There’s an old proverb that says to train up a child in the way that he should go, and when he is old he won’t depart from it. I never really thought much about that proverb until my third year of teaching. It was then I discovered that training was the secret to good behavior! I learned that if I would spend time training my students exactly what they should and should not do for each specific circumstance, I could avoid the vast majority of behavior problems.
I used that same principal of training when I raised my twin boys. I would train them how to behave at bedtime, clean-up time, shopping, etc. And I did with Training Sessions.
In this article, I want to explain how to train a child using a Training Session. For illustration purposes, I’ll use the simple example of training your children to rinse off their dishes after a meal.
The first rule of a Training Session is to schedule it at a neutral time, when all is calm, and no one is upset. So if you’re training your children what to do at bedtime, don’t do it at night when everybody is tired and cranky. Do it in the morning or afternoon.
Here are the 8 parts of a Training Session:
1. Give specific instructions with a demonstration.
The first thing you do during a Training Session is to give your children verbal instructions telling them exactly what you want them to do. Be very specific. Tell them what they should AND should not do. Then, demonstrate the correct behavior.
So, when training how to rinse off their dishes after a meal, show your children exactly what to do. Do you want them to use a sponge when rinsing off their plate? Where should they set the plate when they’re finished? In the sink? Beside the sink? Where should they put their silverware and glass? Demonstrate exactly how you expect it done.
2. Inform your children of the exact consequence they will receive for not performing the correct behavior.
Having a pre-planned consequence is great for both the parent and children. For the parent, you’ll be able to calmly and rationally dispense the consequence since you’ve already planned it out. For the children, they’ll know exactly what’s going to happen to them if they break the rules. Getting the consequence will be their choice. If they choose to disobey, they choose to receive the consequence.
For our dish rinsing example, the consequence for leaving their plate on the table might be that they have to wash off everyone else’s dishes at the next meal.
3. Ask lots of questions to make sure the correct behavior is understood.
Ask questions like, “Where are you suppose to set your plate after you’ve rinsed it off? Where do you set your silverware? What is your consequence for forgetting to carry in your dishes?”
4. Practice the correct behavior over and over.
Have your children practice carrying in their dishes. Have them practice rinsing off the dishes with the correct sponge and setting them in the right spot.
5. Praise and acknowledge correct behavior.
Be sure to get excited and give lots of praise when they do the task correctly.
6. Supervise and inspect to make sure the good behavior is carried out.
Supervision and inspection are key. Your children need to know that you will definitely be checking that they did what they were supposed to do! So when training to rinse off their dishes, always inspect to see that they did indeed carry in their dishes and rinse them thoroughly.
7. Enforce any consequence incurred.
Enforcing the pre-determined consequence is very important. For training to be effective, you must follow through with your word! No need to warn them – you already did in the Training Session. So the first time they ever leave their dishes on the table, enforce the consequence. Make them carry in and rinse off EVERYONE’S dishes. If you consistently follow through on consequences, the poor behavior will eventually be extinguished.
8. Review the rules often.
It's amazing how simply reviewing the rules before a certain activity will help children do the right thing. So before a meal is over, remind them of what to do. Be sure to also mention what will happen if they leave any dishes on the table.
After the initial Training Session, all you’ll have to do is simply remind your children of exactly what is expected before each activity. This constant instruction will internalize the proper way to behave. Review how you expect your child to act at bedtime, mealtime, playtime, clean-up time, etc. By hearing and practicing right behavior frequently, good behavior will soon become a way of life.
Find out more details of how to raise well-hehaved children in my book Proactive Discipline: A Parent’s Guide.