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          Adjusting Your Approach to Discipline

          September 26, 2007

          “Your child is a reflection of your parenting, for better and for worse. If your child’s behavior is not meeting your expectations, the most likely ‘fix’ involves an adjustment in your approach,” says Dr. Frank Lawlis in his book, Mending the Broken Bond. There are no set rules for parenting, and oftentimes, what works with one child may not work with another.

          Below are tips for changing your behavior that will in turn change the way you and your child relate:

          Show Positive and Negative Reinforcement

          Children have to be taught socially acceptable behaviors, and this is done using positive and negative reinforcement. Positive reinforcement involves rewarding desirable behaviors, and negative reinforcement is used to stop undesirable behaviors. For example, if your child is running around the house, you could punish him/her by saying, “No TV until you settle down,” or you could offer a reward of, “If you settle down, you can watch TV tonight.” Most children learn through a combination of these behaviors.

          Studies show that parents who have problems with their children rarely use positive reinforcement. How would you feel if your boss only spoke to you from the perspective of blame and shame? “Children don’t learn love for themselves from that sort of feedback,” Dr. Lawlis points out. “You can expect their only responses to be anger, frustration, fear and rebellion.”

          Establish Specified Time-Outs

          When placing you child in a time-out, make sure he/she has no access to items that entertain, such as: television, video games, books and toys. A time-out period needs to be away from any amusements. Remember, the duration of a time-out should be age-appropriate. If you have a toddler, the punishment should last no longer than two or three minutes. Any longer than that will decrease the impact of the punishment.

          Teach Delay of Reward and Patience

          Many times children interrupt their parents while they are in the midst of conversation with another adult. Parents tend to stop the conversation and explain to the child that it is not polite to interrupt. In this type of exchange, the wrong behavior is reinforced; the child succeeds in interrupting, and the parent has reinforced the rudeness by giving the child attention. In order to enforce the message of not interrupting, hold your child’s hand or rub his/her back while you finish the conversation. As your child learns to wait for the appropriate time to get attention, reward his/her behavior.

          Learn Your Child's Currency

          Find out what your child greatly values and use that item as reinforcement. For example, children under age 7 usually value items like candy and activities like going to the zoo or swimming. They are also inspired by social reinforcements such as praise and acknowledgment. If your child behaves well in school, acknowledge the behavior by giving him/her a treat and/or praise. As your children get older, their currency will change. Teenagers are more interested in social rewards like hanging out with friends or participating in hobbies.

          Deliver Appropriate Consequences

          Make sure your punishment fits the child's actions. Don't react to bad behavior and do the first thing that comes to mind. Make sure your child understands what he/she has done wrong, and then take a moment to establish an equal punishment.

          Cooperate Rather than Dictate

          To build a mutually sensitive and caring relationship with your child, show him/her that your goal is to work together. Listen to what your child is saying and try to understand his/her perspective, and explain your concerns. "A parent's job is not to be right and win every battle," Dr. Lawlis says. "The command-and-control approach may be necessary for military leaders, but your mission is to mold a caring and responsible human being, not a fighting machine."

          If your child is not responding to your parenting techniques, look for new approaches. The answers are closer than you think.

          For more information on rebuilding the relationship with your child, read Mending the Broken Bond, by Dr. Frank Lawlis.

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