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Offer your child quality parenting

by Bill Rutherford
| December 8, 2010 8:00 PM

In this season of gift giving, I offer the most important gift a parent can offer a child - quality parenting. Parents often wonder, "What am I doing wrong, why is my child disrespectful, why won't my child talk to me and what do I need to change in parenting my child to make my family stronger?" I offer Good Choice Parenting as a basic guideline to raising healthy and positive children.

Disciplining a child is difficult when a parent is frustrated, money is tight, the kids are late for soccer practice and the dog just soiled the rug. When one is frustrated, aggravated and overwhelmed it is important to focus on the reason one is disciplining a child which should be to change the child's behavior. We as parents want our children's poor choices to turn into good choices. Good Choice Parenting is a five-step program I created to aid parents in effectively praising and disciplining their children to create a child who consistently makes good choices over bad choices. The five steps of Good Choice Parenting are:

1. Be consistent

A parent can teach their child to throw a fit in the grocery store, yell at them in public and never clean their room by intermittently reinforcing negative behavior. Allow me explain. When a person plays a slot machine, fly fishes or plays poker, they are rewarded intermittently by hitting small jackpots, catching a fish or winning a hand and continue to play or fish for the reward.

Being rewarded feels good and not knowing when the reward comes creates an extremely strong drive to continue the behavior. When a gambler continues to put their entire paycheck into a slot machine or spends the months rent on a poker game, they are desperately searching for the previous emotional high of the jackpot reward they once felt.

A child does the same when rewarded to do so. In a grocery store, a child might ask for a piece of candy while the parent says, "Not today." The child yells, "I want candy." The parent yells back, "I said no!" The child screams, "I want candy," and the parent, frustrated and embarrassed screams, "OK, here's your candy. Now will you be quiet?" The child learns they must ask at least three times and start to whine loudly before their parent becomes frustrated enough to give in and the child wins the reward - candy.

Once a parent say no to something they must continue saying no. One cannot waiver - no negotiation. Kids get confused about their rules and pick up quickly that they have latitude when parents are inconsistent in their parenting. If a child really enjoys candy and knows that sometimes Mommy and Daddy give them candy if they whine or throw a fit, they will throw a fit to get the candy.

2. Thinking one style fits all.

Some children emotionally close down or behaviorally explode when a parent speaks sharply while another child in the same family might be unaffected. Some learn the first time a parent tells them to do something while another child need to be told many times before they learn. Some listen right away while others need time to scream it out before the parent can talk to them.

It's not just temperament that causes our children to be different; it's age and development. Children are not little adults. Children before the age of 10 are black and white thinkers and seldom consider options which are not right or wrong, yes or no, black and white. The job of a toddler is to push limits; to do crazy things the parent tells the child time and again not to do. The job of a 12-year-old is to start asserting her independence from the parent in sometimes obnoxious and disrespectful ways.

Neither the toddler nor the adolescent is going to listen to a lecture. A toddler needs simple, direct quick discipline. A pre-teen is most likely to respond to punishment that removes him or her from his or her peers. Despite a parent's best effort, both the toddler and the 12-year-old are likely to keep doing the same bad thing for a while. Understanding where the child is in life development is key to picking the right approach to discipline.

3. Overdoing or underdoing it

The punishment should fit the crime, not one's frustration level. Punishment needs to be something feasible and appropriate for the offense. Taking a deep breath and really thinking about what a child did wrong is important. Determining an appropriate punishment the first time will save years of frustration from a child wondering why spilling milk deserves two weeks grounding while punching her little sister results only in a stern, "Don't hit your sister again."

For a punishment to work, it needs to be something your child doesn't want to have happen again. Taking away video games, sending the kid to their room, declaring a time-out or losing screen time (computer and/or TV) generally works. Do not take away positive things like team sports or dance class. These items promote positive choices and should not be used for punishment.

4. Rewarding good behavior works better than punishing bad behavior.

The solution is to catch a child being good. If one's daughter goes 15 minutes without picking on her sister, offer kudos. Even if it's only five minutes, try one's best to notice it. A parent might be surprised how effective this can be. It's human nature to like praise and to please the people we love. Praise is more effective in changing behavior 5 to 1 over punishment.

Praise can work in other ways too. As you enter a store, instead of saying, "If you misbehave, I'll be really angry and you won't get a treat," try saying, "We have to get the shopping done, and I need help. If everyone is good and helps me, we'll stop for ice cream on the way home." Which would you rather hear, the threat or the reward?

5. Be calm

This is the most important and useful tool of Good Choice Parenting. When a parent raises one's voice, a child will raise their voice. When a parent is upset, the child will become upset. When a child sees one's frustration the kid will believe they can negotiate and continue to persuade the parent to the child's way of thinking. Stay calm and take this tool away from the child.

State your desire, "Quit whining, go to your room and clean it," in a calm, concise voice and never waiver. When a child starts to negotiate, whine, cry, becomes frustrated and refuses the parent's direction, restate the direction in a clear, calm voice and continue to do so until the child follows the directions. This may take a minute or an hour to begin with. Once a child believes the parent will not give in, the child will begin to give in and follow the parent's directions quickly.

Some children will not respond to Good Choice Parenting. Next week we will explore methods to deal with children who do not respond to this model.

Stick with it. Good Choice Parenting works if continuously applied. A quick story - my daughter at 9-years old got into trouble for talking back to her mom. I told her in a clam voice she could not go to her friend Lindsay's birthday party due to her disrespect. She started crying, ran to the car (we were not home) and continued to cry for longer than I thought normal. I opened the car door and ask my little girl, "What's wrong?" She said crying, "I want to go to Lindsey's party but I know I can't because when you say something you mean it." My eyes welled for her pain but knew I did my job as a parent.

Bill Rutherford is a psychotherapist, public speaker, elementary school counselor, adjunct college psychology instructor and executive chef, and owner of Rutherford Education Group. Please e-mail him at bprutherford@hotmail.com and check out www.foodforthoughtcda.com.

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