As a parent of three children, I learned very quickly that parenting could be exhausting – physically, emotionally and intellectually. And when experiencing defiance or challenging behaviors from our children, parenting is even more difficult. It isn’t unusual that we get into a punishment cycle, assuming that punishment is the only way we can control their behavior. Research clearly shows, however, that before punishment can be effective in stopping a behavior, focused attention and positive reinforcement must be a staple in the relationship.
In The Kazdin Method for Parenting the Defiant Child, Dr. Alan E. Kazdin writes, “Praise is one of the strongest ways to influence your child’s actions.” Punishment may stop the behavior momentarily, but it will not change it for the long run. Positives should outweigh negatives by a ratio of 5:1.
How can you improve your positive to negative ratio with your child/teen?
Develop “Special Time”
“Special Time” should be given at the same time each day, be one-on-one, and last between five to 10 minutes each day. This is your child’s time, simply because he or she is your child, not because your child has had a good day at school. The time of day you select is not the critical factor. What is critical is that you are consistent and make it a pleasant experience. This is not the time to reprimand your child for his or her behavior. It is a time to enjoy time together. You may choose to shoot baskets, read a book together, play a board game or go to dinner together one time a week/month.
Identify 3 Positive Start Behaviors
A “start” behavior may be something like “saying nice things to your sister” or “putting dishes in the dishwasher after dinner.” “Stop” behaviors would be “stop arguing with your sister” or “stop leaving your dirty dishes on the table after dinner.” After you have identified three “start” behaviors you want to see more often, then praise these behaviors each time they occur. You should see within the week that the positive behaviors you are reinforcing are occurring more often and the “stop” behaviors are occurring less often.
Until I was a parent, I didn’t realize the enormous amount of energy and effort it would take. Ultimately, I gained new insight into Helen Keller’s statement: “Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experiences of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired and success achieved” (Canfield & Hansen, 1995, p. 272).
As parents of children/teens with learning differences, we have many opportunities to build character because it is rare that we experience “ease and quiet.” I encourage you to increase your positive-to-negative ratio with your child/teen. While it won’t be the answer for every issue you face, it is a good start to improving your parent/child relations.
- Canfield, J. & Hanse, M.V. (1995). A 2nd Helping of Chicken Soup for the Soul. Deerfield Beach, F.: Health Communications, Inc.
- Hannah, J. N. (1999). Parenting the Child with ADHD. Austin, Texas: ProEd
- Kazdin, A. E. (2008). The Kazdian Method for Parenting the Defiant Child. New York: Houghton Mifflin.