Does your child throw a fit if you ask him to set the table or have a tantrum if you put back the bag of candy at the grocery store?
Some behavior problems are expected as kids learn what they can and can't do. But some children old enough to know better have serious, daily behavior issues that don't seem to improve. Everyone in the household is affected, and parents feel hopeless and trapped.
A new book by V. Mark Durand, a University of South Florida St. Petersburg professor and researcher, says there is hope, but the change must begin with the parents.
Durand's book, "Optimistic Parenting: Hope and Help for You and Your Challenging Child" (Brookes Publishing, 2011; available on Amazon), lays out a program based on decades of research into childhood behavior problems. He found that the same techniques that work with severely disabled children also help in average families.
He spoke about the issues and his advice:
Q: There are a lot of parenting books on the market. What sets yours apart?
A: It's a true self-help guide that doesn't just tell you what to do with your child, it tells you how to do it.
Q: What's the basis for the program?
A: The idea for the research started because I dealt with older children with severe behavior problems and wanted to know how they got that way, and why parents react the way they do to the behavior. If you feel confident as a parent and can change the way you think about a stressful situation, become more optimistic about your ability to handle it, you are more likely to follow through and get your child to do what you ask.
Q: Give us an example of how your method might work.
A: Parents feel bad when their child throws a tantrum in the grocery store or a restaurant. They feel they are being judged by other people in the store ... They pledge never to take the child out in public again. First, we ask parents to become aware of what they are thinking and why they have those thoughts. Are you angry at the child? Angry at the people around you? The next step is to dispute those negative thoughts. You think you are a bad parent because your child is screaming. You clothe, bathe, educate, house and protect your child. Are you really a bad parent? Is it helpful to think this way? Next, we help them figure out what to do with those thoughts, find a distraction that helps change the mood so you can help your child. One parent would shrug her shoulders and say, "Yippie-ki-yay." It broke the tension.
Q: What comes after that?
A: Next you ask: Why is the child behaving this way? If he's screaming because he wants candy in the store, giving him candy while you're shopping rewards the bad behavior. Instead, go into the store with a plan and a piece of candy in your purse as a reward given only after you leave. You also have to understand that bad behavior is a form of communication. You have to teach the child a better way of communicating what they want.
Q: You say it also takes confidence to be a better parent. Would you explain that?
A: You need to feel capable of making changes. A lack of confidence will make you question yourself and your ability to make those changes.
Q: There have been so many young people in the news with long arrest records, a history of serious crimes, even murder. What do you think about the parenting those kids had?
A: I think a lot of those parents think: There's nothing I can do or I am just going to rely on God to help me out of this. That's being unrealistically optimistic ... I bet the families were very supportive and forgiving and felt, once again, (their child) was turning his life around. Those parents and families have unrealistic faith that things will just be fine. You need to get help. Someone must intervene. And you have to work at it. Without guidance, your difficult child is not going to improve on his own.
Q: What's next?
A: We are working now on a follow-up study to look at whether this approach will affect parents' stress biologically. Chronic stress can do major damage, and a lot of these parents are under stress.
Tips for optimistic parents:
1. Explore your thoughts and feelings before, during and after meltdowns. Do they help or hurt your parenting skills?
2. If your spouse or partner doesn't help, ask why. His or her own self-doubt may interfere with good parenting.
3. Believe you are a good parent. Add up the positives you do for your child.
4. Believe your child can change.
5. Take care of yourself. You can't help your child if you are hurting.
6. Leverage, don't multitask. Doing two things at once means you may be doing two things poorly. Try a single activity that achieves multiple goals (set the table together to get a job done while teaching your child).
7. Parent in the moment. Focus on the positives happening right now, rather than all the other things you have to do.
8. List three good things that happen each day. Maybe today's tantrum was shorter than yesterday's.
9. Express gratitude toward those who help you.
10. Feeling bad sometimes is inevitable. There will be "down times."
Source: "Optimistic Parenting: Hope and Help for You and Your Challenging Child" by V. Mark Durand
(Irene Maher can be reached at email@example.com.)
(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service www.scrippsnews.com)