As a parent, you continually drive your child toward certain behaviors by giving her SIGNALS. You do this by being attentive, giving a GREEN LIGHT to what she does. “Hey,” you say, “…get back to your homework!” You SIGNAL to her that you will be attentive to this particular behavior. Perhaps you might say, “…I really like the way you brushed your teeth last night” By doing so, you are highlighting for your child who she is by being attentive to this behavior. These behaviors eventually become her Goal Oriented Behaviors. “Goal oriented behaviors” are the behaviors your child “thinks” she is supposed to exhibit daily, all day, all year long! It is what you encourage your child to be through your parental interactions with her. It is easy to do, so easy you may not even consider it, but you should.
Goal-oriented behaviors are something we all use: we get up on time, stay clean, drive carefully, act honestly, all behaviors that we employ daily to describe who we are. Our children exhibit these goal-oriented behaviors as well, and sometimes to our dismay! Poor grades, messy rooms, poor habits, poorer attitudes; all of these are examples of your child’s (mistaken) goal-oriented behaviors. Why do children believe that they should actually CHOOSE these poor goal-oriented behaviors? Because we tell them to! We could give the child a RED LIGHT by ignoring her behavior, but we seem to think that our LOGIC will save the day.
When we talk, complain, yell, or argue with our children, we are informing them of how we view them, simply through our interaction with them. If you argue with your child, she is an arguer, if we complain with our children, they are complainers, if we fight with them, they are fighters, and we tell them this every time we fight, argue, or complain with them! Thus, these behaviors that we focus on with them, they eventually identify as themselves, so they begin to use them, again and again, and we started it! As we interact with our children we are always selectively focusing on certain behaviors they exhibit. When you focus on a child’s behavior, you are saying to the child: This is you! The child over a period of time and many interactions with you begins to see a traffic pattern: I am a complainer. I am an arguer! I am a fighter. I am lazy. I am fat. I am annoying. You can just hear the parent speaking to the child: You are so ANNOYING! You keep eating like that, you will be FAT. You always ARGUE with me. You are always FIGHTING with your sister You NEVER DO anything I ask!
Once a child has begun to understand who she is, she begins to employ behaviors daily to show the world what we, as parents, have previously pointed out to her. Thus, these green light behaviors have become her goal, as we, as the parents, have oriented her towards, thus goal-oriented behaviors. This is the method whereby children learn the message, through daily interaction with parents, and other authority figures, about who they are. Their goal-oriented behaviors are dictated by us, the parents. Watch your child and you will see what you have done, just by observing her behaviors. You may have done this by accident but it is no accident that she is exhibiting the behaviors. Are you happy with what you see? Does your child appear to be happy? No? If not, you have some work to do.
What you can start to do now is focus your “GREEN LIGHT” attention upon your child’s good behaviors. Say to your child that you appreciate how HELPFUL she has been, how well you saw her behaving earlier, “…I saw you clean up your room that was a good choice,” or “…You were very energetic helping me cook in the kitchen today.” Whatever you say to her, she is, so be careful, and wait for the moment when you can be positive with her, even for the smallest thing she does that is positive: “Oh, you came home safe today, sweetie.” She will feel better the more positively you talk with her. The better she feels, the better she behaves. Her goal-oriented behavior will now be positive, and that is a goal worth being positive about.
Michael E. Kirk, PhD, a local clinical psychologist, is a father and grandfather. He specializes in working with families, adolescents, and children.