Parents often struggle to manage their children’s difficult behaviors. Disobedience, back-talking, temper tantrums, fighting with siblings and refusing to go to school are common problems that can lead to frustration, aggravation, and feelings of disempowerment among parents. These behaviors can also cause serious distress in your home and negatively impact your family’s ability to function. Fortunately, decades of research on behavior management have identified a number of core principles and techniques that have proven to be effective in addressing a child’s behavioral difficulties. I have synthesized these strategies into an easy to remember acronym I call Parent POWER:
Put Structure in Place. Children tend to struggle when there is a lack of structure in the home. Chaos and disorganization work against parents’ efforts to reduce disruptive behaviors. A consistent, structured home environment communicates predictability, regularity, and safety to children and may help alleviate anxiety and distress. As such, you should establish consistent behavioral expectations, healthy daily routines, and planned family activities in the home. It may also be helpful to establish house rules to clearly communicate what behaviors are expected. These rules should be broad-based, framed in the positive, and presented as goals. In my practice, I routinely encourage parents to use these rules: follow directions, control your body, and be polite.
Offer Incentives. Behavior change requires motivation, so consider offering incentives, starting with privileges. Since children often have easy access to television, internet, electronic devices, and video games, try making access to these privileges contingent on desirable behavior. You can use a point system for determining whether your child earned their privilege. For instance, when you see your child doing what he/she is supposed to do, point it out and say, “You’re doing a great job following directions! You just earned a point.” These points can then be tallied, and at various times during the day your child can “cash the points in” for various privileges. This strategy can help you to focus on the positives by literally “catching your child being good.”
Work Hard. Improving your child’s behavior is a marathon and not a sprint. This takes hard work and consistency. Practice (and then practice some more) techniques such as establishing house rules and using reward systems. If you don’t see immediate improvements, do not be discouraged. In order to make lasting changes you need to stick to your structure, reinforce the rules, and reward positive behavior day in and day out. It can feel exhausting at times, but keep reminding yourself that in the end it will all be worth it.
Emotional Regulation. It’s easy to become frustrated and impatient when your child misbehaves. A preschool aged child having a temper tantrums in the middle of a grocery store is enough to make anyone want to run and hide. However, when we allow these challenges to get us frazzled, our power and effectiveness may be compromised. As such, it is crucial for you to develop emotional regulation/self-control skills. This can be accomplished by incorporating regular self-care activities into your day. Deep breathing, exercise, yoga, going for a walk, talking to your friends, engaging in religious/spiritual practices, reading a book, and many other activities can all serve to enhance your mental health, bring balance into your life, and put you in a better position to interact with your children.
Role-Modeling. Children learn by watching their parents and imitating their behaviors, so it’s important to be a role model and embody the kind of behavior you hope to see in your child. When you fee upset or frustrated, demonstrate how you can calm down by taking deep breaths or going for a walk. Refrain from yelling, nagging, and hitting, lest you want your children to adopt these practices. Use a calm, assertive, and respectful voice when addressing behavioral infractions. Always use positive methods first, such as using positive praise and points for desired behaviors prior to using negative methods of discipline such as taking away privileges and giving a time out. This communicates that you value positive behavior and are rooting for your child’s success. A role-model is someone that you look up to. Be that person for your child.
By using these Parent POWER strategies, your child’s behavior will gradually improve and over time you will notice a huge difference.
Justin R. Misurell, Ph.D., is a recognized expert on the evaluation and treatment of child sexual abuse and trauma. Currently, he serves as the clinical director of New York University’s Child Study Center – New Jersey Campus and is a clinical assistant professor of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the NYU Langone School of Medicine. He has co-authored a book entitled, Game-Based Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy for Child Sexual Abuse: An Innovative Treatment Approach, which is scheduled to be published in February 2015. Dr. Misurell received an Early Career Scholarship from the National Register of Health Service Psychologists. He is a licensed psychologist in New York and New Jersey, and is credentialed by the Council for the National Register of Health Service Providers in Psychology.
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