Parenting – it seems that even those without children have all kinds of advice on how to raise a child. Any parent has likely discovered or tried all sorts of tips and techniques on their own. While some ideas might simply be common sense, research time and again has shown proactive ways to react to behavioral problems as they arise. While some parental responses clearly strengthen the bond between parent and child, other reactions might hurt that relationship, resulting in negative outcomes for years to come.
The following seven tips from a residential treatment center therapist guide parents in what not to do:
Tip 1 – Stress and Fret over Small Stuff
Do not focus on the battles that are not worth winning. Instead, choose your battles wisely and turn a blind eye when it’s not worth it. If a child’s behavior is of minor consequence with short-term effects, such as dropping food on the floor, ignore it. Instead, complimenting positive actions teaches children that positive behavior is a better way to receive attention. However, you should focus on serious behaviors that lead to negative results – drinking, violence, self-harming and similar actions.
Tip 2 – Failing to Follow through on Threats
If you want to guarantee that your kids don’t listen and that they don’t take your threats seriously, promise them a consequence without delivering. Threatening punishment without following up on it makes children believe they can keep engaging in the same behaviors before mom or dad will actually stop them. Help children understand the consequences of their behavior by connecting their infraction to the disobedience.
Instead, if you’ve given a warning and your child acts out again, refusing to comply, implement an immediate consequence so that he or she knows that you mean business. The next time the same infraction occurs, a gentle reminder might be all that’s necessary as the child will remember that you acted the last time.
Tip 3 – Failure to Correctly Administer Time-outs
Similar to the previous point, time-outs need to be administered immediately and quickly in order to be effective. You should remain calm, which can be difficult in the emotion of the moment during discipline. The purpose of a time-out is to give the child time away from all reinforcement. On the other hand, parents might also provide a corresponding “time-in.” Parents model this type of behavior when the child is not in time-out or punished, and includes the type of positive behavior along with praising the child. In other words, the time-outs are as effective as punishment as the time-ins are for positive reinforcement.
Tip 4 – Constantly Offer Indiscriminate Praise
Parents should avoid offering praise for the smallest of items, such as eating a snack or doing something that the child enjoys. On the other hand, behavior that receives the most attention will likely be repeated, according to Alan E. Kazdin, PhD, a Yale University psychology professor and director of the Yale Parenting Center and Child Conduct Clinic. In the same way that constant punishment and emphasizing on bad behavior leads to more of it, parents should focus on the positive actions they want to encourage their child to repeat.
Instead, give specific feedback, focusing on what’s relevant to the problem behavior, reinforcing the praise with a smile or a friendly touch. Save this gesture for specific things the child does that you want to reinforce.
Tip 5 – Failing to Plan Ahead
Anticipating potential problems ahead of time and teaching a child strategies to cope with the requirements of situations when they arise can decrease the chances you’ll need to use time-outs, according to John Lutzker, Ph.D., the director of the Center for Healthy Development at Georgia State University. Finding ways to help children remain engaged instead of allowing them an opportunity to get bored can help both parent and child. If your child has a habit or a routine where you anticipate undesirable behavior showing up, prepare ahead of time in order to avoid problems.
Tip 6 – Failure to Attend to your own Well-being First
David J. Palmiter Jr., Ph.D., author of the book, “Working Parents, Thriving Families,” uses an analogy of airplane take offs for parents who need to take care of themselves. Passengers are always instructed to put on their own oxygen mask before assisting others if the cabin loses air pressure. The same holds true in parenting: remain calm and help yourself first when it comes to physical, emotional and spiritual needs before tending to your children.
Research has shown that a parent’s stress negatively affects children. Psychologists say that when parents demonstrate productive handling of stress, this positively impacts a child’s ability to cope with stress as well as their behavior. Parents should find time for hobbies, friendships, and other activities that might help improve their physical and emotional well-being. You kids pay attention to you, and you can pass on your mood, whether positive and upbeat or depressed or angry.
Tip 7 – Not Bothering to Learn about Child Development
Parents should study up on their child’s development and other aspects of his or her behavior. Understanding the misbehaviors that typically accompany different developmental stages as well as the appropriate milestones for each age can help a parent attend to and praise steps toward those milestones. For example, parents should realize that a toddler will make a mess while eating and is not intentionally acting out. Instead, he or she is learning new skills. This insight will help parents experience less frustration and gain realistic expectations about what the child is capable of at each age.
A common thread through each of the previous seven tips is consistency. Eventually, kids learn as they see their parents implement these steps. In addition, parents can effectively reverse patterns of wrong behavior by flipping around negative reactions and turning them into positives.