I receive lots of inquiries from parents who need help for their children, but don’t want to meet with a child psychologist. Some are fearful of the stigma associated with having their child diagnosed with a mental disorder. Others are concerned about the cost of therapy or are simply uncomfortable talking about personal problems. However, many of these parents seem to have a McDonald’s mentality to their children’s problems. They want a solution that is quick, easy, and cheap.
Maybe these parents are right, in that the vast majority of behavior problems can be readily solved by following these simple five steps. I can’t say that it is easy, but it will work.
- Carefully and specifically define the problem. Avoid global descriptions of attitude or personality, and focus instead on a specific behavior. Don’t try to fix your child’s “stubbornness” or “laziness.” Think instead of what exactly you want your child to do differently—-clean his room twice a week, stop swearing, complete his homework every night, or stop fighting with his sister.
- Involve your child in these discussions. Kids, like the rest of us, are more apt to adapt to change if they feel involved in the process. Ask for your child’s perspective. This isn’t a time for lecture or criticism. Talk with your child about the problem and tell them you want their viewpoint before any decisions are made.
- Set modest goals. Many parents strive for unachievable, aspirational goals. They want chronic habits that developed over years to change in a few days. Focus instead on one modest goal that you can achieve, such as eating at the dinner table without saying anything negative, talking instead of whining when upset, or completing one chore before supper.
- Consistently do something different. Develop an approach that is different than what you’ve done in the past. Consider various reward systems to encourage your child’s behavior. Praise your youngster if she is making progress towards that goal.Here is the most important advice you are going to read in this article. Be consistent. Consistency in implementing consequences is one of the most common traits of effective parents.
- Keep records. Use charts and checklists to help monitor your child’s progress. Use that information to praise success or discuss unanticipated situations. The real value of such monitoring is that it leads to focused attention for you and your child. It helps you become mindful of the problem and lets your child know what progress she is making.
This should take care of 80 percent of childhood problems. However, for the other 20 percent, please don’t be reluctant to contact people like me.