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GoodParents,BadResults

8waysscienceshowsthatMomandDadgowrong whendiscipliningtheirkids
By NancyShute PostedJune12,2008

Doesyour3yearoldthrowafivealarmtantrumeverytimeyoudrophimoffatday care?Does"you'resosmart!"failtoinspireyour8yearoldtoturnoff GrandTheftAuto IV andtacklehismathhomework?Dotheclothesremaingluedtoyourteenager's bedroomfloor,alongwithyourantisocialteenager,nomatterhowmuchyounagor cajole?Beingaparenthasneverbeeneasyjustaskyourown.Butinthisdayoftwo earnercouplesandsingleparents,when9yearoldshavecellphones,12yearoldsare bingedrinkingandhavingoralsex,andthereisevidencethatteensaremorefearfuland depressedthanever,thechallengesofrearingcompetentandlovinghumanbeingsare enoughtomakeaparentseekhelpfromSupernanny.Actually,thereissomethingbetter: science.

(JonLowenstein/NoorforUSN&WR) Researchershavespentdecadesstudyingwhatmotivateschildrentobehaveandcannow sayexactlywhatdisciplinemethodsworkandwhatdon't:Callit"evidencebased parenting."Alas,manyofparents'favoritestrategiesarescientificallyproventofail."It's intuitivetoscreamatyourchildtochangetheirbehavior,eventhoughtheresearchis unequivocalthatitwon'twork,"saysAlanKazdin,apsychologistwhodirectstheYale ParentingCenterandChildConductClinic.Otherexamples: Yellingandreasoningareequallyineffectivekidstuneoutboth. Praisedoesn'tspoilachildit'soneofthemostpowerfultoolsthatparentscanuseto influenceachild'sactions.Butmostparentssquanderpraisebyusingitgenerically "you'resosmart"or"goodjob!"orskimping. Spankingandotherharshpunishments("You'regroundedforamonth!")dostopbad behaviorbutonlytemporarily.Punishmentworksonlyifit'smild,anditisfar outweighedbypositivereinforcementofgoodbehavior.

Asyet,fewofthebestsellingbooksandvideosthatpromisetoturnsurlybratsintolittle buttercupsmakeuseofthisknowledge.Thatmaybebecausetheresearchgoesonin academiaatYale,atVermont'sBehaviorTherapyandPsychotherapyCenter,andatthe UniversityofWashington'sParentingClinic,forexample.Surprisingly,manyfamily therapistsandparentingeducatorsaren'tuptospeedontheresearch,either,sothat parentswhoseekprofessionalhelpwon'tnecessarilygetthemostprovenadvice.Casein point:Just16programsdesignedfortreatingkidswithdisruptivebehaviorhavebeen proven"wellestablished"inrandomizedclinicaltrials,accordingtoareviewledby SheilaEybergattheUniversityofFloridaandpublishedintheJanuary Journalof ClinicalChildandAdolescentPsychology.Kazdin,whoforyearshaspushedclinical psychologiststoadoptevidencebasedmethods,publishedabookforparentsearlierthis year:TheKazdinMethodforParentingtheDefiantChild. Otherlabtestedtomesinclude ParentingtheStrongWilledChildbyRexForehandandNicholasLongandThe IncredibleYearsbyCarolynWebsterStratton. Thesedisciplineprogramsaregroundedinclassicalbehavioralpsychologythepositive reinforcementtaughtinPsych101.Researchershaverunrandomizedcontrolledtrialson allthenuancesoftypicalparentchildinteractionsandthuscansayjusthowlonga timeoutshouldlasttobeeffectiveorhowtopraisea13yearoldsothathebeamswhen hetakesoutthetrash.Whoknewthateffectivelypraisingachildinordertomotivateher hasthreeessentialsteps?Theyare:1)Praiseeffusively,withtheenthusiasmofa Powerballwinner.2)Sayexactlywhatthechilddidright.3)Finishwithatouchorhug. Whatelsecanparentslearnfromthescience?Researcherssaythesearethebiggest commonbooboos: 1.Parentsfailatsettinglimits Itwouldbehardtofindaparentwhodoesn'tagreethatsettingandenforcingrulesarean essentialpartofthejobdescription.Yetfacedwithwhining,pouting,andtantrums,many parentscave."Thelimitedtimeyouhavewithyourkids,youwanttomakeitidealfor them,"saysForehand,aprofessorofpsychologyattheUniversityofVermontwhose evidencebasedprogramisoutlinedinhisbook."Asaresult,weendupoverindulging ourkids." But,paradoxically,nothavinglimitshasbeenproventomakechildren moredefiantand rebellious,becausetheyfeelunsafeandpushtoseeifparentswillrespond.Research sincethe1960sonparentingstyleshasfoundthatachildwhosemomanddadare permissiveismorelikelytohaveproblemsinschoolandabusedrugsandalcoholas teenagers."Parentsasktheir1yearoldswhattheywantfordinnernow,"saysJean Twenge,anassociateprofessorofpsychologyatSanDiegoStateUniversityandauthor of GenerationMe."Nooneeversaidthatagenerationortwoago."Usingsurveysdating backtothe1930s,Twengehasfoundsignificantincreasesinreportedsymptomsof depressionandanxietyamongtoday'schildrenandteenagers,comparedwithearlier generations.SuniyaLuthar,apsychologistatColumbiaUniversityTeachersCollege, reportedin2003thatchildrenwhoareshoweredwithadvantagesaremorelikelytobe depressedandanxiousandtoabusedrugsandalcoholthanthenorm.Lutharsaysthat's

