It’s that time of year again when beleaguered parents constantly remind disobedient children that it’s more important than ever to do the right thing.
Otherwise, they could end up on Santa’s notorious naughty list – the one specially reserved for kids who fight with siblings, refuse to do their homework, throw temper tantrums and don’t eat their vegetables.
While banishment to the naughty list has long been a handy tool in the disciplinary arsenal, any responsible parent wants their children to be good the rest of the year, too, when the threat of empty stockings holds less sway over those impressionable minds.
“I suspect most children deep down want to do the right thing, but they struggle with temptation,” says K.J. Hales, author of It’s Hard to Be Good, the first volume in the Ellie the Wienerdog (www.elliethewienerdog.com) series of educational picture books for children.
“A lot of it comes down to self-control – being able to control both your emotions and your actions when things don’t go your way or you don’t get what you want.”
Hales, who creates teachers’ guides and educational activities to go along with the lessons in her books, says the earlier parents start teaching children to do the right thing, the better.
She says some of the ways they can reinforce good behavior and discourage bad behavior include:
• Be generous with praise. Don’t underestimate the importance of your words. It’s easy to notice when children do the wrong thing and to chastise them about it. But take note when they do the right thing, too, and praise their good choices or good behavior. “Everyone loves words of approval and children will want to please you as a result,” Hales says.
• Make good choices a fun activity. One way to encourage good decisions could be to set aside one week in which each day you ask your children to write or draw about a good decision they made or they saw someone else make. Hales says this is an activity she suggests for classroom teachers, but it can work in the home as well. Be sure to discuss those good decisions with the children.
• Reward them. Discipline so often focuses on punishments for bad behavior, but children should also be rewarded for good behavior. This doesn’t have to be anything elaborate or expensive. A reward could be a picnic in the park or a favorite dessert after dinner.
“I’m sure every parent wants their child to gain independence, grow emotionally and learn to make good decisions about their own behavior,” Hales says. “And this is important 365 days a year, not just in the weeks before Santa Claus comes to town.”