by Cynthia M. Braden, MFT
If you are struggling with non-compliance and aggression, here are a few things to consider:
1. When an adult hits a child, it makes him feel frustrated and impotent.
If you physically punish a child, guess what happens next? The kid goes to school and hits other kids. Or becomes withdrawn and fearful.
As difficult as it can be to parent an oppositional child, we have to figure out a better way than exertion of physical dominance for teaching and modeling. Physical force is useful and necessary at times, but as the go-to parenting technique, this is not going to produce the results you want.
2. Hurting your child with words does not help him to learn.
It's funny that sometimes we think that by being negative, we can motivate someone. Saying things like You'll never learn! your child hears that you basically think he is incapable of learning. Since you are the iconic figure of Mom or Dad, your words and your opinion are so powerful in the child's eyes.
The child thinks "Oh, my dad thinks I'm stupid, what's the use of trying anyway since I'm so retarded." This leads to low self-esteem and poor motivation, the opposite of what we are trying to do.
How do we then motivate our children?
3. Give reinforcement to desired behavior.
"What do you mean give reinforcement?"
Reinforcements are deliberate responses, based on principles of Behaviorism, to encourage certain behaviors in another person (or animal for that matter).
For example, some of the best reinforcers for your child are:
a. your undivided attention
b. you being proud of him
c. your exclusive time
Notice when your child is doing things you like and want to encourage. When he is giving you the behaviors you want to encourage, give him a. b. and c. above. This is Positive Reinforcement.
He is being rewarded and will continue the behaviors that he is being rewarded for.
If he says bad words and you get excited and start screaming... "Where did you learn to talk like that?! We don't say those things around here!!?" ...etcetera ad infinitum... Guess what, you just gave that kid so much reinforcement for the behavior you did not like (bad words)! He got to see your mad face. He got to see you hopping around losing control of yourself. He got a thrill. He got scared too. Better act like you couldn't care less, and continue to search for an iota of a positive behavior to start giving attention to.
If you have been engaging in fighting and struggling with each other, you are trying to un-do a negative feed backloop and start creating a positive feedback loop instead.
It can feel like trying to re-direct a giant steamroller going downhill. It is going to take a bit of effort to get the momentum moving more in the direction you want. But deep down children do want to please their parents. They want to be loved and accepted and encouraged. These are very powerful reinforcers indeed.
Negative Reinforcement is basically ignoring undesired behaviors as much as possible/safe. If the child isn't getting rewarded for his behavior, principles of Behaviorism say that Extinction will eventually occur. The behavior will stop if the child is no longer being reinforced for it.
Remember, negative attention and punishment are still attention and are powerful reinforcers.
If you need more help learning how to bring out the best in your child, call me or fill out the contact form.
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