probablybecausethosechildrenareunderalotofpressuretoachieveatschoolandthink thattheirparentsvaluetheirachievementsmorethanthemselves.Theyalsofeelisolated fromtheirparents. Rulesettingworksbestwhenparentsgivesimple,clearcommandsanddiscussthe familyruleswithkidswellinadvanceofaconflict,accordingtoRobertHendren,a professorofpsychiatryattheMedicalInvestigationofNeurodevelopmentalDisorders InstituteattheUniversityofCaliforniaDavisandpresidentoftheAmericanAcademyof ChildandAdolescentPsychiatry.Acommonrecommendationforparentswhofear comingoffasameanie:Letthechildchoosebetweentwooptionswheneitherchoiceis acceptabletotheparent.AhalfhourofNintendorightafterschool,thenhomework?All homeworkbeforegametime? Consistencyisalsokey."Ihavetobeverystrictwithmyselfandgooverandtellhimthe rulesandwalkaway,"saysLaurenJordan,astayathomemominEssexJunction,Vt., whose4yearoldson,Peter,wouldscreamandhitJordanandherhusband,Sean,then kickthewallduringtimeout."Itfeltoutofcontrol."JordansignedupwithVermont's BehaviorTherapyandPsychotherapyCentertolearnForehand'sfiveweekprocess. Thefirstweekwasspentjust"attending"toPeter,watchinghimplayandcommenting withouttellingthepreschoolerwhattodo."Helovedit,"saysJordan,whoseolderson hasautismandhasrequiredanoutsizeshareofherenergy."Irealizedatthatpointthathe needsthisoneononeattention."JordanthenhadtolearntoignorePeter'sminorbad behavior(suchasscreamingforattentionwhileMomisonthephone)andtonotrushin toscoldhimduringatimeout."Consistencyisthekey.It'snoteasy,"Jordansays."But it'smadeourhomeamuchhappierplace." 2.They'reoverprotective Teachers,coaches,andpsychotherapistsalikehavenoticedthatparentstodaycan'tstand toseetheirchildren struggleorsufferasetback.Sothey'resteppingintomicromanage everythingfromplaygroundquarrelstobaseballteampositionstogrades.Evenbosses aren'timmune.OneownerofaNewYorkpublicrelationsfirmsayshehasgottenE mailsfromparentstellinghimthat'she'smakingtheirchildworktoomuch.Thechildin questionisinhis20s. "Manywellmeaningparentsjumpintooquickly,"saysRobertBrooks,aclinical psychologistinNeedham,Mass.,andcoauthorof RaisingResilientChildren."Resilient childrenrealizethatsometimestheywillfail,makemistakes,havesetbacks.Theywill attempttolearnfromthem."Whenparentsintercede,Brookssays,"itcommunicatesto thekidthat'Idon'tthinkyou'recapableofdealingwithit.'Wehavetoletkidsexperience theconsequencesoftheirbehavior." Otherwise,theymaygrowafraidtotry."Iseealotofkidswhoseemreally unmotivated,"saysKristenGloff,36,aclinicalandschoolsocialworkerintheChicago area."It'snotthatthey'relazy.Theydon'twanttofail."

