Facilitator: I want you to take a minute now and just think back to your childhood. What was your childhood like? Did you have a lot of freedom to do whatever you like or did you have quite strict parents? Were you able to take the time to chase bubbles or play in the mud or with friends, or my personal favourite, lazing in the sun on the grass? Or were you expected to stay at home and do your school work?
The problem with both giving and receiving parenting advice today, is that we are literally bombarded with advice from lots of different places in today’s society. Whether it be the well intentioned aunt or neighbour, or just media in general such as print media, shows such as the Supernanny, social media sites like North Shore Mums and TV. It seems that no-one escapes the clutches of the usually well intentioned people giving advice, no matter how famous you are.
So my goal today is to try and help sift through some of the conflicting advice that is out there and provide up-to-date research as to what does work, what research says works for difficult behaviours. I want you to take a minute. I’ve just taken a couple of questions from a large scale questionnaire to help identify what kind of parenting style you may have. If [you are a parent - audio cuts out] great, you can do this easily. If you’re not a parent, I want you to imagine what you would be like if you were a parent, or think back to how you were parented growing up.
So style A. I’ll get you to read through this, or Style B, or Style C. Hands up Style A, if you fell into Style A. Not many. Oops, can I go back? Yes. Hands up if you fell into Style B; and C. Okay. That’s about what I would expect actually. So let’s go through what all the different styles are.
If you fell into Style A, you could possibly, and keep in mind that they were very short questions from a larger questionnaire, but there’s a possibility that you may be what we call a permissive parent. The permissive parent is the parent who wants to be the friend. They don’t want to be the parent. They don’t feel comfortable being an authority figure. So it’s the parent who doesn’t set expectations, strict expectations on the child, doesn’t have rules necessarily, doesn’t discipline. Will discipline only if there is something serious that comes up, or intervene if something serious comes up. Permissive parents are usually very warm and very nurturing also.
Style B. If you are a Style B, we’ve got a picture of a drill sergeant up there. That’s an extreme analogy but it’s not too far from what an authoritarian parent is. So like a drill sergeant, a drill sergeant expects obedience and punishes autonomy. They want you to follow the rules and they’re not warm and fuzzy kind of people that inspires a sense of intimacy. If you don’t follow the rules, then you are punished. The thing will drill sergeants, or authoritarian parents, is though that when the system is in place and it works, it really works, so kids usually obey. There’s no negotiation, room for negotiation with the child. If a child asks why do you have this rule or why am I getting punished this way, it’s usually answered with because I said so.
Style C is the authoritative parent. So the authoritative parent is the more moderate parent and it falls between the permissive and the authoritarian. So the authoritative parent has expectations about behaviour. They don’t allow for bad behaviour. They have consequences and follow through with consequences, but they will also do it in a quite warm and nurturing environment. They allow for example discussion or give their explanations as to why they’re implementing certain consequences and they are as I said, they are quite warm and nurturing as well.
So what parenting style does the research say is the most effective? Let’s just take a guess. Guess who thinks Style A permissive. Style B authoritarian. Style C Authoritative. After I have just presented what they are, it makes it easier. Yes. Most of you were right. The research does say that it is Style C. So the authoritative parent is generally the most effective parenting style. So parents produce kids that are capable and happier and more independent and just a general better well-being than the other styles.
At our unit, at the health psychology unit, in our current study there we’re looking at therapeutic interventions for children with oppositional behaviour difficulties. One of our goals in our therapies is to try and get parents who are on the more permissive or authoritarian style of parenting, and try and give them strategies to bring them into being more authoritative and more effective, and hopefully improve their children’s problematic behaviour. In doing this, we talked to parents about certain myths of parenting. I’m going to go through just three with you today.
Myth number one is that punishment will change bad behaviour. So most parents believe that yelling, spanking or removing privileges will improve their child’s behaviour. It’s not quite that simple. While punishment does work, it doesn’t work as effectively as other strategies, and it doesn’t work as well as parents think it works. One of the problems with punishment is that kids become desensitised to it.
I want you to think of an example, of your child climbing onto the table when they shouldn’t be. What do you do? You yell at your child, get off the table. The child gets off the table, but either the next day or maybe five minutes later, they get back on the table. So what do you do? Well, you felt pretty chuffed at the fact that the yelling worked the first time, so you try yelling again. You yell again. The child may get off the table, but they may take a little bit longer or they may not get off the table at all. So what do you do? You up the ante. You either yell more or yell louder, or if that doesn’t work, you might spank them or threaten them with time out or removing some kind of privilege.
The thing with punishment is that it can work and it does work, but it doesn’t work well by itself. The more you use it, the less effective it gets because kids get desensitised to it. The other problem with punishment such as yelling and spanking, is that you’re not really teaching your child what alternative behaviours that you prefer to see instead. So going back to the example of getting on the table. You’re child gets on the table and instead of actually punishing them, what we would encourage you to do is notice the good behaviours. When they are actually doing what we call the positive opposite to the negative behaviours.
