We believe children learn everything that you teach them – everything. That means you teach your kids things you don’t intend to teach them. It’s no different with their attitudes and behaviors toward family members. Your teenagers have let you know that you’ve accidentally taught them that it’s OK to hold an “attitude” and to be “rude”. It’s time to help them “unlearn” those behaviors. Beginning right away, carefully and with patience and love, explain that you will no longer accept a bad attitude or rudeness and make it very clear that, if they choose to behave in those ways, there will be a consequence.
We suggest that parents find the child’s “currency” – the thing(s) that is very important to the child. Those are the things that will be lost as privileges and they will stay “lost” until they “earn them back”. It is important that they only earn back the privileges when they show you that they can choose wisely and not be rude or have the bad attitude. Sometimes this takes awhile. The concept of losing a privilege for a set period of time doesn’t teach them to behave properly, instead, it only teaches them the patience to wait until the time is up to get their privileges back. The child’s focus moves away from learning and toward simply waiting to get the privileges back. The whole focus should be on learning to choose the desired behavior.
On the other hand – just as important and perhaps even more important is the second part of the teaching moment. It involves balancing the bad with finding the good.
This part requires a firm commitment and hard work – because remember – you’re the ones who, by not stopping the bad attitude or rudeness the first, second, third time, etc, accidentally taught them that it’s ok to behave in this poor fashion.
You must work hard to “catch” your child behaving with a good attitude and without rudeness. This means that you’ll have to pay attention to the choices they make to see if they choose what you’re looking for – politeness or a joy filled attitude in a situation where they previously chose to have an “attitude” or be “rudeness”. Then, each time you notice [catch] them making this wise choice – shower it with praise, appreciation, and a surprise reward such as earning back a lost privilege or paying for their ticket to the movies with a friend. In our house, you may hear us stop our child and call him/her over to get their attention. Then, even if in front of the other children, we tell them, “Do you remember when we discussed with you that you were starting to be unnecessarily selfish? Well, just now, we noticed that you stopped what you were doing and emptied the dishwasher and cleaned the upstairs playroom without anyone even asking. We are very thankful – that’s exactly what we’re looking for, and tonight after dinner, we’ll clean up and you can go play as our way of saying thanks for choosing to help out our team.”
In other words, it’s never too late to “build a new history”. For our family, the limits of acceptable behavior are defined very early. For others, they don’t realize that they’ve accidentally taught the bad lesson until it’s really a huge problem.