3.Theynag.Lecture.Repeat.Thenyell Ifoneverbalnudgewon'tgetakidtocometodinner,20surelywill.Right?Infact, there'sabundantevidencethathumanstuneoutrepeatedcommands."Somanyparents thinktheyhavetogetveryemotionallyupset,yell,threaten,usesarcasm,"saysLynn Clark,aprofessoremeritusofpsychologyatWesternKentuckyUniversityandauthorof SOSHelpforParents."Thechildimitatesthatbehavior,andyougetsassytalk." Naggingalsogiveschildren"negativereinforcement,"oranincentiveparental attentiontokeepmisbehaving."Iwaskindofignoringthegoodbehavior,andevery timehedidsomethingwrong,Iwouldstepinandgivehimattention,"saysNancyAiles, a46yearoldstayathomemominEastHaven,Conn.Shewasfrustratedwithher9 yearoldson,Nick,whowouldmeltdownandthrowthingsiftheday'sschedule changed,draghisfeetaboutcleaninghisroomordoinghomework,andcallher"bad Mommy"ifshecomplained. ParentmanagementtrainingthisspringattheYaleChildConductCentertaughtAiles andherhusbandhowtousepositivereinforcementinsteadtopraiseNickimmediately andenthusiastically.Now,whenNickispickinguphistoysinthefamilyroom,shesits down,watches,andsays:"Wow,thatlooksreallynice!" Ailesandherhusband,David,alsolearnedhowtosetuparewardsystemwithpointsthat NickcancashinforYuGiOhcardsandGameBoytimeandtobackupthesystemwith timeoutsforbadbehavior.Withinthreeweeks,Ailessays,Nickhadmadeacomplete turnaround."Insteadofdoingthingsthatmakepeopleunhappy,"shesays,"youdothings thatmakethemhappy!" 4.TheypraisetoomuchAndbadly Itseemslikeatruismthatpraisingchildrenwouldmakethemfeelgoodaboutthemselves andmotivatethemtodobetter.Butparentsdon'tgivechildrenattaboysasoftenasthey think,Kazdinsays.Andwhentheydo,it'salltooofteneithergeneric("goodjob!")or centeredontheperson,notthetask("you'resosmart!").Thiskindofpraiseactually makeschildrenlessmotivatedandselfconfident.InoneexperimentbyCarolDweck,a psychologistnowatStanfordUniversity,fifthgraderswhowerepraisedforbeing intelligent,ratherthanmakingagoodeffort,actuallymadelessofaneffortontestsand hadahardertimedealingwithfailure. "It'ssocommonnowforparentstotellchildrenthatthey'respecial,"saysTwenge.That fostersnarcissism,shesays,notselfesteem.Twengethinksparentstellachild"You're special"whentheyreallymean"You'respecialtome."Muchbetterineveryway,she says,tojustsay:"Iloveyou." 5.Theypunishtooharshly AlthoughspankinghasbeendeploredbychilddevelopmentexpertssincethedaysofDr. Spockinthe1940s,asmanyas90percentofparentsthinkit'soktospankyoung children,accordingtoresearchbyMurrayStraus,aprofessorofsociologyatthe

