Tag Archives: parenting tips

“Shall We Dance?” How Parents Can Work Together to Teach Kids About Race

Family dancing together

 

This is the fifth in a series of blog posts that the American Psychological Association (APA) will publish regarding racial/ethnic socialization practices, programs, and approaches. APA is putting together a clearinghouse of resources to help parents/caregivers to protect youth of color and themselves from the psychological damage of discrimination and racism. For more information regarding APA’s new initiative and to provide feedback as we continue to engage in this series, please visit: www.apa.org/pi/res

 

By Shawn C. T. Johnson, PhD (Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Pennsylvania)

 

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In the world of reality contest shows, are any more fun than those that center around dancing? On shows such as Dancing with the Stars (above), individuals with varying levels of talent pair up with others—sometimes as novice, sometimes advanced—to practice and eventually perform a set routine.  If you have ever watched these shows, you can appreciate the time and effort it takes to get the count right, keep rhythm etc.

 

As a racial-ethnic socialization (RES) scholar, watching these shows has also gotten me to think about another dance that goes on (and is often unnoticed) for many parents: working together to teach their child how to navigate a racialized world. Unlike faulty steps meaning the difference between staying on a show and going home, the stakes for effectively providing your child with affection, protection, and correction, as Dr. Howard Stevenson describes it, are much higher. Yet, while we often consider racial socialization one of the most critical parenting practices, there is not much that exists to help parents think through how their individual and collective skills, what they bring to the dance, can have important consequences for safeguarding their children physically, mentally, and emotionally.

 

So You Think You Can Dance?

 

Individually, it may be important for each parent to consider their styles and comfort around talking to their children about race. For example, one parent’s experiences with racial discrimination may make them more or less committed to preparing their children for potentially similar experiences. For another parent, they may still be carrying forward the messages that they were taught about race as a child, and these messages may inform how they plan to talk about race. Even experiences such as where parents’ grew up can impact how they think about race and the importance of teaching lessons to their children. So it is crucial to ask your co-parenting partner to share thoughts and feelings on race and RES.

 

It Takes Two…

 

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In addition to what each parent brings to the dance floor independently, how well parents work together impacts how successfully they can teach their children about race. Have you ever seen two capable dancers stumble through a routine? Oftentimes it has to do with a lack of communication. The most seamless routines are often found when communication is open and frequent. For RES, like dancing, this can mean using verbal or non-verbal means to let your partner know where you are going.

 

Another element of effectively navigating RES may center on discussions of role-taking or leads. Have you discussed who might be the one to teach your child what to do if they get stopped by the police, or is called a racial slur?

 

No Parking on The Dance Floor

 

source

 

Even once parents are able to work together to get into a groove that includes mutual understanding and open communication, it is important to also take a look at what is going on in you and your child’s world. Very skilled dancers may still find it difficult to be successful on a dance floor that is too crowded, and communication may become difficult if the music is too loud. Does the neighborhood or school your child inhabits make having these conversations more critical? How do the current political climate and exposure to social media change the ways in which your maneuver? How do other important people—grandparents, stepparents, and fictive kin— fit in with how we are teaching our children about race?

 

While RES unfortunately does not come with an instructional dance guide, and there may not be just the “right moves”, working together to teach your children about race is achievable. Share experiences and perspectives on race; support one another in co-creating an approach to talking about race; and accommodate one another when disagreements about how to proceed inevitably arise.

 

So tonight, perhaps after watching the latest episode of DWTS, you can pull up APA’s RESilience Parent Tip Tool, and ask your co-parent, “Can we have this dance?”

 

Biography:

 

Shawn C. T. Jones, PhD, is a National Science Foundation SBE Postdoctoral Fellow in the Human Development and Quantitative Methods division at the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education. Currently, Shawn works with Dr. Howard Stevenson in the Racial Empowerment Collaborative (REC), which centers on applied research to promote racial literacy and empower families as a means of reducing the deleterious impact of race-related stress. He received his doctorate in Clinical Psychology with a Child and Family emphasis from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and was a Child Clinical Psychology Pre-doctoral intern at UCLA’s Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior. During his time at UNC, Shawn was both a Ford Foundation Predoctoral and Dissertation Fellow. Shawn also holds a Master of Health Science in Mental from Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health (2010) and a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from Duke University (2008).

Dr. Jones endeavors to impact the psychosocial wellbeing of Black youth and their families by: a) exploring mechanisms undergirding culturally-relevant protective and promotive factors; b) translating basic research into interventions that harness the unique strengths of the Black experience; and c) disseminating this research to be consumed, critiqued and enhanced by the communities the work intends to serve. Clinically, Dr. Jones is committed to the provision of culturally-informed child, couple and family therapy and assessment. Finally, Dr. Jones is passionate about eliminating racial health disparities, particularly those related to mental health services, which he sees as obtainable through stigma-reduction and mental health literacy interventions.


