“Begin with the end in mind.” The same proactive approach that works so well in business also applies to parenting. Close your eyes and imagine your child at age 25 or 30. What do you see?
“At its very core, parenting is about teaching children the life skills they’ll need to become happy, healthy adults,” said Dr. Brett Patterson, who directs Child Behavior Pathways, a joint program between CHOC and UC Irvine Health that provides parent support for social, emotional and cognitive development for children ages 0 to 5. “Parents must teach children to become independent thinkers, make responsible choices, and understand how good choices generally lead to better outcomes on a consistent basis.”
Dr. Patterson recommends the Positive Behavior Support approach, which utilizes the same core principles commonly referred to as “Positive Discipline.” As both names suggest, this approach emphasizes developing a child’s sense of personal accountability and responsibility from a positive perspective. The basic premise starts with creating an environment for success where positive behaviors and choices are more likely to be elicited and subsequently reinforced.
Parents may begin teaching these concepts in early childhood, he says. Start by balancing more of your attention to include recognition of those things your child does right. The phrase he often uses with parents is, “Find daily opportunities to catch your child being good.”
“Children respond to both positive and negative attention, but the behaviors that get attention of any kind are the ones that tend to be repeated,” Dr. Patterson said. “Providing positive attention when your child makes good choices encourages and reinforces the likelihood that you’ll see more of those particular behaviors.”
Alternatively, children must also understand that poor choices usually come with a cost. Choosing the right words can help your child make the connection between a poor choice and a loss of privileges.
“Avoid using phrases like, ‘I’m taking the iPad away’ or ‘I’m sending you to bed early,’” Dr. Patterson said. “Instead, tie those costs directly to their behaviors by saying things like, ‘If you choose not to do your homework/chores/etc., then you’re choosing not to have iPad privileges” or ‘If you choose not to follow directions, you are choosing to go to bed early.’ This holds the child accountable and better able to see that it was the behavior that led to the outcome.”
Help Your Child Succeed
Your child ultimately has a choice in his behavior, but you can help set the stage for success. Dr. Patterson said planning, small changes and a dose of patience may go a long way toward changing behavior.
“If you can predict it, you can plan for it,” Dr. Patterson said. “If you know where and when the problems or challenges are likely to occur, you can plan ways to change the situation in order to get — and reinforce — the behaviors you’d like to see.”
He recalled one family’s situation in which every school afternoon began with an argument involving a shoe rack by the front door. The child would come home every day and kick or knock over the shoe rack, initiating a conflict that set the tone for the rest of the afternoon and often into the evening. The solution started by temporarily moving the shoe rack.
“We could predict that the location of the shoe rack was one of the environmental triggers that would likely result in conflict within the first minute of the child coming through the front door,” Dr. Patterson said. “Moving the trigger away from that area created a new environment that gave the mother a few extra minutes to provide positive reinforcement for something else and start the afternoon off on a more positive note.”
Through positive reinforcement, a new afternoon pattern developed over the next few days. Then came the time to return the shoe rack back by the front door.
As they did this, the parents reinforced how much better things were when the child came into the home as expected. They were also able to teach proper “shoe rack etiquette” rules for entering the home appropriately, and the privileges that resulted when choosing to do so. On the other hand, they explained the costs for choosing not to follow those expectations.
Now the shoe rack is back in place. Success continues to be reinforced, while non-compliance consistently incurs the established costs.
Consistency is key. The Positive Behavior Support approach may require some patience and creativity on your part, but it works, Dr. Patterson said. It is effective with children and teens, including those with special needs.
He added that the positive approach is effective for resolving conflicts in other relationships, such as sibling rivalry. These principles may also be applied in the workplace among coworkers.
“Everyone likes to be recognized for doing something well,” he said. “Begin with the end in mind. The Positive Behavior Support approach is your roadmap for getting there.”