UniversityofNewHampshire.Kazdinandotherbehavioralresearcherssayparents commonlypunishfarmoreharshlythantheyneedto. Afterall,it'snotsupposedtobeaboutpayback,thoughthat'softenwhat'sgoingon,says JamilaReid,codirectoroftheParentingClinicattheUniversityofWashington.The clinic's"TheIncredibleYears"programhasbeenfoundinsevenstudiestoimprove children'sbehavior."Oftenparentscomelookingforbiggersticks.Wetellparentsthe worddisciplinemeans'teach.'It'ssomethingtoteachachildthatthere'sabetterwayto respond." Considerthefineartofthetimeout.Parentsoftensabotagetimeoutsbylecturingorby givinghugs,accordingtoSheilaEyberg,aprofessorofpsychologyattheUniversityof Florida.HerParentChildInteractionTherapyisusedinmanymentalhealthclinics. Forehandandotherresearchershavespentmanyhoursobservingtheuseoftimeoutasa disciplinarystrategytodetermineexactlywhatmakesiteffective.Thekeyfinding: Disciplineworksbestwhenit'simmediate,mild,andbrief,becauseit'sthenassociated withthetransgressionanddoesn'tbreedmoreangerandresentment.Atimeoutshould lastforjustafewminutes,usuallyoneminuteforeachyearofageofthechild. Teenagerswhohaveoutgrowntimeoutsshouldn'tloseaprivilegeformorethanaday. Beyondthat,thechild'sattitudeshiftsfromregrettingbadbehaviortoresentingthe parent."Thepunishmentbusinessisn'tjustineffective,"Kazdinsays."Itleadsto avoidanceandescape.Itputsalittlewedgeintherelationshipbetweenparentandchild." Longgroundingsalsomakeitmorelikelythattheparentswillrelentafterafewdays. Better,Kazdinsays,toaskthechildtopracticegoodbehavior,suchasfixingsomething hedamaged,inordertowinprivilegesback. 6.Theytelltheirchildhowtofeel Mostparentingbooksfocusoneradicatingbadbehavior.Butinstudyafterstudy, empathyforotherpeopleleadsthelistofqualitiesthatpeopleneedtosuccessfullyhandle relationshipsatschool,atwork,andinthefamily.Childrenneedtothinkabouthowtheir ownfeelingswillbeaffectedbywhattheydo,aswellasthefeelingsofothers,says MyrnaShure,adevelopmentalpsychologistatDrexelUniversityandauthorof Raisinga ThinkingChild."Thatiswhatwillinhibitachildfromhurtingothers,eitherphysicallyor emotionally." Andparents,bytellingchildren"you'refine"or"don'tcry,"denychildrenthechanceto learnthoselessons."Thechildlearnsempathythroughbeingempathizedwith,"says StanleyGreenspan,achildpsychiatristinChevyChase,Md.,whosemostrecentbook, GreatKids,tellsparentshowtohelptheirchilddevelop10essentialqualitiesforahappy life.Empathy,creativity,andlogicalthinkingtopthelist.Asimple"We'resosorry,we knowhowitfeels"isenough. "Modelingempathicbehaviorisreallyveryimportant,"saysJamesWindell,acounselor withthejuvenilecourtsysteminOaklandCounty,Mich.,andauthorof 8Weekstoa WellBehavedChild."Howyourespondtoyourchildren'sneedssetsthestage.It'sreally

easytobeasupportiveparentwhentheybringhomeastraightAreportcard.Whenthey getabadgrade,that'swhentheyreallyneedoursupport." 7.TheyputgradesandSATsaheadofcreativity Anoveremphasisongoodgradescanalsodistortthemessageabouthowandwhat childrenshouldlearn."Welikekidstolearnrules,andwewantthemtolearnfacts,"says Greenspan."We'reimpressedwhentheycanreadearlyoridentifytheirshapes.It'smuch harderforustoinspirethemtocomeupwithacreativeidea."Childrenwhocanthink creativelyaremorelikelytobeabletobouncebackiftheirfirstideadoesn'twork.They alsoknowitcantaketimeandpatiencetocomeupwithagoodsolution.Thegoal,says Greenspan,isnottohaveachildwhoknowshowtoanswerquestionsbutonewhowill growuptoasktheimportantquestions. Parentscanhelptheirchildrenbecomeindependentthinkersbyaskingopenended questionslike:Canyouthinkofanotherwaytosolvetheproblemwithyourteammate? Oraskawhiningpreschooler:Canyouthinkofadifferentwaytotellmewhatyouwant? 8.Theyforgettohavefun "WhenItalktofamiliesthataren'tfunctioningsowell,andIask,howoftendoyoulaugh together,theysay:Wehaven'tlaughedtogetherforalongtime,"saysHendren.Those littlesignsofloveandconnectionalaugh,asongsharedinthecarare,hesays,signs ofhealth.