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Aggression and Children—III  

In part three of this series we finally get to the specific behavior management skills. It is important to note where this set of skills comes in the sequence. The effectiveness of behavior management skills is greatly enhanced when children feel secure in their relationship with their parents and there is a positive emotional tone to that relationship. Thus it is important to establish safety and a general positive tone before getting serious about actual management and control.

Skills for managing and controlling behavior really break down into giving directives, setting limits, and doling out discipline. Done well, and in the context of a positive relationship, good management skills can make a big difference in how your children behave.

Let’s address directives first. Directives are about getting your child to do something. A key word to remember, though it may make you uncomfortable, is command. When you want your child to do something you should give them a clear command. They should not hear something worded as a question or a suggestion. You should say “put your dishes in the dishwasher” rather than “would you put your dishes in the dishwasher?” or “it would be nice to put your dishes in the dishwasher.” While it might seem harsh to deliver in the form of a command, a command is a much clearer form of communication and gets across the expectation that something be done, rather than a comment being given or a negotiation being opened.

There is definitely a time for giving children choices, but when you want them to do something specific, that is not the time. Let the softness come from the context of the relationship you have created and the tone of our voice. It is OK, even good, for your children to learn that there are times and contexts when it is best to do as you are told. Again, it is all about the relationship and when you create a relationship that feels safe and secure for them, they will feel better about just doing what they are told.

Next month I will continue the series by looking at setting limits and effectively implementing discipline, two things that go together pretty closely.

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