find power by taking something away that the kid wants and then that will then motivate the kid to do the behavior, right?
[Sara]: There's like a token here we're exchanging.
[Kyle]: I think the frustrating part about it, though, is it kind of ends up being a fruitless endeavor because it really doesn't end up typically changing the behavior. It may “get the kid to do the behavior in the moment”, but long-term change doesn't typically happen that way.
[Sara]: Yeah. It's not as effective as we wish or as we thought it was, or for generations, right? I mean, I think that's been going on a long time. It's even what our adult prison system is, right?
[Kyle]: Yeah, sure.
[Sara]: But it doesn't always…
[Kyle]: Well, it's funny you bring that up. Yeah, because I'm thinking of all the drug and alcohol groups I did and lots of times I had people who had gotten out of prison and for all types of drug offenses and it wasn’t’-- Many of them did not stop doing those things simply because they got arrested and went to prison. You think that would be it, but many of them still got drugs in prison, you know? They just continued--
[Kyle]: If they did make that change, there was actually something internal that changed in them. It wasn't just the external thing changing, it was the internal thing, you know? And I think that's when we look at old school type parenting models, I think there is some good aspects to it. But for the most part, the part we tend to focus on changing is this external control where it's your job to change the kid's behavior. So, I know we're naming this podcast this “how to change your child's behavior”, but really the point is kind of draw you in to understand that it is about the kid changing their behavior, not about you changing it.
[Sara]: Well, I would say-- I mean, there is somewhat where some punishment or reward will change behavior or seems to change the behavior. The kid in order to avoid losing their phone, they're going to get home at curfew or whatever it might be, you know? They're going to do that, but there's always a price for that route and that's your relationship with your child.
[Kyle]: Yeah, yeah.
[Sara]: So, even if you're like “well, it worked in this situation” or “it worked when I was a kid”, there's a cost to that kind of approach. I don’t know how other parents feel, but as I was working with kids and then having my own children, I didn't like the effects of that approach on relationship. You know, especially-- I want trust, I want openness, I want love and safety and all this stuff within relationship. But if I'm going to use a “come chase this carrot” or “I'm going to punish you if you do…”, that's always withdrawing from that and depending on the child, depending on the relationship, you see it where it comes almost to no return, to a point of no return. Your relationship has just fallen apart so much, you know? But even a little ding isn't something I want as a parent.
[Kyle]: Yeah, yeah. No, I'm with you. That was kind of making me just think about the cost that it takes on the relationship that similar to marriage, you know? Like-- Something unique we do in this podcast is we're not just talking about kids as if they're separate from us. That really what works with kids, works with each other, you know? So, I'm thinking that would be true about our marriage, you know? If there was a behavior you wanted me to do different and you use the things we just said, even a fun sticker chart. Even if you use those kinds of things, it would probably begin to hurt the relationship, you know? Because even in a marriage, even as an adult, I might start getting the message. There might be a story, a narrative that starts to develop that you would love me more if I acted that way, right? And to a kid, they don't even have the capacity that I do to understand the nuances of what you're doing. But to the kid, the kid definitely gets the message that “I need to do this behavior, so at minimum, you don't get mad at me, but at most, you actually still love me”, you know?
[Sara]: Yeah. “Now you're happy with me. Now I'm a good kid. Now I'm lovable”.
[Kyle]: Yeah. There's a lot of kids I see, Sara, in practice and you've seen them too in counseling, where the kids will come in and that's the message they've gotten, that they want to get better at sports, not so they're better at sports, but so you don't get so upset with them.
[Kyle]: You know, that they want to succeed at school so that you don't seem so sad about what they're doing at school and that becomes a real codependent type relationship, where the kid is now just doing it for you and not even to say doing something for somebody is bad, it's just when they think the relationship is contingent upon you doing that, that's where then it becomes unhealthy.
[Sara]: Yeah, when it's an exchange.
[Kyle]: Yeah. So, then that brings to-- A lot of people then “well, if I'm not going to use those things--”. Because just like all these things we listed, they were used with us too as kids, you know? Almost every family I knew used these things. So, as you and I were reading and studying and learning from some of the great people and we were working with parents, there was the idea “well, if you're not going to use these, how do you change behavior? How do you really change it?”. So, lately, a lot of the sessions I've been doing with parents is, there are real steps that actually do help all human beings and these would be steps that would not only help you with your kid, help you in your marriage, help you at work if you're a boss and have employees and coworkers, but also just help you with yourself, you know? Because just think the same thing, Sara, that was used on us to “change our behavior”, is typically the same thing we do to ourselves as adults, right?
