By: Cristina Trette
Generally speaking, when my kids were young, they were well-behaved. Yet, they were kids! They had their moments of whining, fighting, and tantruming. In my attempt to be a great parent, I learned all I could on how to nip these behaviors in the bud. Back then, sugar-coated punishments and rewards were all the rage. I implemented sticker charts, point systems, planned ignoring, praise, removal of privileges, and time-outs.
None of it worked.
When I sought out parenting advice from well-meaning advisors, they suggested that I was not being consistent enough or that I was applying the strategies incorrectly. A year of so later of consistency, and fine tuning my strategy, I noticed their behavior was not improving. In fact things were getting worse. I had become the behavior police and our connection was fading away.
Today, advances in neuroscience and attachment research are helping us understand why rewards and punishments do not work. Simply put, the act of inflicting pain upon your child is not the best way to teach pro-social behavior. Nor is the practice of incentivizing children to behave well with treats, stickers, points, or small toys.
Yes, I know that most adults today were raised on rewards and punishment. I also know that most parents rely on these methods in some form. I am included in both groups. But as a therapist focused on working with parents, and one that holds space for wide spread suffering that has occurred within parent-child relationships, I assure you there is a better way.
Great parenting begins with ensuring that children feel safe in their home and in the arms of their parents. Yet basic safety is missing in a lot of parent-child relationship. Behaviors like yelling, grabbing, spanking, forcing, scolding, isolating, and shaming have been passed down from parent to child, generation after generation. These parenting behaviors erode a child's sense of safety yet many parents consider this to be discipline. This is true despite the research, and logic, showing us that treating children in this manner will only make their behavior worse and will be detrimental to their development.
Years ago I was assisting at a personal development course where a dad was sharing about the mistreatment he received as a child. He found himself mistreating his own children, and was struggling to do it differently. His heart and intentions were in a good place but he could not get his behavior to follow.
One of the course assistants, kindly, firmly and compassionately, looked into this father eyes and proclaimed, “It stops with you”.
He was not speaking to me, yet I took his words to heart. If the old-school way parenting way stops with me, the new way starts with me too. I vowed to raise my children in environments free of harshness and punishment. I also dedicated myself to teaching other parents how to address challenging kid behavior in an emotionally safe and responsive manner.
Many parents repeat the actions of their own parents. Even if they set out to do things differently, when triggered, they speak the words or act out the actions of the parenting they received when they were kids. Most parents have had moments of overwhelm where they yell, scold and the like. We are humans, we have our limits, and sometimes we are pushed beyond our ability to keep our cool. I am not suggesting perfection. I am suggesting that our generation of parents learn how to handle challenging kid behavior without resorting to harm.
I know it can be challenging to refrain from exhibiting our own poor behavior when our kids act in maddening ways. Yet, being able to master responsive parenting will lead to pro-social behavior in our children.
Meaning, that when we are able to well-behaved our children will be well-behaved too.
It starts with you. It starts with me. It starts with us.
Hi, I am Cristina Trette. I am a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and the Founder of Integrative Family Therapy. I help others improve their most important relationships. If you have any comments or questions, please let me know in the comments box below.
Hello. I am Cristina Trette. I am a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. I help others create thriving relationships, joyful families, and vibrant wellbeing.