Playing the Behaviour Game – what games are your kids playing when it comes to behaviour?  What game are you as a parent playing?  They play the ‘I’ll do whatever you take notice of game” and we play the “I’m going to make you do it game” So how do we use their game to our advantage?

I was chatting with a friend the other day and our conversation was focused on how tricky it is to be a parent and how afterwards you are much wiser to the unknown games kids somehow get you to play without you realizing.

She was telling me a story of about how her son aged 3 had learnt a new word.  Nothing too bad but not one you would particularly want to hear coming out of their mouth.  Anyway she was recounting how every time he said this word she would say ‘Don’t say that word!’ and he would immediately repeat it and it went on and on.  Try as she did she couldn’t eliminate it from his vocabulary.

One day Grandad looked after him for all of 1 hour and upon returning home she heard Grandad say ‘Remember, don’t tell your mum the word I told you’.  Which was met with an instant exclamation of ‘Jimminy Cricket’. The new word.  Mum immediately got with the game and said ‘Don’t say that word!’ which her son gleefully repeated and repeated.  She stopped saying anything to the other undesirable word and within a month all was forgotten.

As we can see, Grandad was so clever!  He heard his grandson say the ‘other’ word and rather than make a drama or pay it any attention he promptly said nothing and cleverly moved on teach ‘another’ word.  Which the child didn’t know if it was naughty or not but he continued to repeat and repeat it until the original was lost in the new drama.

Ah, the power we hold over our kids by simply using our attention.  Most of the time we underestimate dramatically just how powerful our attention can be.  Parents need to harness this power and use it to their benefit while being careful not to inadvertently fall into any games we really don’t want to be part of.

I find it is easy to remember that if you, the parent, starts to play the ‘I’m going to make them do it!’ game, then chances are your going to lose in some way because by making them do it you are paying attention and it becomes a drama, just what your child wants. It is important to remember that for kids it doesn’t matter if the attention they get from you is good – kisses, cuddles, praise or bad – angry, annoyance.  To them it is simply attention from you and you are so important to them.

Children play the ‘If you take notice, I’ll do it again’ game.  Now you can see how this ends up going around and around just like my friend and her son.  The more she said ‘don’t say it’ the more he said it.  Not for the word but for his mums attention.  Regardless of whether mum was happy or annoyed.

So you need to play their game and do it better than your kids and focus on what you do want and what behaviours you want to encourage!

Related Articles:

Toddler Demands

Q&A: Two Year Old Tantrums

How to Stop Biting Behaviours

Kids & Behaviour

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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