[Kyle]: Like, I don't know about you, but I lecture myself. Sometimes I punish myself by getting really mad at myself. Sometimes I will take things away from myself and say “Kyle, you can't get that until you do this”. There's all this like, “if then this” kind of thing to kind of motivate myself, right? I mean, we do this all the time to change eating habits, to exercise habits. Even when I was trying to not yell as much, there was a lot of like, punishing myself and I know recently we did a funny vow of yellowbacy where we did do a sticker chart, but it was all in jest. It was all to be funny.
[Sara]: Yeah, yeah, and that was more to bring our awareness to how our children see us talking to them. It was a learning thing and less about-- You know.
[Kyle]: But even then, the idea is we want to raise little human beings who don't think change is contingent on them beating themselves up, and I'm telling you, I see teenagers who are cutting themselves because they think they need to be punished for something bad they did, so then they'll change their behavior.
[Sara]: Yeah, you see the kid on the football field and maybe they missed a catch or something. You know, what do they do? Like…
[Kyle]: Yeah, yeah. Some women punch themselves in the face.
[Sara]: Yeah, you see that instant like, “I must be punished for this mistake”.
[Kyle]: Yeah, yeah. So, we want to give you a different way, a different way to help your child change the behavior and so, first, I’d love to share with parents these five stages of change. So, back when I used to do drug and alcohol counseling, there was this company called Change Companies, who had really studied the five steps of change and these are the five steps they came up with and pretty much, there's different variations of in some form or fashion, but these tend to play out when you're helping other human beings change. So, the first step is always awareness. So, awareness is that step we go “oh, that needs to change” or “oh, I want to change that”, you know? Especially around the holidays, you'll see a lot of commercials from gyms saying “do you need to lose weight?”. So, what they're doing is raising your awareness and going “oh my gosh, I have been eating crazy. I need to go exercise”. So, first of all, raising your awareness is the first step. The second step is contemplation, meaning you want to start thinking about that change. Why would I change? What am I trying to change, and how would I go about doing that? So, then the third step would be preparation. I start to prepare and take steps towards making that change.
[Sara]: Yeah, that's like “oh, I've got the membership at the gym” or “I've gotten rid of the junk of my house and I'm buying fruits and vegetables” or “I put this sign up to remind myself to do this thing every day”.
[Kyle]: Yeah. I mean, there's a really good weight loss thing. I think it's called Noom, but it uses a lot of these same stuff where it's every day, you're keeping it in your awareness about how you're eating and what you're doing. It's not meant to ever shame you or-- It's really just about raising your awareness. So, you are thinking about what you're eating instead of mindlessly doing it, right?
[Kyle]: So, as an example of now you're preparing. So, maybe you've done some research, you've talked to some people, what's worked, what hasn't. Then the fourth step is taking action. So, I actually got to put the change into action and then I stick with the stuff that's working. So, let's say I take action and it's not working. Then I just go back and do the steps again. “Well, what's not working? Let's contemplate what worked, what didn't. Let's prepare for a next step”. But eventually when you find something that's really being successful, you stick with that change.
[Kyle]: So, I wanted to first kind of point out those five steps, and those were commonly what I would teach people making really hard changes. Making changes like they're going to get off some hard drugs, they're alcoholics and they want to stop drinking, you know? And so, these are some really difficult changes. So, I want to just talk a little bit about that, that we've got to understand, whether you're talking about a little four-year-old who's trying to sleep through the night without wetting their bed, all the way up to a kid no longer cutting themselves or talking to you in a better way. Change is hard.
[Sara]: Yes, it is.
[Kyle]: It's very hard, right? And even though change is inevitable, like, we're always going to change constantly. We just saw a YouTube video about how 400,000 things-- How many skin cells are falling of us all the time.
[Sara]: Every minute, right?
[Kyle]: Yes, it’s disgusting. But how much we are-- Our body is constantly changing; things are constantly changing. But actually, making change in behavior can be very difficult.
[Sara]: Yes, it is. It is very difficult and I think what comes up is we look at our children sometimes and because we've maybe made that change or that's not a struggle for us or a habit or something, we can look at someone else and go “well, that's easy. Just do this”, you know?
[Sara]: And we have to realize, put ourselves in their shoes, put yourself-- Think of something that's hard for you to change and think “oh, that's what they're going through. That's hard to do. That's really hard to learn”. Because sometimes taking action, you're learning a whole new skill, a whole new way of thinking or behaving and that takes time. That's really hard work.
