As a baby your child was learning from you from the day they were born.  As a mother you have to understand your position in the world.  You are the most important person in their lives and the one person that they would like to have around with them as much as possible. You rank up their with food and sleep. If kids could have it their way, the world would exist of themselves and you, and you would be available for them all the time.

Why do kids act like they do?  Apart from some developmental behaviours such as the biting stage of toddlers, all behaviour is designed to basically get your attention.  Yes, it is as simple as this.  They may pick up behaviours from other kids, adults, or whoever but they try it out to see what the response is.

As parents more often than not we fall into a number of games with our children without realizing the consequences for our child and us.

Let’s talk behaviour.

Behaviour is for your child (and this goes for everybody else in your life, partner, parents, friends, workmates) as simple as the following.


“Something”   +   “Reaction”   =   “Memory”


Your child does “something” and there is a “reaction” from you, siblings, grandparents and a “memory” is created.  The more often the same “something” happens and the reaction is the same the stronger the memory becomes.

Quite simply, children think in terms of “is this worthwhile?” if it is they do it again.

What makes it worthwhile for them?  Simply if you take any notice.  If the reaction from you makes it worthwhile, their brain goes BINGO! And the ‘something’ is repeated.

The main difference between adults and children is this:  Adults play the ‘I’m going to make you’ game, that is, I would like you to do this, so I will keep on you till you do it.  However, children play the ‘I’ll do whatever you take notice of’ game, which is, if you take notice (aka: it is worthwhile!) then I’ll do it again. We are playing two different games.  The trick here is to play their game but do it better and make it work for YOU.

The other difference?  Adults think in terms of good and bad behaviour.  How often do we class their behaviour in terms of good and bad, we often think, “My child does 8 good things and 2 bad things”.  Children think in terms of worthwhile.  They don’t have good and bad behaviours, they have 10 worthwhile behaviours and if it’s worthwhile, they will repeat it, and repeat it and repeat it, much to our frustration.

In short, we need to understand this and play their game.  We need to use this game to our advantage to elicit the behaviours we desire and to eliminate the behaviours we don’t want to see ever again!

Now for the “something” we have no control over this part, our child does a range of different behaviours for a number of different reasons.  At times we try to change this, but this is impossible and leads to a great deal of frustration.  Accept that your child will come up with behaviours for a variety of reasons e.g. developmental age, see and do, exploration, tiredness, hungry etc.  If is however the next part the “reaction” that we can think about, manipulate, change, use to mould their behaviour for the next occasion.

So what is a reaction?  A reaction or to make it worthwhile for your child is simply you and your attention.  If your child gets your attention by “something”, then it just became worthwhile and their brain will remember this to be used again.

  • How do we make it worthwhile?  By looking - listening – touching – noticing.
  • By looking at them, this can be lovingly, glaringly, frustrated, affectionately.
  • By listening to them, giving your time, listening to what they are saying.
  • By touching them, this can be a cuddle, push, slap, grab, kiss.
  • By noticing what they are doing and being interested.

Common everyday examples of the “something’s” that your child does…

…Remember the minimize or take no notice at all, it is best to fix problems up later or clean up messes, leave the drink bottle where it falls or you will continually be picking up the drink bottle for ever.  Discreetly pick up the fallen hat / shoes if out and reapply 5 minutes later all the time no verbal.  Don’t look, listen, touch.

Most importantly, you need to use the look, listening, touch, talking when all is going smoothly, they are getting ready for school ( notice the pair of socks that did get put on not the rest of the uniform that is missing), getting on well in the car or even just the absence of fighting,, any co operative behaviours, helping out, shopping well etc .  You can never notice good behaviour too much.

By noticing these behaviours and commenting on exactly what it is they did well e.g. “Thanks for setting the table, I appreciate it!” or “your starting to get ready for school, you have your socks on!” A stroke on the back, a smile, even a quick cuddle/kiss will all reinforce and ensure to you that these behaviours will be repeated.

Have you ever noticed how much slower kids go when you are nagging at them to hurry up.  If you hear yourself pushing them along to get ready, go quicker, get missing items then you need to remember……….whatever you take notice of, you get more of……….. this will ensure that getting ready every morning for school will take ages, and be a drama and you will be nagging.  Change your response and for the first couple of tries expect their behaviour to get worse as, this is not the game you both usually play.  So if they increase the ‘bad’ behaviours finally you’ll notice and do what you usually do.  After a few days or goes and with your comments on what they are doing that’s right, they will start the ‘good’ behaviours regularly, which is exactly what you are doing.

Most parents want to know about sibling fighting, and this is a good example of ….if it is dangerous then you need to remove the danger….baseball bat, scissors etc, to be put away when access is not possible again.  Then you need to ask yourself “do I want this to be repeated?” if no, then no looking, touching, listening and noticing.  In short do not get involved.  It will escalate again with the purpose to draw you in, eventually they think you will get involved and ‘sort things out’.  Remove yourself completely, when the audience is gone it will fizz out.  Later on this is a topic you need to discuss, with how to handle anger, or say with words what is the problem and choose a different response.  Although most sibling fighting (apart from bullying) is designed to involve you.  So make sure that your notice the absence of fighting, getting along well, peaceful dinners and car drives.

There is the parent that tries ‘to be a really good parent’ and by that I mean they are on top of their kids behaviour, don’t do this….don’t do that…the instructions are endless….. their heart and purpose is in the right place but they have never learnt the ‘kids do whatever you take notice of game’ they are playing ‘the I’m going to make you do it game’ they become frustrated, worn out and keep thinking there must be a better way.  Well there is and this is it.  One of the best benefits of this is that your interactions with your child is always positive and you all develop a great relationship, based on praise not one of conflict, frustration, defiance and fighting.



Nicole Pierotti

Written by Nicole Pierotti

© Copyright 2012. No reprinting or publishing without permission from writer. For permission or further information contact

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