Friday, February 5, 2010



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 years as a child psychologist.

Dr. Griggs

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