Filed under: Children and Youth, Culture, Ethnicity and Race Tagged: children's mental health, ethnic identity, parenting, parenting tips, racial and ethnic socialization, racial discrimination, racial identity, racial socialization, resilience

“But Daddy, Why Was He Shot?”: How to Talk to Children about Race Today

Facts of Life

This is the first in a series of blog posts that the American Psychological Association (APA) will publish regarding racial/ethnic socialization practices, programs, and approaches. APA is putting together a clearinghouse of resources to help parents/caregivers to protect youth of color and themselves from the psychological damage of discrimination and racism. For more information regarding APA’s new initiative and to provide feedback as we continue to engage in this series, please visit: www.apa.org/pi/res

 

By Riana Anderson, PhD (Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Pennsylvania)

 

Whenever there is news of a criminal’s non-indictment for violence committed against Black people, I run to Facebook to assess the pulse of my friends and colleagues. It’s a phenomenon that started the day after George Zimmerman was found not guilty in the murder of Trayvon Martin. My newsfeed was ablaze with the desperate, despondent, and disastrous beliefs of current and hopeful parents.

 

“It almost seems irresponsible now to have and raise a child of color in this country.”

“Deeply saddened. Disappointed. What is the message for my sons, cousins…don’t go outside?”

“…I love you and I am scared as you guys get older.”

 

All parents are concerned for their children’s safety, but parents of color shoulder a particularly challenging burden raising children in a racially charged society. In particular, the messages and behaviors that parents express to their children regarding race are known as Racial/Ethnic Socialization (RES). Much has been written on RES —formal review articles, blogs, more blogs, and even more blogs—but at a time when racial conflict is especially visible via social and mass media, caregivers may be wondering what is best to say to children of color.

 

Although no magic formula exists for helping children of color get through the racial dynamics of our society, here are a few things that research tells us are useful:

 

1. Talking is both said and unsaid

You may believe that you have said all the things you want to say to your child, especially the things the research indicates most parents of color say to their children—cultural socialization (or pride), preparation for bias, promotion of distrust, and equality—but have you also noticed what you are not saying to them? If the TV is on and you are full of emotion, do you explain to your child what it is that is making you so scared and frustrated? RES is not just the explicit sharing of messages, it is also implicit—what we don’t say is just as important as what we do say. This is true for actions too – what we do and don’t do both provide models for our children. Children are always watching (and parents thought they had eyes in the back of their head!), so be mindful of what they see and how you explain your actions.

 

2. You have to start somewhere

Sometimes, parents can be so paralyzed by our own frustrations or fears that it is challenging to talk to our children about race. Some parents may even feel like bringing up race can add to the anxiety that our children feel about racial experiences. On the contrary, the majority of research shows that there are some great benefits to instilling pride and preparing both children and adolescents of color for the bias they will face. Children of color often have better psychological, physiological, and academic outcomes when parents use some combination of pride and preparation. We think of it this way – if a flight attendant prepares passengers for plane crashes, wouldn’t it be just as logical for parents to prepare children for the sting of discriminatory experiences that the majority of Black people report facing throughout their lifetime?

 

3. Do you understand your own stress?

Just as my peers indicated in their Facebook posts several years ago, a very real fear may exist in communicating with our children about racial encounters. Oftentimes, parents have unresolved stress and trauma ourselves, so asking us to provide assistance for our children can be challenging. Prior to talking to your children, it may be useful to talk to your partner, parent, friend, or therapist about how you feel.

If we as parents are not attuned to our feelings on racial matters, we may be unconsciously communicating our discomfort to our children. Indeed, children who receive more frequent messages of distrust (which can be a generalization from a personal or communicated experience) and/or equality (which may just be avoidance of racial topics for some parents) have less consistent well-being outcomes relative to their peers who receive pride and preparatory messages. Although it is important to start somewhere with our children, we may have to start with ourselves first.

 

Since very young children can detect differences in race and start to make meaning of those differences, it is important for caregivers to be prepared to have open and honest dialogue about the history, present-day practices, and future hopes for race in our society.

 

To learn more about APA’s new initiative on racial and ethnic socialization (RES), please visit http://www.apa.org/pi/res and watch the video below:

 

Questions for you to consider:

  • What are my personal beliefs about racism and discrimination today?
  • How is my child being impacted by the racial climate around him/her?
  • In what ways am I addressing both my and my child’s concerns about race?
  • What resources would help me to feel comfortable and confident in addressing race issue with my child?

 

Don’t miss our Twitter chat!

Join the conversation! APA will cohost a Twitter chat (#kidstalkrace) on the benefits of parents having healthy conversations on race with kids on July 28, 2017 from 4 to 5 PM (ET): http://vite.io/kidstalkrace

Resilience _KidsTalkRace Flyer 2.png

 

Biography:

 

Riana Anderson, PhD, is a Ford Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow in the Applied Psychology and Human Development Division (APHD). Her current fellowship is with Dr. Howard Stevenson in the Racial Empowerment Collaborative (REC), which centers on cultural pride, coping and parenting, culturally specific parenting strategies, and other ways of reducing race-related stress. She received her doctorate in Clinical and Community Psychology at the University of Virginia and was a Clinical and Community Psychology Pre-doctoral Fellow at Yale University’s School of Medicine. Dr. Anderson graduated from the University of Michigan in 2006 with degrees in Psychology and Political Science. She then taught for 2 years with Teach For America in Atlanta, GA. She has also conducted community based participatory research at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore, MD, and neuropsychological research at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C.

Dr. Anderson aims to assist at-risk youth with practical applications of her research and clinical services, as well as through academic instruction and policy recommendations. She strives to improve the psychological outcomes for African American youth through expanded coping strategies, discovery and encouragement of alternative outcomes, culturally and contextually relevant parenting programs, and community building, participation, and collaboration. One of her goals is to create youth centers and interventions that support the mental and physical health— as well as educational goals—of African American youth in urban communities.


