Family Matters
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Family Matters

Getting to Better Behavior…Without Crushing Spirit.

How do you get good behavior without crushing the wild beastie spirit?

There are many aspects to parenting, but sometimes you just need a child’s behavior to change. Alan Kazdin Ph.D. is a Yale child psychologist and author of The Kazdin Method for Parenting the Defiant Child. His studies and guidance focus on how to change some of the often extremely bothersome behaviors of toddlers and children.

A lot of parenting can seem like behavior management, but we’re not always so good at it. Kazdin teaches us how to successfully use well applied positive reinforcement to get effective behavioral change.

There have been times when using his techniques have helped our family go from screaming “NO, NO, NO!!!!” all day long to having a home filled with “Yippee! I’m proud of you for doing that!”

With Kazdin’s help, the energy in our home flipped from very negative and frustrated to happier and more positive. And we were getting the behavior changes we really needed.

There are a variety of techniques that Kazdin teaches, and he carefully reviews how to do them effectively. We learned to drop the “stern” voice and refocus on positive reinforcement of good or almost good behavior.

As adults, we have the power to step back from the chaos in which we are embroiled and find a new approach. As parents, learning to take that step back, and take that second look is a vital skill.

Avoid reacting. Instead, stop, think, plan, then act. Yeah, easier said than done, but worth the work!

It’s important to focus on what you do want your kids to be doing, and then set them up to succeed. When they are set up to succeed with better behavior, you are also set up to offer praise for success.

It can turn the whole emotional and behavioral dynamic between adult and child on its head in a very good way. You will find it makes for a much, much nicer home environment. The kids will be calming down and behaving better as you are able to praise them more and more.

I’ll review one of Kazdin’s techniques that you can use again and again. Let’s say your young kids have hit a “wild and crazy” stage.

Going to bed now involves little beasties screaming and running around, throwing things on the ground, jumping on the furniture, general mayhem, and parents screaming “No, NO! NO! STOP IT!”

It had been going well, but now? Nothing you used to do is working. You start each evening with the plan to make it a good night. Before you know it, the kids are jumping on the bed and screaming. You just want them to stop screaming, and put their PJ’s on!

So, you try “consequences.” You get lots of crying, but the next day the bad behavior returns. So, you try more severe consequences. You wind-up with more crying, but no enduring compliance.

Kazdin explains that negative consequences do NOT work when trying to change behavior. The escalating discipline is a common trap that parents fall into because at first it seems to work. But then, it doesn’t, so we escalate the punishment.

Then we look at ourselves and say, “Who is this harsh disciplinarian that I’m morphing into!” “What’s going on with my kids!” “How am I supposed to fix this!”

The first thing to do is step back and ask yourself, not what you want them to STOP doing, but rather what you want them TO DO.

Then write down the behavior you want: “I want the kids to walk nicely to their room, put their pajamas on, and climb into bed for story time.”

You have now defined what you want which means you can start praising and rewarding all steps in the right direction.

You can also set them up to succeed by practicing. First you practice in the middle of the day when everyone is fresh and happy.

“Okay kids, we’re going to play a game! If you walk down nicely to bed, I’ll give you a chocolate chip. If you then put your pajamas on nicely, I’ll give you another one!”

Then you practice with immediate reward and praises. Suddenly, you’re saying “Good job!” and getting compliance.

It really works. Read up on all the fine points of making it work, what mistakes to avoid, and how long to do everything.

Kazdin’s book has very useful information and can be a life saver in the early years when the beasties are sometimes wild just because…they are wild!



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Kathleen Cawley

Kathleen Cawley


Physician Asst., twin mom, author of “Navigating the Shock of Parenthood: Warty Truths and Modern Practicalities" Available on ebook. Paperback coming 2023.