Behavior / Social Skills

BEHAVIOR, REWARDS AND FEAR OF DISCIPLINE

Child Behavior Rewards Discipline Social SkillsPediatricians are in an ideal position to see how parents interact with their kids. Visits to the doctor, sometimes stressful for both parent and child, can reveal a lot about family dynamics. The doctor witnesses how parents respond to the anxieties and demands of their children, getting a good look at parenting strengths and shortcomings

Being an effective parent means providing structure. When mom fails to be consistent or confident, behavior suffers. Children feel insecure when rules are unclear, threatened if parents seem nervous, angry or unsure of themselves. Boundaries mean security. But some parents are terrified of disciplining their kids, worried that they’re inflicting psychological trauma by imposing their will. What a mistake. Children need to know that a calm adult is in control. Kids become confused and distressed when they sense ambivalence or anxiety in their parent. Even infants may respond negatively to parents who lack firmness in purpose and fail to show composure and consistency. Rules are very important to small children, giving them structure that they can rely upon. Parents who become upset when their children cry or have a tantrum are failing to help their kids cope with frustration or to learn social behavior.

Where in the world did you hear?

Children should be praised for everything they do.

Sound Advice

We want to instill a sense of confidence in our children, not delusions of grandeur. Having only the best intentions, some parents feel obligated to applaud and cheer for every act of obedience or performance they witness. While this can certainly bring a smile to the child, it often backfires by unrealistically raising the child’s expectations, resulting in frustration and fits of temper when applause by others is not forthcoming. Children who expect praise and celebration for the most mundane acts will fail to learn the nuances of special achievements and may, in fact, fail to make special efforts for special goals. If they are rewarded for virtually every act of living, they may become immune to praise and lose their motivation to increase their efforts or strive for improvement. Additionally, children who are continuously the objects of their parents’ adulation may develop a false sense of importance, failing to develop good interpersonal skills and resulting in demanding and bossy behavior. Simple acts of spontaneous caring and loving are more important than applause.

The Conclusion

Parents can serve their children best by responding in a realistic manner to their daily achievements. Recognizing children’s performance with a quiet smile or a hug is more effective than a theatrical cheer.

Where in the world did you hear?

Kids don’t need social skills when they’re little, they’ll develop them as they grow.

Sound Advice

This sad omission will only come back to haunt both parent and child later in life. Those children, no matter how smart, will find the road to adult life quite bumpy if they are poorly prepared to deal with the world outside the family. There is no instinct for the development of social skills. The ability to establish effective interpersonal relationships must be taught as early as possible. Yet, many parents fail to prepare their children for such a critical part of their lives. Lessons of social skills are in competition with time allowed for TV’s, DVD’s, IPOD’s, Gameboys, Walkmen, and cellular phones. How can a child learn to make eye contact, shake hands, say “thank you” or “hello” when his eyes are glued to the screen, fingers on the keyboard, thumbs dialing a number, or ears blocked by the loud music in earphones? Why would a child leave his room to greet visitors when he is busily engaged with “Invaders from Space?” How does a child learn to answer the phone politely (without grunting in monosyllables) if he is not taught such a skill? How does he learn to refrain from loud, self-indulgent behavior in public if he is not reminded to show respect for others’ space? Moms and dads may incorrectly assume that their frantic acts of shuttling the kids back and forth from soccer, tennis, dance, karate, religious lessons and other extracurricular activities are the key to raising well rounded citizens. It’s not enough. Too many of these busy children fail to develop interpersonal skills, unable to carry on social conversations or to show basic etiquette or courtesy. Lacking in these qualities, they may find life frustrating and hostile after they leave the protection of their home, wondering why they have difficulty navigating the world of commerce and genteel society.

The Conclusion

Social skills are critical tools for all children to have. Parents must start these lessons as soon as they can carry on conversations. The ability to be perceived as socially sensitive by others is your child’s gateway to successful integration into society.

Where in the world did you hear?

Temper tantrums are impossible to control.

Sound Advice

Not so. Temper tantrums, screaming, laying on the floor, kicking and flinging objects are powerful theatrical performances. No matter how young, children intuitively understand that a tantrum is a big-time power play, an attempt at coercion, a bullying tactic, a ploy. Tantrums are “successful” when they elicit any response from mom or dad: pleading, yelling, cajoling, coercing, or even attempts at “reasoning.” Stopping a tantrum by responding in this way has only one result: more tantrums. Yet, since tantrums are a performance, they are made totally ineffective when deprived of an audience. What show would continue to run if it failed to attract spectators? Therefore, the technique to stop all tantrums is simple, just walk away.  Make it known to your child that you don ‘t like tantrums by declaring, when the action takes place, “I don’t like tantrums (or temper or  naughtiness.) I’m leaving.” And with those words, you must immediately turn on your heels and exit the room. Obviously, you would feel more secure if you could defuse such tantrums when they occurred in the safety of your home. It’s better than walking away in the middle of a busy intersection but, even in public places, you must be prepared to leave the child to have his tantrum without you. You might end up hiding behind a shelf or the side of a building but, for the eyes of the child, you must appear to have vanished. Invariably, the child will learn that tantrums produce an unwanted result: no parent present. You must, however, be consistent in your behavior, otherwise this ploy will fail since the child will guess that you are still an easy “mark.” This technique works. Try it.

The Conclusion

A tantrum is an unacceptable performance. Leave the theater and the show will stop.

Where in the world did you hear?

Time outs just don’t seem to work. Kids ignore them.

Sound Advice

Time outs are effective. But merely threatening time out is not. If your toddler is doing something that you can’t permit to continue, perhaps throwing clothes from the drawers, there is an effective method to control such behavior. Dr. Stella Chess, a child psychiatrist, described this technique more than thirty years ago. She pointed out that when a child is threatened with a punishment for continuing misbehavior (if you don’t stop, I will give you a time out) the behavior would probably continue because, in that threat, you are implying that he might not stop. In fact, you have told the child that you are preparing punishment in anticipation of his not stopping. Whoops! She’s right, most of the time the child will continue to misbehave, giving you sneaky looks while the misdeed continues. The solution is in the message: “you will stop that immediately!” No threats. No ifs. Of course, initially nothing will happen; the child will continue to throw the clothes on the floor. But you aren’t finished. Your next move is to calmly and quietly repeat your command “you will stop that” while you gently, but firmly lift the child away from the guilty action and carry or lead him to a time-out place, some location where toys or distractions are not available. Ideally, stay near him while he is having his time out, preventing him from leaving, and explain that as soon as he is ready to behave, he can leave. This may take a while, but he will eventually say ‘ok’ and leave. The next time or two that he misbehaves, use the same technique: “you will stop that” followed, if he continues, by using the same phrase with an immediate time out. After you have done this a few times, he will heed your first command (or at least think about it very carefully) and you will have a little better grip on your household. It works.

The Conclusion

Time outs work when Mom is in control.

Have any questions? Please contact Dr. Mesibov

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