Filed under: Children and Youth, Culture, Ethnicity and Race Tagged: children's mental health, ethnicity, parenting, parenting tips, race, racial bias, racial discrimination, racial identity, racism, resilience

Are You Talking to Parents About Keeping Guns Away from Children? 5 Reasons You Absolutely Should

A small child staring at a hand gun within reach on a table

By Clinton W. Anderson, PhD (Interim Executive Director, Public Interest Directorate, American Psychological Association)

Psychologists are recognized as having important knowledge about psychological health and development. That is why parents routinely seek our advice on a wide range of issues affecting their children’s well-being. However, protecting children from gun violence is a rarely broached topic. June 21 is National ASK (Asking Saves Kids) Day. Launched in 2000 by the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence and the American Academy of Pediatrics, the ASK campaign reminds health professionals, parents, and caregivers of the importance of asking if there are unlocked guns in the homes where children live and play.

 

Once this question is asked, a frank discussion about protecting children from the dangers of gun violence can begin. Although the conversation may be awkward, having it could potentially save their child’s life. And yes, psychologists and other health professionals are well within their rights to do so. A federal appeals court in Florida recently ruled that state laws prohibiting doctor-patient discussions of guns violated the First Amendment. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that doctors and nurses address firearm safety as part of their routine guidance with patients and parents.  As psychologists, we have extensive education and training that equip us to understand and communicate the dangers of guns in the home. Regardless of our areas of expertise or professional setting, we have a vital role to play.

Here’s why:

1. Firearm safety is a public health issue:

Gun violence has leached into every aspect of our American way of life. It occurs in every setting whether Americans are at work, at play, at worship, at school, or at home. Our efforts to prevent gun violence need to be informed by the best evidence.

2. Children often have far too easy access to guns:

Parents should be aware that guns are like Christmas presents – kids will find them no matter how well hidden they are. Many parents have unrealistic expectations about their kids’ behavior toward guns. High-quality research shows that training kids to stay away from or not handle guns does not work. We must communicate to parents that the best preventive measure against gun injury or death among children is removing guns from the household entirely.

3. Developmental factors contribute to risk of gun violence for children:

Many parents are unaware of the developmental factors that make keeping firearms in the home risky for children. For instance, they underestimate the inquisitiveness of young children who are primed to explore and test boundaries. Many don’t even realize that 2- or 3-year-olds possess the strength to pull a gun’s trigger. Similarly, during the teen years, traits like impulsivity, a sense of invulnerability, and temporary but intense feelings of despondency contribute to risk of firearm use. Some experts counsel that it is best not to have guns at all in a home with teenagers. Psychologists and other health professionals can help parents understand these risk factors.

4. Children with behavioral problems are at greater risk:

Parents with children showing behavioral health problems should consider that these problems may elevate risk of harm when there are accessible firearms in the home.  If they have children or teens with mood disorders, substance abuse (including alcohol), or a history of suicide attempts, encourage them to remove or restrict access to firearms. Arrange for the adult to talk to a psychologist or pediatrician if questions persist.

5. If guns are in the home, they should be treated like all other household dangers:

We routinely tell parents to take precautions to make their homes as safe as possible for their children. We tell them to keep household cleaners, prescription medicines, and even alcohol and cigarettes out of their children’s reach. Households and families with firearms should treat guns the same way.

  • Encourage parents to store all firearms at another location – alternate storage options include:
    • at another licensed gun owner’s home
    • in a secure storage unit
    • in a bonded warehouse for gun storage
  • If adults insist on keeping firearms in the home, emphasize that it is critical to store guns unloaded, in a securely locked location, and with ammunition stored in a separate locked container. One caveat: although locked storage provides some protection, parents should know that it may not prove effective against children’s creativity, curiosity, and persistence.
  • If their child will be spending time in another family’s home, advise parents to ASK whether there are guns in the home, and if so, how they are stored before sending their child over to play.

We all have a responsibility to reduce the risk of gun violence in America, particularly for our youngest citizens. It starts with you:

 

Acknowledgments:

I would like to thank Susan Sorenson, PhD, (Director, Evelyn Jacobs Ortner Center on Family Violence), and W. Rodney Hammond, PhD, (retired Director of the Division of Violence Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control) for sharing their input and expertise for this blog post.

 

Image source: iStockPhoto


Filed under: Children and Youth, Health and Wellness, Violence Tagged: accidental death, ASK day, children's health, children's mental health, firearm safety, firearm violence, gun safety, gun violence, gun violence prevention, homicide, parenting, parenting tips, public health, suicide

7 Essential Tips to Help You Master Disciplining Your Kids

blog-grusec-how-to-discipline2

This is the fifth in a series of weekly blog posts addressing discipline and parenting practices. In this series, we will explore reasons that parents choose among discipline approaches, the science behind those techniques, and alternative approaches to discipline.

 

By Joan Grusec, PhD (Professor Emerita of Psychology, University of Toronto)

 

Discipline has a significant role to play in what is arguably the world’s most important job—raising children to be moral and responsible members of society. And, not surprisingly, there’s no shortage of advice about how to do it. Type “disciplining children” into a search engine and you’ll get hundreds of thousands of results. If you want a book about parenting and discipline there are thousands to choose from.

