Monday, February 8, 2010

Understanding Attitudes and How To Change Them

"Attitude" is a shorthand term used to summarize many different feelings, thoughts, and behaviors all at the same time. Various triggers provoke attitudes and simply hearing a word or seeing a signal can change a person's perspective. All Mom has to do is say Derek?! with that certain voice, for instance, and Derek knows she is going to ask him to do something. He responds with a disgusted groan.

Victoria gets to school and sees a pink slip taped to her locker again. She doesn't even read it but rolls her eyes and moans, knowing that it's a call to the office. Triggers like these quickly move people into attitudes that in part determine how they’ll respond to a situation.

Attitudes actually have three components: behavior, emotion, and beliefs. Each of these components can be useful in the change process. The behavior is the flag that tells you there’s a problem. Emotion adds energy to the situation and helps to determine when’s the best time to address the issue, and the beliefs tell you what needs to be addressed on a heart level.

Many parents only focus on the first component, behavior, telling kids to "stop pouting," or "Don't roll your eyes at me." Furthermore, these parents tend to focus only on what not to do instead of what the child should do. It usually isn't helpful just to tell a child to "Stop having a bad attitude" without giving more guidance for developing a better response.

Remember that the goal of discipline is not just to make your children less annoying. As you correct your children for bad attitudes, you are preparing them for the future. After all, they will experience similar situations continually throughout their lives.

Look for ways to help your children think differently. Listening carefully to your child can help you identify thinking errors that lead to a bad attitude. What hidden belief might Jeremy, age ten, have? He complains and argues when you ask him to do the dishes? Maybe he believes, "Chores are an interruption to my life and not my responsibility." If pressed, he may also reveal a belief, "All work is hard and unpleasant, and I must try to avoid it." A positive attitude about work comes from several new values such as "Work is necessary in order to brings benefits to me and to others" and "My contribution to family life is a statement of gratefulness for what I have."

Changing attitudes requires exposure to new ways of thinking. You can provoke your children to more healthy attitudes through dialogue, modeling, and correction. But remember, heart change takes time. We can change behavior quickly, but heart change goes deeper and lasts longer.
Have you discovered ways to adjust attitudes in your children, or even in yourself? Share what works for you.
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This parenting tip comes from the book Good and Angry, Exchanging Frustration for Character in You and Your Kids by Dr Scott Turansky and Joanne Miller, RN,BSN.
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