As a parent you want to give your child a good start in life, nurture and protect them, and ultimately prepare them for eventual independence. There are many things you can do to help them along the way and to help you feel more fulfilled in your role as a caregiver. The following guidelines are meant to help parents identify common pitfalls that may be counter intuitive to their child’s progress as well as the parent child relationship and to help parents foster structure, autonomy, and self-esteem for their child.
One common mistake made by parents is sending messages that are vague and may be confusing for children. For example, “You need to be good at the supermarket” does not provide a concrete description of the preferred behavior which may be difficult for a child to understand. A clear alternative to the above instruction may be, “I would like you to sit quietly in the cart and help me arrange groceries while at the supermarket today.” This way the child knows exactly what is expected of him or her and can understand more fully why he or she received certain consequences for his or her behavior.
Additionally, it is important that when giving these clear messages about behavior that they are not laden with emotion. A child needs to understand that although the behavior is undesirable you are still sending the message of love. In this way you are modeling calm and respectful behavior yourself as well as minimizing possible emotionally explosive arguments along the way.
Positive consequences are used to encourage or increase desirable behavior and can also be referred to as rewards. It is important that parents avoid over utilizing negative consequences, which are used to stop or decrease problem behavior, or they may risk becoming negative consequences themselves. If a child associates time with a parent as a negative consequence he or she may want to avoid their parents and thus corroding the parent child relationship as well as the child’s self-esteem and attachment. Also, parents who routinely utilize positive consequences seem more pleasant and are effective, meaning kids are more likely to listen to them (Burke et al., 2006).
Some parents may be hesitant to implement rewards into their parenting regimen. They may think, “Why am I paying off my child for doing something they are expected to do?” However, rewards are a natural part of life. Rewards in life may be obvious things like getting a merit based raise at work or even something as small or subtle as receiving a smile or a hug from someone. Explore the things that your child likes and use these things as rewards. Rewards do not always need to cost money! Free rewards may include time with mom or dad, going over to a friend’s house, staying up late, planning meals, extra phone time etc. By employing positive consequences that coincide with desirable behavior, we are teaching our children that desirable behavior is associated with desirable consequences. It is important to remember, however, that positive consequences should not be used for stopping inappropriate behavior, such as giving a child the candy bar they are crying and screaming for. These bribes only further instill the behavior as they teach the child that inappropriate behavior leads to desirable consequences.
It is important to regularly praise your children. This increases their ability to learn and demonstrate desirable behavior, fosters the parent child relationship, and increases the child’s sense of autonomy and self-esteem.
All children will misbehave at some time or another. When this happens children need to learn that there are negative consequences of this behavior. Loss of privileges is one effective and natural consequence for an undesirable behavior. In light of preparing your child for eventual independence it is important that the consequences are natural ones, meaning the consequence is paired with the behavior. For example, if a teenager comes home after curfew then they would be grounded or if children are arguing over which radio station to listen to then the radio would be turned off.
One very popular and highly effective loss of privileges, if it is used correctly, is “Time-out.” For time out to be effective it must be used immediately after the undesirable behavior and the child must be sitting quietly in an area free of distractions. If the child is arguing, complaining, or not sitting still then their time will not start until they are still and quiet. If your child leaves time out at any time calmly return them to the chair. It may be appropriate to add time when this happens.
Another negative consequence that can be used for more minor infractions is ignoring. Children crave their parent’s attention and the mere act of not giving this to them when they are misbehaving, assuming they are not in danger in any way, may be enough to deter the behavior. With younger children, especially, it may be possible to simply redirect behavior. If they are throwing a toy it may be helpful, after explaining “We do not thrown toys in the house,” to simply redirect them to an activity that does not involve something they can throw.
Remember for any of these positive or negative consequences to be effective they must be consistent!
Burke, R. V., & Herron, R. W. (2006). Common sense parenting: Using your head as well as your heart to raise school-aged children. Boys Town, Neb.: Boys Town Press
Rapee, R. M. (2008). Helping your anxious child: A step-by-step guide for parents. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications