NEED A PARENTING BOOK?
Parenting books vary in depth, range and accuracy relative to research. The research on changing children's behavior is quite extensive, so the best parenting books use this; that is, incorporate the body of studies into their descriptions of bad behaviors and what parents should do.
Unfortunately, parenting books also tend to limit themselves to specific topics. For example, most of them deal with common kid problems, like how to get a child to go to bed on time, how to do homework and turn it in, how to get along with siblings, etc. This is OK as far as it goes. It tends to be superficial, not focusing on the principles that underlie actual change.
What are those principles? The most important is to honor the child's good qualities and later use those to shape new behavior(s). This is actually two processes in one. If we think of children's behavior as purposeful, then even bad behavior has a goal. Our aim is to figure what that goal is. Sometimes, it is about simply expressing anger. Sometimes, it is about revenge. Sometimes, it is manipulative; that is, there is some indirect maneuver going on that is not immediately apparent. If we figure out what the goal of the bad behavior is, it is an easy next step to turn that around and use the second dynamic to short-circuit it.
No matter how badly behaved a child is, there is always something good about that child. Even the most severely mentally ill, acting out little brat is operating according to some need, or feeling or idea. The chances are very, very good that once discovered, and most importantly, articulated, that need, feeling or idea will lessen the intensity if not stop a lot of the bad behavior. If positive qualities are then layered into the conversation, usually the child will respond in uncharacteristic ways, often counter to the previous bad behavior. It is a kind of one-two punch that undermines the negativity of the behavior. It derails the negative need, feeling or idea, supplanting it (or them) with ego-supportive feedback.
The choice of which good qualities to "deliver" at this critical junction is what the parenting books should discuss. They usually do not because they are too fixated on just what words to say to get the child to conform. (This is content-based parenting, not process-based, which is the subject of this article.) An important point is that at this point, the child is less defensive and therefore more open to deeper level (process) communication. The wise parent, at this critical point, injects feedback about the child's positive behavior, but about the specific positive behaviors that are the opposite of the problem negative behaviors. Why?
As a child psychologist, I frequently ask parents what is the opposite of "yelling," since that is a behavior lot of kids like. Most parents reflexively say, "Not yelling." This is incorrect. Sleeping is not yelling, but it has nothing to do with yelling. The correct answer is "talking quietly." The idea is to use the presence of positive behaviors to neutralize the negative behavior, not to use the absence of the negative behavior. (Kids do not understand the latter.) Which positive behaviors the parents use to offset the negative dynamics are crucial. Wise parents choose the positive opposite of the negative behavior and zap their kid with love and compliments at just the right moment (when their defenses are down after articulating their need, feeling or thought). This usually meets the underlying need, redirects the behavior and fortifies alternate, positive behavior.
In my ebook, I have written extensively about his dynamic and the specifics on how to create such an experience with children. It is based on all the latest research plus my over twenty five years as a child psychologist.
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