"How many times do I have to tell you to do that?"
"How many times do we have to go over this?"
"How many times are you going to do that?"
"How many times are we going to talk about the same thing over and over?"
If I had a dollar for every time those words have fallen out of my mouth!
Can ya relate?
As parents, as teachers, there's a good chance we have said these things over and over and over and over.
Always wondering if the kids in our lives will ever "learn the lesson" and change their behavior.
When I started learning more about brain development in children, I realized that all behavior is a language. We just have to know how to interpret that language.
Several researchers have helped us understand that negative behavior is really a sign of stress. When a child's behavior is frustrating, inappropriate, aggressive, defiant, and just down right difficult, it often indicates that the child is stressed.
Kids can be stressed for a multitude of reasons: biological changes, environmental changes, lack of knowledge, fears or worries, trauma, the list goes on and on.
Our job, as adults, is to understand how to help kids navigate that stress. First and foremost, we have to understand that their behavior is not a coup to make us crazy. It's a call for help.
Several years ago, when I was learning about how stress can impact brain development, I learned the important lesson of REPETITION. Basically, a kiddo will engage in a behavior until a need is met or a new behavior is learned. In order to learn a new behavior, there has to be the opportunity for multiple repetitions of that behavior.
Sounds simple, repetition, yet, there is much to unpack. Hang in there with me.
Merriam-Webster defines repetition as, "the act or an instance of repeating or being repeated."
Think of how many times the baby cries. Then, we pick up the baby and soothe her. We do this action thousands of times, over and over. Through that repetition, the baby learns she can depend on the comfort and love of a parent when dysregulated.(Remember, dysregulated means lacking control or management of one's emotions.)
Think of when a toddler learns how to walk. He stands up, takes a step, falls down. Stands up, takes a step, falls down. Over and over. Until he has mastered the ability to take several steps. Probably in that repetition, a caregiver is giving all sorts of praise for each task accomplished.
Think of when a child learns language. She babbles. We say, "Mama" or "Dada," and encourage her to repeat the sounds. Over and over. Eventually, she learns the words. Then, she strings more together, after thousands of repetitions.
We easily identify these developmental stepping stones and realize the importance repetition when it comes to infants and toddlers.
However, we struggle to understand the importance of repetition in OTHER stages of development. My observation is that once kids have language skills we, as adults, have an unspoken expectation that they will do what we ask/tell/request/say with perfection. We give kids very little grace in learning.
In reality, kids need LOTS of repetitions to learn LOTS of various things.
Here's something really cool that I've learned in my therapist journey.
When we allow kids to have multiple repetitions while they are regulated, those repetitions will make more of an impact on changing the behavior. When we role play or practice the "correct" behavior with kids, this is less stressful than trying to teach a new behavior in the heat of correcting a negative one.
However, when a child is dysregulated, those repetitions don't carry as much weight, because they are occurring in the part of the brain that's stressed.
This experience of repetition is also impacted by how we, as adults, show up. When we, as parents, offer correction in a dysregulated manner, we also impact the weight of that repetition. When we're stressed, our kids are stressed. Thus, that repetition won't carry as much learning because a kiddo's stress response system is activated and they are less able to learn.
The best case scenario is a regulated parent practicing a new skill with a regulated child while allowing the child to have multiple repetitions. This goes for children of all ages.
Is this making any sense?!
Let me give you an example.
I was part of an email string this week that involved parents and the educational team of my client. The client was struggling to engage in appropriate play with same-aged peers at recess. There were several suggestions thrown out on how to support this kiddo. Yet, we were missing the part where she needs practice!! There was an assumption that by suggesting to the student what to do and how to do, mastery will take place, and the student will execute the plan. That's just not reality.
The reality is we have to model, teach, scaffold, role play, and co-regulate the student for multiple repetitions before there is success that occurs.
We were able to discuss this as a team and I'm hopeful this client will have success on the playground.
Now, think of your situation. What behavior is your kiddo presenting with? What would you rather him/her be doing?
Ask yourself the following 5 questions to help change your child's behavior:
Do they have this skill?
Does this skill need to be taught?
Has this skill been taught when everyone is feeling calm and safe?
Or, has it been taught when we are all stressed out?
Has this kiddo had enough repetitions to master and execute the skill?
Once you see the importance of repetition, it will show up everywhere! You will also start taking your kiddo's behavior less personally.
Most kiddos need more repetitions to change behavior. When we adults understand this, we can provide them the opportunity to practice more.
Drop me an email at [email protected] and tell me which behavior in your kiddo's life needs more repetitions!! I can't wait to hear from you.
Go Be You,
P.S. Tune into my Facebook page this week for an update about this week's Community of Connection on Wednesday at 11am.