[Kyle]: Yeah, and I put down just a few that I'm sure our listeners can relate with. Sleeping. I mean, lots of people are horrible at sleeping and changing those sleep cycles and getting on a good sleep. Lots of people really struggle with turning the TV off at night and going to bed at a decent time. Exercising. I mean, that's a huge issue, especially in America, as people exercising well and being healthy with that, how they're eating, how they're speaking to each other, like not yelling and not letting anger take over. Even just I was thinking of just in general, all the different behaviors that are a struggle. I'm trying to just process my own. I'm thinking there's things that for sure, I've seen you change pretty easily and I would feel very difficult of doing that, because it's not something I've ever seen somebody change that particular behavior. There are other behaviors I've done that have been easy for me and hard for you, right?
[Kyle]: And so, I think everybody has the ability at times to make change easy because it’s more-- Maybe it's just more part of their personality, that particular change. But I think if you really look at it as a parent and go “what are the areas I struggle? That since I've been ten years old and now, I'm in my 40s, I'm still struggling with that particular change?”, you know?
[Sara]: Yeah, yeah.
[Kyle]: And to think maybe change isn't me just completely doing that behavior differently. Maybe I need to look at the incremental ways I have made change and I need to encourage that, and I need to do the same thing with my kid, right?
[Kyle]: So, we all have aspects of our behavior that we would like to change. Everyone listening to this can think of what those are and many times we use fear and shame and self-loathing to try to make those changes happen. But what we know, and the dieting culture is such an easy one to point out, that actually sticking with that change is unlikely to happen when you use those methods of fear, shame, self-loathing, and the list goes on and self-hatred. Those actually are short burns, you know? That they burn really hot and maybe you can make changes for three to six months, but you're most likely going to go back to those old habits, because those are not sustainable.
[Sara]: And a lot of times, especially in the dieting world, where they've studied this so much, you actually kind of go back worse. You know, if you've used those negative things to motivate yourself, there's almost a piece of you that finally just gives up and you--
[Kyle]: You can't sustain it. Yeah, and so, now I want to talk about what I do using those five steps, how Sara and I would do it with our kids and how we would help them change. So, first of all, I want to point out that we've talked about the brain development in the past, that what we know about the brain is change happens in the prefrontal cortex. It happens when we're in a space where we feel safe and loved and secure in the relationship. Why is that important? Because then I'm not worried about losing the relationship. I can really be open and receptive to you.
[Kyle]: Right? I can really hear you. I can really come open handed rather than closed fisted, right? I'm not scared. I'm not kind of almost shaking of “well, if I don't do this, then they're not going to love me anymore”. So, if I come and I know our relationship is secure, then I can then be receptive and we can really then listen to each other, okay?
[Kyle]: And then in that prefrontal cortex is where you need them to be to really-- Like, really see other ways of changing, other ways of approaching the problem, you know? To where that's where the teaching happens, that's where the learning happens, that's where the ability to take the information and internalize it happens.
[Sara]: Yeah, that creativity to see multiple pathways to get there, that's all going to happen there. So, I love that. I mean, you need to make sure you're in a good space with that person and I think when we're dealing with especially teenagers, we need to make sure that not only we think we're in a good space with them, but they think they're in a good space with us, you know?
[Kyle]: Yeah, yeah.
[Sara]: Because you may be “oh, we're great”. But if your teenagers holding on to some hurts or some things in your relationship that feel broken to them, that's going to play a part, you're not going to be as successful. So, you need to first-- You've got to go solidify your relationship.
[Kyle]: Yeah, yeah. So, you're saying make the connection, make sure you're both in a good space, where I'm receptive to them and what they're going through. Like, when they're telling me how difficult this change is, I'm not like “oh my gosh, give me a break”, you know? That I'm receptive and open to them and they can feel it and, in return, they then are receptive to me, right? So, that they were working together. We're hand in hand co creating how to create a different outcome, right?
[Kyle]: And then I would say the next step-- So, these steps are really important, is I've got to help make sure we've got the connection, we're both receptive to each other, and then we're going to reflect. We're going to do some reflection, okay? Reflection, Dr. Becky Bailey talks about how that's one of the most important things that we just don't do in our culture, you know? We may be good at helping kids understand how they feel. We may even be good at helping kids calm down, but the ability like, anytime there's a conflict, anytime there's a behavior where there's a big blow up and you're thinking to yourself “why doesn't this change?”, I would tell you because the follow up isn't happening. There's not follow up where the kid feels like you're being receptive to them and in turn, they're being receptive to you and you may be telling your kid the most wise advice ever, right?
[Sara]: Yeah. Great. Loving. Brilliant.
