Punishments Vs. Rewards
By Ron Huxley, LMFT
Even in this modern age, with tons of scientific data and thousands of books on parenting, mom’s and dad’s continue to struggle on how to manage their children’s behaviors. This is especially true when parents are dealing with a strong willed and defiant child.
One of the most common complaints I hear from parents, in family therapy sessions, is that my efforts to build self-esteem and play games to model social skills and cooperation are actually rewarding bad behaviors. The goal of these sessions is to make the child feel better about himself and not his behaviors. Punishments creating a disconnection and the goal of therapy between parent and child is to build a closer connection where the child wants to please his parents and not frustrate them. Parents have to take a different perspective on what bad behavior is or more specifically, why it keeps occurring.
The focus of therapy is not on the behavior but the relationship. How does the child feel about himself and about the parent. When children feel positive about these things, they will act in more positive ways. Research has proven to us that 80% of a child’s misbehaviors (what motivates them to act bad) is the desire for attention and power in the relationship. Punishments places time outs, spankings, and removing of privileges and doesn’t redirect the chid to find positive ways to get attention or use their power in a respectful way. It denies these things starting a viscous cycle of negative attention getting and power struggles.
Parents who feel bad inside, due to work and family stressors, can act bad too. They may be more negative and irritable creating an atmosphere in the home that makes children feel insecure. Inconsistency in parenting is another big problem for children. The lack of predictability and routine can increase anxiety in them and result in inappropriate behaviors. Helping parents to see the underlying causes of behaviors will give them more power in managing behaviors and modeling positive attitudes.
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