Unfortunately, there is also a lot of contradictory advice to choose from—

  • be strict but not too strict,
  • comply with your child’s wishes but don’t give in to them too much.
  • Be a tiger mom, a dolphin mom, a jellyfish mom….

So, what does a substantial body of psychological research, spanning more than 70 years, tell us about the best way to teach moral values to children?

 

Children learn values, both good and bad, from observing other people including their parents, siblings, friends, teachers, and television characters. They learn values, both good and bad, from talking about those values with parents, siblings, friends, and teachers. When children fail to behave well, however, parents have to turn to discipline.

 

Check out the seven tips below:

For discipline to work, children have to be clear about what the rules for good behavior are and they have to be willing to go along with or accept those rules.

 

How should parents make rules clear?

  1. Be consistent—it’s confusing when what was OK yesterday isn’t OK today.
  2. Provide reasons for good behavior that make sense and that the child can understand. Most 4-year-olds won’t comprehend discussions of property rights but they do understand that it feels bad to have your possessions taken without your permission.
  3. Have your child’s full attention. Too much anger and upset (on the part of both parent and child) is not conducive to calm discussion. Wait until tempers have cooled before talking about rules and the reasons for them.
  4. Make sure you don’t end up implicitly condoning unacceptable behavior. For example, in addition to its direct effect on children’s learning of values, discipline provides a model of how to resolve conflict. When your discipline involves calm discussion, exchange of points of view, and explanation, as well as negotiation and compromise if appropriate, you provide a good model for conflict resolution. Discipline that involves yelling, hitting, insulting, or unreasonable requests sends the message that verbal and physical aggression, along with an unwillingness to take into account the other person’s perspective, are acceptable ways to behave.

 

How should you get your children to accept the rules?               

  1. Let them experience appropriate negative consequences but don’t threaten their feelings of autonomy — no one likes to be forced into behaving in a particular way. Autonomy is supported when you:
    • allow choice where reasonable (for example, “you have to eat vegetables but would you prefer spinach or green beans”),
    • provide good reasons for required behavior,
    • try to understand your child’s perspective, and
    • don’t apply more negative consequences than are necessary to promote good behavior.
  2. Be accepting and caring so that your child wants to please you.
  3. Encourage your child to feel empathy by talking about the effects of their actions on others.

 

Biography:

Joan Grusec, PhD, is a Professor Emerita at the University of Toronto. Her research interests throughout her career have focused on discipline and the development of children’s prosocial behavior. She is the author or editor of several books related to the socialization of children, as well as more than 100 book chapters and research publications.

 

Image source: Flickr user Bethany Petrik via Creative Commons


Filed under: Children and Youth Tagged: child behavior, Children, children's mental health, discipline, parenting, parenting skills, parenting tips, positive parenting

Can You Discipline Your Child Without Using Punishment?

blog-kazdin-punishment-discipline

This is the third in a series of weekly blog posts addressing discipline and parenting practices. In this series we will  explore the reasons that parents choose among discipline approaches, the science behind those techniques, and alternative approaches to discipline.

 

By Alan E. Kazdin, PhD, ABPP (Yale University)

 

When we talk about discipline, we usually refer to the efforts by parents and teachers to reduce or eliminate annoying or inappropriate child behaviors. Punishment is designed to suppress or reduce behavior and may appear like the perfect match for these goals.  The term “discipline” includes the notions of instruction but also of punishment.

From the standpoint of psychological science, there is another way to consider the topic of discipline that sidesteps a sole focus on punishment. This approach begins with what we are trying to accomplish – eliminating inappropriate child behaviors and teaching habits and values.  This perspective keeps the same goals, but very much opens up the possible means of achieving these goals without the use of punishment.

 

Punishment in Brief

As a general rule, punishment is not a very effective way of changing behavior, at least in the usual way it is administered. By punishment, I refer to negative consequences after certain behavior (e.g., gentle reprimand, lecture, shouting, or hitting) or removing some positive consequence (e.g., placing the child in time out or away from desirable events, taking away a privilege).

As an aside, gentle, rational, and measured reasoning with a child (e.g., “We do not do that [behavior] in this house,” “What if your sister ruined your toys?” or “You, just violated a Kantian imperative”) are wonderful to teach reasoning and to model parent reasonableness under fire but not very effective as behavior-change techniques.

There are three major concerns relevant to the use of punishment.

 

1. Punishment even at its best, does not develop the positive behavior the parents wish.

That is, it does not teach the child what to do, but may momentarily suppress the undesired behavior.  You can reprimand the child all day for not (choose one: doing homework, practicing a musical instrument, cleaning up her room) but that will not teach her to do homework, to practice, or to clean up.  Developing behavior does not come from merely suppressing unwanted behaviors.

 

2. Punishment often has negative side effects

These effects include trying to escape from or avoid the situation or person associated with punishment, emotional effects (e.g., crying, being upset), and engaging in aggressive behavior. None of the side effects relates to the effectiveness of punishment (e.g., the more upset the child is not any indication of the effectiveness of punishment in suppressing behavior).  Actually, side effects “come on” or occur even with very ineffective punishment.

 

3. The punishment trap can lock in punishment in parent and teacher behavior.

That trap refers to the fact that punishment often stops the behavior immediately — perhaps through startle or interruption. These immediate effects (stopping of the aversive child behavior) help lock in the parent’s behavior (through negative reinforcement). By “locking in” I mean it increases the likelihood that the parent will punish in the future. In fact, the rate of the child’s misbehavior is not changed or improved, but those delayed effects do not override the impact of immediate cessation of behavior.