For example, they’ve jumped on the table and you might, for example, ignore that or just choose to ignore that. Then the next time they are actually sitting on the floor playing nicely with the Lego, and that could be what we call a positive opposite behaviour, you pay positive attention to that behaviour and praise it. So you could say that’s great Tommy, I really like the way you’re sitting on the floor nicely playing with that Lego. Because what we know is, that it’s more effective to actually use the positive strategies such as praising, what we call label praising and I’ll go into that a bit more later, rather than just punishment. Also by doing this you are teaching them what alternative behaviours you would like to see instead.
Myth number two is that nagging works. Hands up if you are a nagger? I have to say I’m a nagger. I can’t help myself. I’ve got two little boys, I nag them and I nag my husband as well. I’ve got this belief that if I don’t nag, things just will not get done and that’s something that I struggle with. People say to me don’t nag but they won’t do it if I don’t nag. I should know better though because research shows that nagging doesn’t work. If you are a nagger, you’ll know from experience that it in fact doesn’t work.
So let me give you an example. You shout or repeat yourself over and over brush your teeth, brush your teeth now. How many times do I have to tell you to brush your teeth? Can you see I have experience in this? So the more you actually give a request and they don’t do it, the less likely they are to comply. That’s because you’re requesting, they’re not complying and you’re not following through with some kind of consequence or some kind of reinforcer. So what is the child learning? You yell brush your teeth, they ignore you and nothing happens except you just yell again. They’re learning that in fact they don’t actually need to listen to you and they just zone out. They can either do that physically or mentally. So your aversive, you’re an aversive thing to them. So they can run away, or they can just treat you as white noise and zone out.
So what do you do instead of nagging? When you first ask your child to brush their teeth, stand there and attend to it. Don’t run off and make lunches and multi-task and do a number of other things. As soon as they start brushing their teeth, say great, thanks for brushing your teeth the first time I asked. Then just go off and do whatever you need to do after that.
Myth number three, that lots of praise spoils your child. People think that if you praise kids too much, they’ll grow up to be self-involved spoilt narcissists. Yet we know from research that praise delivered effectively and properly is the most powerful way that we can shape a child’s behaviour. In fact, if there’s just one message that I want you to take home today, it is pay more attention and use praise when your child displays positive behaviours, but there is a bit of an art to praising. The more effective kind of praise is when you praise the behaviours and you also talk about what specific information that you’d like to see, or that you liked. This is so that the child knows what behaviours they need to replicate the next time. So for example thank you for waiting until; or I like the fact that you waited until after I got off the phone before you asked for some water. So that specific and labelled kind of praise is more effective than the general good boy.
I’ve picked out three of the most commonly held beliefs about parenting and as I’ve said, the most important message for you to take home today is to spend more time attending to positive behaviours such as labelled praise, or even giving hugs or high fives or something when you see a behaviour that you want to see more of, and less time on the negative strategies such as nagging and punishment. Just to emphasise it even more, here’s a take home activity for you. I want you to pick a behaviour that particularly bothers you and bugs you. When you see the positive opposite of that behaviour, use labelled praise and see what happens.
While the strategies I have discussed today represent some of the most well researched and proven effective strategies we currently have, there is still a lot we don’t know. More research is needed to try and better understand what interventions best fit with what children and families, because like everything, it’s not a one size fits all. At our unit, the health psychology unit, we’re currently investigating what kinds of therapeutic interventions work best for which families, specifically with behaviour problems.
The therapeutic intervention discussed today is based on what we call Parent Management Training, or PMT. It’s currently considered the gold standard for treating children with behaviour problems, but studies show that this intervention doesn’t work for 20 to 40 per cent of families. That’s a lot of people that it doesn’t work for. So clearly, there is something else needed to address that gap. So we’re also, in addition to delivering PMT and investigating PMT, we’re also investigating another kind of therapy that’s showing promising results in the US called Collaborative Proactive Solutions. Unlike PMT - the PMT believes that children will do better if you motivate them to do better. CPS has a different slant and it’s saying kids will do better if they have the skills to do better. The reason they are misbehaving is because they lack the skills in that certain situation to do what is required or what is asked.
So if we go back to the brushing the teeth example. Whereas PMT says they need to be motivated, CPS would say well maybe the child is lacking skills in, for example, being able to make transitions easily, or being able to move from one task to the other. The science on what constitutes good parenting is still evolving so watch this space. If you are interested in participating in our study, or know anybody who might be, please refer them to us. We’d love to have them in our study. If you can’t read the website just Google Side by Side: Bringing fun back to families.
Thank you so much everyone for your time today.
19 August 2015
Test Tags: parenting, children behaviour, parenting tips, side-by-side, bring fun back to families
About the speaker
Anna Dedousis-Wallace is a clinical psychologist. She has extensive experience working with adolescents, their parents and teachers, both on the front line as a high school teacher both in the outback and metropolitan.
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