About 15 years ago, my husband and I adopted a dog. We soon realized we needed help managing a variety of challenging puppy behaviors, so we signed up for a dog-training class, eager to train our dog and change her problematic habits.
To our surprise, the dog-training class was less about training our dog and more about training us. Its focus was teaching us how to think like a dog, how to interpret what dogs do, and how to interact with her so that she would learn positive behaviors.
Most importantly, we learned that to change our dog's behavior, we had to change our behavior first. And that is a lesson we can apply to our relationships with people, too.
As a psychologist and parent coach, I work with many moms and dads hoping to change some aspect of their children's behavior, from whining and tantrums to aggressiveness and power struggles. But, while it's tempting to look at what our children do wrong and see the solution as fixing them, that approach ignores a key principle of change in relationships.
I like to think of relationships as a dance. If one person changes their steps, the other person must also change theirs. This is especially true with our children.
So I tell my clients all the same thing: you are the instrument of change. If you want someone else to change, start by changing yourself.
For example, I had a client who felt that her kids weren't listening to her. She had to constantly repeat herself and often resorted to yelling at them to get their attention. I asked her to begin the process of change by observing how she contributed to the problem.
She realized that she was unintentionally teaching her kids to ignore her until she yells. How? By asking again and again, she was sending her kids the message that she can be ignored until she gives up - "She didn't really mean it" -- or she yells -"Now she means it." The answer was to stop repeating herself and let her kids deal with the consequences.
So, the next time you find yourself wishing your kids would whine less, listen more, and so on, remember that to change your kids, you have to start by changing yourself.
With a Perspective, I'm Dr. Erica Reischer.
Erica Reischer is a psychologist, author and parent coach in Oakland. She is also a mother of two.