To be clear, punishing your child’s behavior can have multiple goals. For example, parents often want to teach a lesson, provide a just penalty to match the child’s crime, to be a responsible or “good parent”, or to follow cultural or religious practices.  These goals can be distinguished from changing child behavior.

The goals do not necessarily clash, i.e., eliminating some behavior, but the means really do.  For example, when your child carelessly destroys the family dollhouse that was built by his or her great-great-great (keep adding “greats”) grandfather from Pangaea, the supercontinent, you may want to convey the gravity of the act and punish accordingly.  At this point, a psychologist armed with “evidence-based” punishment might well say, “the science supports use of just a couple minutes of time out or brief loss of a privilege (e.g., computer, videos, bicycle) for a day.” The psychologist is speaking to behavior change but not the many goals that you, as a parent, hope to achieve.

 

So, How to Eliminate Behavior without Punishment

There is no evidence that punishment is really needed to achieve parent goals or to discipline children. That is a stark statement and saying that it has a strong research base is no consolation.

Here is what we know. There are ways of eliminating behavior that involve directly developing and reinforcing behaviors that are opposite to or incompatible with the behavior one wants to eliminate.  The non-technical term is reinforcing positive opposites.  This is based on many technical procedures (several differential reinforcement schedules) that have been well studied in human and nonhuman animal research (see references).  Essentially, the key point is developing the behavior one wishes rather than focusing on what to eliminate.

Consider the table below in which the goals are to change behaviors (left column). A parent or teacher might endlessly make threats, reprimand, lecture, and take privileges away for any one of those.  Yet, these interventions are extremely unlikely to work at all.  A more effective strategy is to develop the behaviors one wants, i.e., developing the positive opposite (right column).

I say “reinforcing” the opposite behavior, but this is not merely administering praise or throwing rewards at the behavior. Changing behavior focuses on antecedents (what comes before the behavior), the behavior (crafting approximations of what you wish), and consequences (usually praise delivered in a special way).  This requires some knowledge about how to craft and develop the behavior, but concrete guidelines are readily available (see the references).

The examples in the table are behaviors in everyday life but at the clinic where I work, we use positive opposites with children referred for aggressive and violent behaviors.

 

What you want to get rid of . . . Positive opposite… 
Siblings fighting over a TV show (or use of a computer game) Sitting and watching TV together nicely (or taking turns with game), without shouting or hitting
Child throwing his clothes all over the floor in his bedroom Placing them in his dresser or closet
Child not doing her homework Sitting quietly at her desk and doing school work for 30 minutes
Child getting out of bed again and again for a drink of water to stretch out bed time Going to bed, getting up no more than once for a drink or bathroom, and remaining in her room
Child arguing and shouting at me whenever I say no to something Expressing anger calmly

  

Where Does Punishment Fit in All of This?

The first point to make is that punishment is invariably the secondary part of any behavior-change effort when trying to “discipline.” That means we begin by identifying the behavior we wish to take the place of the one we want to eliminate.  We now focus on developing that behavior through the use of antecedents and consequences and shaping.  Once that primary focus is in place, mild punishment can be an effective adjunct.

 

Here are key tips for using punishment effectively:

 

1. Emphasize praise and attention for the positive opposite behaviors.  

If you are using brief time out from reinforcement as the punishment, do not expect it to work at all unless you are praising the appropriate behavior you wish during periods when your child is not in time out.

 

2. If punishment is to be used, make it mild and brief.  

Time out of a few minutes (e.g., 5 minutes or thereabouts) or loss of privilege (e.g., for an evening or day or two) is as effective as what you might want to do (e.g., 1 hour of time out; taking away the privilege of going out on dates until your child is 30 years old).

 

3. Explain to your child why he or she should or should not do something.

It is fine and indeed beneficial to do so. This models thinking, reasoning, and the appropriate style of handling a potentially volatile situation.  Yet, it is not likely to impact the frequency of the inappropriate behavior.  The familiar parental refrain, “If I have told you once, I have told you a thousand times” makes perfect sense.  That phrase is in keeping with what we know, namely, telling people to do something (e.g., stop smoking, eat more vegetables, ease up on the fast foods, add broccoli to your diet) does not mean they will do it.  Providing information can help but, done in isolation, it is not a very reliable way to change behavior in most people most of the time.

 

4. Avoid physical punishment. 

It is not more effective and, in fact, moderate to severe application increases the risk for all sorts of undesirable outcomes (e.g., aggressive and antisocial behavior, poor school performance, problems of physical health, damage to the immune system). The uses of physical punishment are influenced by scores of other factors, of course. And often the findings are not relevant to families or compete with what they have experienced (e.g., punishment trap is relevant here).

 

5. Model the behavior you wish to see in your child.  

Modeling is an untapped influence in the home, i.e., showing exactly the behaviors you wish your child to learn. Children copy parents of course, but modeling is not used strategically by parents to teach the behaviors they wish in a systematic way.

 

6. Avoid cliché interventions.

Our media has popularized techniques like “tough love,” “three strikes (misbehaviors) and you are out,” or reasoning that is not really well based in childrearing research (e.g., slippery slope—if I let this go, my child will keep getting worse). These are not interventions that are effective as a general rule, and they actually can make achieving the desired behaviors much more difficult..

