Feeling Connected and Understood Can Help Children Change

changeIt is difficult to change, and for children this is no exception. Concerned parents often ask mental health specialists to stop their child from lying, to help control their anger, and to help them lose weight; however, they often do not understand how the change process for children works.[1] Children do not have the cognitive or emotional capacity to appreciate the importance of making positive behavior changes.1 Thus, they do not have the inherent motivation required to change.1 However, they can develop this motivation in response to a strong connection with an adult.1 For example, an under-performing student often begins to perform better after developing a strong rapport with a new teacher.1 Real change happens as a result of a strong connection between a child and parent, as the child will develop an inherent desire to act differently to please the parent as a result of their connection.1

When helping children to change, here are some considerations:

  1. Be Flexible. Children change in response to parents’ flexibility.1 For example, when a child hates the taste of peas, a parent’s ability to be flexible and serve them a helping of broccoli or corn instead will eliminate behavior outbursts and establish trust, as the child sees that what he says is important is being acted upon.1
  2. Have Positive Connections. Problematic behavior by a child can frustrate parents; however, it needs to be put aside long enough to engage in positive connections with the child on a daily basis.1 Committing to 30 minutes of daily one-on-one time with a child, doing a positive activity can improve a child’s behavior.1 The child’s self-esteem is also positively influenced as a result of the strong parent-child bond.1
  3. Model Positive Behavior. Parents are role models to their children and need to model positive behavior that they would like their children to learn.1 If the child needs more exercise, engaging in an exercise program together, modeling how it can be fun and healthy, is important to the child learning the lesson.1
  4. Change Together. If your child needs to eat healthier, so does the entire household. If your child needs more exercise, so does the entire household. Whatever needs changing, needs to be changed together.1
  5. Remind Yourself that Change is Difficult. When frustrated that change isn’t occurring, remember that it is difficult to do so.1 Ask yourself, “How eager am I to change something when someone else pushes me?”1 Children do not have the internal motivation to change; therefore, modeling it and building a strong relationship is key.1 Focus on connecting with your child instead of controlling their behavior.1

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