How do you raise a well-behaved child?
Yelling, bribing, negotiating, punishing or threatening won't change unwanted behaviors because those actions don't teach the desired behavior.
A recent article in The Wall Street Journal called "Smarter Ways to Discipline Children" suggests that parents determine the exact behavior they do want, and recognize it whenever they see it.
According to Timothy Verduin, clinical assistant professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at the Child Study Center, NYU Langone Medical Center, N.Y., "You start praising them and it increases the frequency of good behavior."
There are many forms of praise, but the most effective includes providing specific information with multi-sensory communication. Talk with a touch when telling your child exactly what you see. For example, "I'm happy that you put your dishes in the dishwasher," as you touch a shoulder or kiss a forehead.
Not so simple
If it were that simple to improve behavior with a compliment or recognition of good behaviors, why isn't everyone doing it? According to Alan E. Kazdin, professor of psychology and child psychology at Yale University and director of the Yale Parenting Center, "People's brains have a negativity bias. We pay more attention to when kids misbehave than when they act like angels."
Kazdin recommends, "at least three or four instances of praise for good behavior is needed for every timeout that a kid gets. For young children, praise needs to be effusive and include a hug or some other physical affection." That is effective, multi-sensory communication.
Impatience can cause parents to move too quickly when a vague directive has been given and their child does not respond. Verduin, who practices parent-child interaction therapy, recommends giving a clear, precise directive and then counting to five before giving another directive. Children often are slow to move, so it is helpful when parents plan for enough or extra time, enabling their child to be successful.
I remember Mr. Rogers, who sang, "I like to take my time." He sang it very slowly, and with a smile.
When I became impatient I thought of him singing that song through the heart of a child.
It helped me to realize that, in order to remain patient, thoughtful and on time, I needed to provide the time that my children needed.
Voice of reason or acts of punishment
Reason doesn't work, says Kazdin. "Reason doesn't change behavior." It's not reasonable to eat cookies just before dinner, nor is it reasonable to steal, lie or fight with a sibling, but children continue to do so, even after they have been reasoned with. Reasoning with a child doesn't work, just as reasoning with adults is ineffective. As Kazdin suggested, if reasoning worked, adults would stop smoking because they know it will kill them. Kazdin also found that harsh punishments cause noncompliance and aggression.
"Spanking has been linked to aggressive behavior in kids and anger problems and increased marital conflict later on in adulthood."
That profound research seemingly links harsh punishment to long-term conflict, perhaps contributing to divorce.
There are so many positive, successful ways to reach and teach without yelling or harsh punishment.
Remove to remediate, which helps a child stabilize faster by removing him from the stimulus environment or audience. No yelling or battles required, just remove your child to a different, quiet environment.
Say less and do more is effective in addressing an immediate behavior, because no talking means no yelling or threats from you, and your physical presence communicates importance or urgency.
Get up and go, and take your child's hand, offering help to get the job done.
Use when and then for a clear directive, and eliminate negative "don't" and "stop" words.
The research is in. Walk off the battlefield and parent with a purpose.
Diana Boggia, M.Ed., is a parenting coach who lives in Stark County, Ohio. She is author of "Parenting with a Purpose." Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or The Repository, c/o Family Matters, 500 Market Ave. S., Canton, OH 44702.
Find parenting resources at www.yourperfectchild .com.