 

In summary, what do we know about changing the behavior of children (and others) in the context of discipline?

 

The decision regarding how to discipline children is influenced by many factors and is a privilege and responsibility that comes with parenting. From the standpoint of psychological science, however, the question is, “What are the most effective ways of changing behavior based on research?” Developing positive, prosocial behavior not only develops habits you wish to see, but can eliminate behaviors that interfere with your child’s adjustment and functioning.

If the usual methods are working for your child, i.e., he or she is doing well at home and at school, everyone is satisfied, and there are no risks of untoward side effects for the child, then perhaps you do  not need to resort to methods I have highlighted. On the other hand, these methods can help ease parenting discipline challenges by achieving changes in your child’s behavior more effectively, more quickly, and more enduringly.

Research tells us that good habits, whether it is eating broccoli or flossing or developing positive opposites in relation to discipline, are not compatible with what many people wish to do or believe are advisable practices. For many parents, discipline means punishment and lessons need to be taught. That is understandable.  However, the suggestions I offer are effective in changing behavior and perhaps can be adapted to your personal and cultural views of child-rearing.

 

References:

Kazdin, A.E. (2013). Behavior modification in applied settings (7th ed.). Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press.

Kazdin, A.E., & Rotella, C. (2013). The everyday parenting toolkit: The Kazdin Method for easy, step-by-step lasting change for you and your child. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

 

Biography:

Alan E. Kazdin, PhD, ABPP, is Sterling Professor of Psychology and Child Psychiatry at Yale University and Director of the Yale Parenting Center. He was the 2008 President of the American Psychological Association and is the author of 49 books for professional-audiences on topics of parenting and child rearing, child psychotherapy, cognitive and behavioral treatments, interpersonal violence, and research methods.  His work has been translated in several languages throughout the world.

 

Image source: Flickr user Dolan Holbrook via Creative Commons


Filed under: Children and Youth Tagged: child behavior, discipline, parenting, parenting tips, physical discipline, physical punishment, positive parenting, punishment

Can You Discipline Your Child Without Using Punishment?

blog-kazdin-punishment-discipline

This is the third in a series of weekly blog posts addressing discipline and parenting practices. In this series we will  explore the reasons that parents choose among discipline approaches, the science behind those techniques, and alternative approaches to discipline.

 

By Alan E. Kazdin, PhD, ABPP (Yale University)

 

When we talk about discipline, we usually refer to the efforts by parents and teachers to reduce or eliminate annoying or inappropriate child behaviors. Punishment is designed to suppress or reduce behavior and may appear like the perfect match for these goals.  The term “discipline” includes the notions of instruction but also of punishment.

From the standpoint of psychological science, there is another way to consider the topic of discipline that sidesteps a sole focus on punishment. This approach begins with what we are trying to accomplish – eliminating inappropriate child behaviors and teaching habits and values.  This perspective keeps the same goals, but very much opens up the possible means of achieving these goals without the use of punishment.

 

Punishment in Brief

As a general rule, punishment is not a very effective way of changing behavior, at least in the usual way it is administered. By punishment, I refer to negative consequences after certain behavior (e.g., gentle reprimand, lecture, shouting, or hitting) or removing some positive consequence (e.g., placing the child in time out or away from desirable events, taking away a privilege).

As an aside, gentle, rational, and measured reasoning with a child (e.g., “We do not do that [behavior] in this house,” “What if your sister ruined your toys?” or “You, just violated a Kantian imperative”) are wonderful to teach reasoning and to model parent reasonableness under fire but not very effective as behavior-change techniques.

There are three major concerns relevant to the use of punishment.

 

1. Punishment even at its best, does not develop the positive behavior the parents wish.

That is, it does not teach the child what to do, but may momentarily suppress the undesired behavior.  You can reprimand the child all day for not (choose one: doing homework, practicing a musical instrument, cleaning up her room) but that will not teach her to do homework, to practice, or to clean up.  Developing behavior does not come from merely suppressing unwanted behaviors.

 

2. Punishment often has negative side effects

These effects include trying to escape from or avoid the situation or person associated with punishment, emotional effects (e.g., crying, being upset), and engaging in aggressive behavior. None of the side effects relates to the effectiveness of punishment (e.g., the more upset the child is not any indication of the effectiveness of punishment in suppressing behavior).  Actually, side effects “come on” or occur even with very ineffective punishment.

 

3. The punishment trap can lock in punishment in parent and teacher behavior.

That trap refers to the fact that punishment often stops the behavior immediately — perhaps through startle or interruption. These immediate effects (stopping of the aversive child behavior) help lock in the parent’s behavior (through negative reinforcement). By “locking in” I mean it increases the likelihood that the parent will punish in the future. In fact, the rate of the child’s misbehavior is not changed or improved, but those delayed effects do not override the impact of immediate cessation of behavior.

To be clear, punishing your child’s behavior can have multiple goals. For example, parents often want to teach a lesson, provide a just penalty to match the child’s crime, to be a responsible or “good parent”, or to follow cultural or religious practices.  These goals can be distinguished from changing child behavior.

