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Successfull Kids

Three Parenting Areas to Master to Help Your Child Be Successful

March 14, 2019     By Rachele Merk, Ph.D., Boys Town Nevada Behavioral Health Clinic

Child Development, Parent-Child Relationships, Parenting Skills, Positive Praise

We asked a Boys Town psychologist this question:
What are the three things you wish every parent could master in order to help their children succeed?

Here's what she said:

As a psychologist, I have had the privilege of working with so many amazing families over the years. Parents (and other caregivers) come to our Behavioral Health Clinic for services for a wide variety of reasons. However, most parents seek services because their child's problematic behaviors are interfering in his or her life at home, in school and with peers. For example, when a child persistently argues with his or her parents at home, it can cause ongoing conflict in the parent-child relationship.  A child also may struggle to get along with same-aged peers and then let the negative feelings from that problem interfere with their ability to complete schoolwork.

Parents often ask me how they can intervene to change the trajectory of their child's life and improve his or her functioning across many settings. In response, I recommend various strategies, tools and techniques that are available and encourage parents to implement them with their children. Parents are in an amazing position to bring about and support positive behavior change, and these strategies, tools and techniques can improve a child's functioning, both in and outside the home.

When I meet with parents (and other caregivers), these are the three vital areas I recommend they focus on in order to have the biggest positive impact in improving their child's behavior:  

  1. Be an Agent of Change: Behavior change is a dynamic process in which parents are the primary driving force. Parents can serve as incredible role models, consistently demonstrating the positive behaviors they want their child to use. For example, a child may be feeling overwhelmed and frustrated after being given a large amount of schoolwork. This child may be more likely to tantrum and not complete the assigned work, putting him behind in a class. This situation serves as an opportunity for a parent to model for the child effective ways to deal with frustration and share study habits the child can use to complete his assignments. That way, the child can learn to approach his work with confidence and seek parental guidance if he continues to feel overwhelmed. Parents who model positive ways to deal with stressful situations empower their children to feel more in control and to effectively solve problems. I also often encourage parents to model good manners, conversation skills for making friends and positive ways to respond to disappointment or setbacks.
  2. Help Fix Your Child's Behaviors, Not Their Feelings: It is easy to assume that if parents first deal with their child's negative feelings, such as anger or sadness, the child's behavior will improve. For example, if a child is angry and breaks a toy, a parent's first response might be to say, "Stop getting so mad." However, this strategy is often ineffective because it focuses directly on an emotion and not the behavior parents want to stop. Instead, parents should focus on helping their children develop a better understanding of how emotions can become overwhelming and lead to negative behavior. The goal of parents should be to help their child anticipate situations that trigger strong emotions and then teach the child how to engage in effective problem-solving that enables them cope with those situations. For example, for the child who became angry and broke the toy, it is important for her to learn that it is okay to become angry but that breaking a toy is not an appropriate behavior. To replace that inappropriate behavior, the child's parents can teach her appropriate ways to deal with her emotions, such as talking with a parent, going for a walk or doing an activity that helps her calm down. When parents help their child manage his or her feelings more effectively, the child becomes better at coping with everyday frustrations involving the family, peers and school.
  3. Frequently Praise Your Child to Reinforce Positive Behavior: As a whole, our society is much more likely to focus on problem behaviors and try to correct them than to look for positive behaviors we like and want to see repeated. For example, in our work lives, we are more likely to receive feedback on a project where we made mistakes than on a project that we did well. The same is true for our children. They often hear a lot more about the behaviors they need to fix than the positive behaviors they are using. Children (just like adults) thrive on positivity and knowing that others appreciate what they are doing well. When children receive more attention from their parents and teachers about problem behaviors than positive behaviors, they don't have much motivation to change the problem behaviors and feel like any positive behaviors they do display will go unnoticed. That's why it is so important for parents to find a balance between correcting misbehavior and noticing and praising positive behaviors. I recommend that the amount of praise and positive attention parents give their children is four times as much as their corrective or critical feedback. Children who believe that their parents (and others) will notice and praise what they are doing well will go to great lengths to repeat those positive behaviors, and in turn, will develop greater confidence in themselves and their abilities.

There are many more strategies and tools parents can use to change and improve their children's problem behaviors. But these three areas are one of best places to start as you lay a foundation for effective parenting that will fuel your child's success.

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