Friday, February 5, 2010



In my practice as an outpatient child psychologist, I have
seen thousands of kids over the last twenty years. Parents
drag them into my office for lots and lots of reasons, usually
because the kids are acting out. Sometimes, this is about
parents not getting their way, but by and by, on their own,
kids are very capable of causing their parents considerable grief.
The most common reason I see children is ADHD and/or learning
disabilities. These "present" as a cluster of symptoms, ranging
from simple oppositional or resistant behaviors to full blown,
aggressive acting out behaviors. We hear the word "No" a lot
from these kids, but we also see them having a hard time focusing,
sitting still, organizing and managing their impulses.
Kids without ADHD or other psychiatric conditions also showcase
their bad behaviors. Maybe their parents are separated or their
girlfriend just dumped them. Maybe their parents have
inadvertently taught them to misbehave because of poor parenting
In my practice, I approach the behavior part of this package
(as opposed to the medical part) with a set of principles. These
form the basis of parenting skills, but they also are necessary to
deal with everyone--adults too. My principles came from working
with families for decades. They have been hammered out over time
on the anvil of real human experience, highlighted by
sometimes-severe troubled behaviors. So, it does not matter too
much if the child is psychiatric or normal with difficult
circumstances, I treat them the same, behaviorally. The exception
to this is if a child's behavior is so difficult that he or she is
in need of a higher level of care. My principles work with this
population, but first they will have to "tone it down" before they
can fit into an outpatient setting.
One of the things I notice right away about children are their
positive quality or good traits, behaviors, etc. Put negatively,
I try to see what positive goal they have by behaving badly.
There always is one. I try to see what positive qualities a child
has that are not related to his awful behaviors. I try to look for
future behaviors that might help the child achieve his or her goals,
without the behavioral fallout.
This is not difficult. Every person has some good qualities,
even criminals. We just have to look harder or dig a little deeper
in some cases. In my experience with kids, their good qualities
jump out at me almost immediately. I am going to use those
qualities to shape, condition, or gently encourage movement towards
some positive behavior. I am going to choose a behavior that is
just the opposite of the one parents do not like. I am not going
to focus on punishing the negative behavior, unless necessary. I am
going to focus on what is positive and incompatible with the
negative one. I think of it as working with the presence of a
positive behavior, not working with the absence of a negative
behavior. Most kids, especially young ones, and some adults, too,
do not understand the difference between the presence of something
positive vs. the absence of something negative. This is one of
the most powerful concepts (principles) parents need to grasp.
Without it, their parenting attempts will fail by as much as thirty
percent. Conversely, pay attention to just this one aspect of their
parenting style, and parents' chances of success increase by this
same percent.
This is just one of several core concepts I wrote about in my
ebook, How To Change Children's Behavior (Quickly). Parents wanted
a concise, pithy, filled-to-the-brim-with-techniques ebook that would
turn their kids' behavior around in the shortest possible time,
without emphasizing punishment. I wrote such a treatise, which it
turns out, is a stand-alone product; that is, it works just as
well if we do not meet in my office.

Dr. Griggs

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