The goals do not necessarily clash, i.e., eliminating some behavior, but the means really do.  For example, when your child carelessly destroys the family dollhouse that was built by his or her great-great-great (keep adding “greats”) grandfather from Pangaea, the supercontinent, you may want to convey the gravity of the act and punish accordingly.  At this point, a psychologist armed with “evidence-based” punishment might well say, “the science supports use of just a couple minutes of time out or brief loss of a privilege (e.g., computer, videos, bicycle) for a day.” The psychologist is speaking to behavior change but not the many goals that you, as a parent, hope to achieve.

 

So, How to Eliminate Behavior without Punishment

There is no evidence that punishment is really needed to achieve parent goals or to discipline children. That is a stark statement and saying that it has a strong research base is no consolation.

Here is what we know. There are ways of eliminating behavior that involve directly developing and reinforcing behaviors that are opposite to or incompatible with the behavior one wants to eliminate.  The non-technical term is reinforcing positive opposites.  This is based on many technical procedures (several differential reinforcement schedules) that have been well studied in human and nonhuman animal research (see references).  Essentially, the key point is developing the behavior one wishes rather than focusing on what to eliminate.

Consider the table below in which the goals are to change behaviors (left column). A parent or teacher might endlessly make threats, reprimand, lecture, and take privileges away for any one of those.  Yet, these interventions are extremely unlikely to work at all.  A more effective strategy is to develop the behaviors one wants, i.e., developing the positive opposite (right column).

I say “reinforcing” the opposite behavior, but this is not merely administering praise or throwing rewards at the behavior. Changing behavior focuses on antecedents (what comes before the behavior), the behavior (crafting approximations of what you wish), and consequences (usually praise delivered in a special way).  This requires some knowledge about how to craft and develop the behavior, but concrete guidelines are readily available (see the references).

The examples in the table are behaviors in everyday life but at the clinic where I work, we use positive opposites with children referred for aggressive and violent behaviors.

 

What you want to get rid of . . . Positive opposite… 
Siblings fighting over a TV show (or use of a computer game) Sitting and watching TV together nicely (or taking turns with game), without shouting or hitting
Child throwing his clothes all over the floor in his bedroom Placing them in his dresser or closet
Child not doing her homework Sitting quietly at her desk and doing school work for 30 minutes
Child getting out of bed again and again for a drink of water to stretch out bed time Going to bed, getting up no more than once for a drink or bathroom, and remaining in her room
Child arguing and shouting at me whenever I say no to something Expressing anger calmly

  

Where Does Punishment Fit in All of This?

The first point to make is that punishment is invariably the secondary part of any behavior-change effort when trying to “discipline.” That means we begin by identifying the behavior we wish to take the place of the one we want to eliminate.  We now focus on developing that behavior through the use of antecedents and consequences and shaping.  Once that primary focus is in place, mild punishment can be an effective adjunct.

 

Here are key tips for using punishment effectively:

 

1. Emphasize praise and attention for the positive opposite behaviors.  

If you are using brief time out from reinforcement as the punishment, do not expect it to work at all unless you are praising the appropriate behavior you wish during periods when your child is not in time out.

 

2. If punishment is to be used, make it mild and brief.  

Time out of a few minutes (e.g., 5 minutes or thereabouts) or loss of privilege (e.g., for an evening or day or two) is as effective as what you might want to do (e.g., 1 hour of time out; taking away the privilege of going out on dates until your child is 30 years old).

 

3. Explain to your child why he or she should or should not do something.

It is fine and indeed beneficial to do so. This models thinking, reasoning, and the appropriate style of handling a potentially volatile situation.  Yet, it is not likely to impact the frequency of the inappropriate behavior.  The familiar parental refrain, “If I have told you once, I have told you a thousand times” makes perfect sense.  That phrase is in keeping with what we know, namely, telling people to do something (e.g., stop smoking, eat more vegetables, ease up on the fast foods, add broccoli to your diet) does not mean they will do it.  Providing information can help but, done in isolation, it is not a very reliable way to change behavior in most people most of the time.

 

4. Avoid physical punishment. 

It is not more effective and, in fact, moderate to severe application increases the risk for all sorts of undesirable outcomes (e.g., aggressive and antisocial behavior, poor school performance, problems of physical health, damage to the immune system). The uses of physical punishment are influenced by scores of other factors, of course. And often the findings are not relevant to families or compete with what they have experienced (e.g., punishment trap is relevant here).

 

5. Model the behavior you wish to see in your child.  

Modeling is an untapped influence in the home, i.e., showing exactly the behaviors you wish your child to learn. Children copy parents of course, but modeling is not used strategically by parents to teach the behaviors they wish in a systematic way.

 

6. Avoid cliché interventions.

Our media has popularized techniques like “tough love,” “three strikes (misbehaviors) and you are out,” or reasoning that is not really well based in childrearing research (e.g., slippery slope—if I let this go, my child will keep getting worse). These are not interventions that are effective as a general rule, and they actually can make achieving the desired behaviors much more difficult..

 

In summary, what do we know about changing the behavior of children (and others) in the context of discipline?

 

The decision regarding how to discipline children is influenced by many factors and is a privilege and responsibility that comes with parenting. From the standpoint of psychological science, however, the question is, “What are the most effective ways of changing behavior based on research?” Developing positive, prosocial behavior not only develops habits you wish to see, but can eliminate behaviors that interfere with your child’s adjustment and functioning.

If the usual methods are working for your child, i.e., he or she is doing well at home and at school, everyone is satisfied, and there are no risks of untoward side effects for the child, then perhaps you do  not need to resort to methods I have highlighted. On the other hand, these methods can help ease parenting discipline challenges by achieving changes in your child’s behavior more effectively, more quickly, and more enduringly.

