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How to Target Behaviors You Want to Change

Updated: Sep 12, 2019

By Rachel Martin, AMFT

Supervised by Marté J. Matthews, LMFT

Are you stuck in the same arguments with your child, over and over? When your child walks in the door frowning (which seems like always), is your first thought “Here we go again.” Do you mentally put on your armor before trying to wake them up in the morning? Being stuck in a cycle of arguing, yelling, slamming doors and hating time spent together seems unavoidable sometimes. You don’t even know where to begin to change things. You literally can’t say anything that doesn’t lead to another argument.

Peace in your home is possible. It doesn’t seem like it right now, but there is a way. It’s not easy, especially when you’re trying to do it on your own. You will need help figuring out how and where to begin. First, take a moment to imagine a peaceful interaction with your child. Now, notice how you feel: have your shoulders relaxed a bit? Perhaps you notice that your jaw aches from holding it clenched. Flex your hands to shake off some of the tightness.

Once you feel a little more relaxed, you’ll be able to step back more calmly to find the patterns to the arguments. When you slow down and shake off some of your own anger, you might be able to see more clearly what it is your child actually wants when they’re arguing with you. No, it’s not just about more screen time (although that is a powerful motivator). Sometimes they actually want to have some sort of interaction with you, your attention, even if it is screaming. Sometimes they don’t know better ways to ask for want they want or don’t want. Figuring out the function or purpose of your child’s behaviors is a step toward a peaceful home. Usually oppositional and defiant behaviors are either a demand or an escape, which means your child wants something or wants to avoid something. Determining which one can be tricky! That’s where an outside perspective can be really helpful. Once we figure out what children actually want, then we’ve got a path to begin to change things.

To get started on your path to a peaceful home, join Rachel Martin, AMFT for CFCG’s next class at the Campbell Public Library: When Everything is A Battle. This series of three class is open to parents who want to find ways to make family life a little easier.


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