[Kyle]: Yes, but you'll see the kid, the kids either nodding, going “okay, okay, okay” and they're not really listening, or they're getting defensive, and if either one of those are happening, they're not really in a receptive place and so, therefore, they're not able to reflect and so, what I like to use with kids a lot of times, Sara, is I talk about looking at the game film, you know? And if you think about any good athlete, any good athlete gets better by watching the game film. So, that's what reflection is. It isn't there to beat the athlete up, say “look what a bad game you had”, it is always an attempt to grow and learn from the game.
[Sara]: Yeah, and in that reflecting its, “what happened? How did you feel about it?”. You kind of got to dive into some things. Don't rush this part of the process.
[Kyle]: Yeah, yeah.
[Sara]: Yeah, it takes some time of “what's going on here?” and really be curious and children won't be as good as adults will be at this, right? It's a skill you have to develop because at first, it's like “I don't know. I don't know what I was mad or I was sad”, you know? They don't always know and so, you have to help them. “Well, tell me, where did you feel that in your body?”, you know? Or if you were-- There's so many different scenarios running through my mind, but we're going to take way too much time if I go into all that. But basically, take the time to unravel it. What events happened? What did they think about those events and what did they feel about those events?
[Kyle]: Yeah, yeah, and so, Sara, that’s-- I love all that stuff. Lots of parents will say they won't do it. “They won't do it. We tried to do it and they won't” and I'm telling you, every time I talk to those kids, they expect it's going to be punishment, it's going to be a lecture, it’s going to-- The end result is going to be them divulging too much and then getting in more trouble.
[Sara]: Yes. Yeah.
[Kyle]: So, the kid-- If the kid is not willing to do it, it's because they don't trust that it's going to--
[Sara]: Go back to relationship, go back to connection. They're not ready yet.
[Kyle]: So, I put these four words down. That, first of all, I want to go back to we've got the stages of change. Where you want to make sure there's awareness, there's contemplation, preparation, taking action, then sticking with it. So, that's just in general, how effective change happens. But when it specifically comes to helping change behavior in a kid, is I want to get into the habit of creating a culture in our family where we follow up. That anytime there's a toxic rupture in the relationship, meaning anytime we blow up at them or they blow up at me, that we are going to follow up and they trust that the purpose in that follow up is receptivity and reflection. So, we can look at the game film together and we can co create a better outcome and the four words I put that kind of go with what you just said is “I've got to be patient. I've got to realize change takes a long time. Change is hard”.
[Kyle]: So, if your kid is not receptive right now, you got to be patient. Keep coming back and just reiterating “I want to do this to help you”, okay? Second is “I've got to be consistent”. So, that I’m not just-- We're not having some blow ups and like, just letting it go by and unfortunately, that happens in a lot of families, happens in a lot of marriages, and it just builds up and builds up and builds up.
[Sara]: And it's hard to go back.
[Kyle]: And those toxic ruptures have created a lot of toxicity between you and your kid. The third one is intentionality. I want to be really intentional that my goal in coming to my kid is to be receptive to them. It isn't just for them to be receptive to me, but they really are a key part of the information I need to help them change, you know? If it just from my head, it's not going to be received that well, right?
[Kyle]: And then the fourth one is accountability. That I think when you do it together, when you make that change together, just like if I was going to change some way I was going to be eating or something, I would tell you I was doing it and say “hey, could you hold me accountable to that?”, you know? Not in a way that you'll slap my hand if I don't do it, but just to encourage me and remind me that we're making that change, you know? And so, I think that patience, consistency, intentionality and accountability, those four things I have found are really crucial to then helping that process of change to happen more smoothly and be more likely to be effective.
[Sara]: Yes, yes. Love it.
[Kyle]: Good. Anything else you'd add to it?
[Sara]: No, I think that's great.
[Kyle]: Okay. Well, I really hope this helps as you're going through the summertime and this heat and being with your kids a lot, and you're seeing all these different behaviors you would like to start working on changing. Know it's a partnership. It's something you're co creating with them. Reflect in yourself “what is the changes I've tried to make that I just can't seem to do? And why is it so difficult for me? If it's so difficult for me, I'm an adult, a really smart adult with a lot of skills and a lot of tools and yet, I can't seem to do it. It's hard.”, that maybe the kid feels the same way and so, look at this as a partnership where you guys are co creating together, to form a different outcome and have a better healthier behavior come out of that. So, I hope this was helpful as you were listening and I hope it gave you a lot of things to think about. Once again, we'd love to hear your feedback and appreciate you sharing this.
[Sara]: Thanks for listening.