Research tells us that good habits, whether it is eating broccoli or flossing or developing positive opposites in relation to discipline, are not compatible with what many people wish to do or believe are advisable practices. For many parents, discipline means punishment and lessons need to be taught. That is understandable.  However, the suggestions I offer are effective in changing behavior and perhaps can be adapted to your personal and cultural views of child-rearing.

 

References:

Kazdin, A.E. (2013). Behavior modification in applied settings (7th ed.). Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press.

Kazdin, A.E., & Rotella, C. (2013). The everyday parenting toolkit: The Kazdin Method for easy, step-by-step lasting change for you and your child. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

 

Biography:

Alan E. Kazdin, PhD, ABPP, is Sterling Professor of Psychology and Child Psychiatry at Yale University and Director of the Yale Parenting Center. He was the 2008 President of the American Psychological Association and is the author of 49 books for professional-audiences on topics of parenting and child rearing, child psychotherapy, cognitive and behavioral treatments, interpersonal violence, and research methods.  His work has been translated in several languages throughout the world.

 

Image source: Flickr user Dolan Holbrook via Creative Commons


Filed under: Children and Youth Tagged: child behavior, discipline, parenting, parenting tips, physical discipline, physical punishment, positive parenting, punishment

A Tale of Two Tantrums

Young boy having a temper tantrum

This is the second in a series of weekly blog posts addressing discipline and parenting practices. In this series, we will explore reasons that parents choose among discipline approaches, the science behind those techniques, and alternative approaches to discipline.

 

By Joan E. Durrant, PhD (Associate Professor of Family Social Sciences, University of Manitoba)

 

Picture this: You are in a store.  Two young children are nearby with their parents.  Each of them suddenly erupts into a tantrum.  Your intense irritation leads you to utter, “What those kids need is some good, old-fashioned discipline!”  In that moment, you want those parents to make those children stop crying and do whatever it is that their parents have told them to do – now!

 

When our emotional brain reacts to an aversive event, it ignites an intense desire to regain control, driving us toward coercion and punishment. This is a reaction to the immediate moment.  Think of it as looking through a camera lens that is ‘zoomed in’ on a small part of the scene, showing you only the irritating behavior.

 

Now ‘zoom out’ to see more of the scene, and what preceded it. You see that one child has had a nasty flu for several days.  You see the other child’s father speaking to her in American Sign Language.  She’s been trying to explain her feelings to him through signs, but he hasn’t understood her.  Your perspective shifts and you realize that these two tantrums are happening for very different reasons: the first because of exhaustion, the second because of frustration.  You quickly realize that punishment wouldn’t help in either situation because it wouldn’t address the actual issues.

 

Interestingly, the Latin root of ‘discipline’ is discere, which means ‘to learn’ or discipere, which means ‘to grasp intellectually.’  Discipline is about learning, understanding, processing, resolving – actions taken by the child, not done to the child.  It is an active state of constructing knowledge.  But how do you foster this when you and the child are both stressed out?

 

1. Think long-term

The way we respond to stress is what the child is learning to do. The child is likely to attend to, process, remember and re-enact our response at a later time. How do you want your child to respond to conflict with peers? Keep this foremost in your mind.

 

 

2. Reduce the stress

Over recent years, we’ve learned about the importance of ‘self-regulation’ – our ability to calm ourselves when we’re upset. When we can calm ourselves, we can zoom out and see more of what’s going on, helping us to respond constructively and fostering the development of self-regulation in the child.

 

3. Think about how the child sees the situation

 

When we’re frustrated, we tend to attribute blame to the child – “He’s defying me;” “She’s misbehaving on purpose.” This feeds our anger and our drive to punish.  But the child also has a perspective on the situation.  The child could be tired, hungry, unable to express herself, frustrated by our behavior, or not yet able to self-regulate.  When we consider the child’s perspective, we’re more likely to respond constructively.  And when we model perspective-taking, we nurture that ability in the child.

 

4. Ensure the child’s physical and emotional safety

Adults’ first responsibility to children is to keep them safe. When children are scared or anxious, they aren’t able to take in information, process it and remember it the way we hope they will. The might remember how scared they felt in that moment, but this is not the same as constructing knowledge or understanding. We learn best when we are calm and open to new information.

 

5. Involve the child in resolving the situation

 

Taking things away, isolation and other punishments don’t help the child to acquire skills. When we talk with the child about our perspective and theirs, and ask them for their ideas about how it can go better next time, we are helping them practice conflict resolution, as well as nurturing their insight.  ‘Discipline’ is a participatory process that helps children gradually learn how to solve problems without aggression or coercion.

 

Check out these resources, to learn more about:

 

Biography:

 

Dr. Joan Durrant is a Child-Clinical Psychologist and Associate Professor of Family Social Sciences in the Faculty of Human Ecology at the University of Manitoba.  Dr. Durrant’s research focuses on the psychological, cultural, legal and human rights dimensions of corporal punishment of children in Canada and worldwide. She was the principal researcher and co-author of the Canadian Joint Statement on Physical Punishment of Children and Youth.

 


Filed under: Children and Youth Tagged: child development, conflict resolution, discipline, emotional development, emotional health, parenting, parenting tips, punishment, self-regulation, stress, stress management