Yesterday morning, my middle daughter and I were listening to the radio while I was driving her to school. The radio hosts were talking about how they get their kids to behave in the lead up to Christmas. One caller said she had told her children Santa was watching them via the cameras in the shopping centres. The radio host laughed and said to get his kids to behave he told them there were cameras in the downlights in his house.

I had a giggle when I heard this and chatted with my daughter about strategies parents use to make their kids toe the line. One phrase I would hear in my home growing up was, “if you misbehave Jesus will punish you”.

These tactics are really common. I think most of us will put up our hands and admit to using fear as a way to get our kids to behave. Whether it’s the fear of being seen by Santa, the fear of making mummy sad, or making dad angry, at the end of the day it’s a fear strategy. And it can work. It can be an effective way to get them to stop misbehaving at that moment.

However, this form of behaviour correction has limitations. It makes their motivation to behave an extrinsic motivation. So they will behave when they know they are likely to experience an external consequence, like getting in trouble or feeling guilty about making mum disappointed.  But…when no one is there to see them misbehave, well, it can become a ‘when the cat’s away the mice will play’ scenario.

Ideally, we want our kids to develop a strong intrinsic motivation, based on their conscience. This way, they will behave well because it makes them feel good, regardless of whether anyone is watching. To develop their conscience we need to teach them to listen to their feelings, speak to them about their behaviour and discuss the consequence of their choice of action. This should be done, not when they are misbehaving, but at a time when they are feeling relaxed and positive. When they are feeling positive their learning centres are switched on and they are much, much more likely to absorb what you want them to learn. I call this a love-based approach. Using logic and empathy when speaking to your kids will not only make them feel good about themselves; it will also make them more self-controlled and better behaved.

Why not use this holiday season as an opportunity to switch your parenting style to a more love-based approach? Not only will it teach them to behave well even when you’re not watching, but they will also feel happier and will love you for it too.

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