Apparently, we all need to stop using 'time out' to correct bad behaviour
Most of us (who have watched our fair share of episodes of Super Nanny) would probably agree that when it comes to disciplining your naughty child, time out is where it is at, no?
I mean; Jo-Jo did it, and look how well it worked for all those families (whose children we secretly thought were so bold, sure nothing could possibly cure them. And yet, somehow, Super Nanny always did.) And if there was one thing Jo Frost was in favour of, it was the time-out treatment.
Because bad behaviour, be it smacking a sibling, or spitting out their dinner or using bad language, must be punished, we all agree. I mean, how else will they learn that what they just did was wrong?
Wrong, says, Alan Kazdin, director of the Yale Parenting Centre.
This is where we all go wrong, apparently, Kazdin, explains in an interview in TheAtlantic.com.
"Punishment might make you feel better, but it won’t change the kid’s behaviour." Instead, he advocates for a radical technique in which parents positively reinforce the behaviour they do want to see until the negative behaviour eventually goes away.
As in, ignore the bad behaviour, give it none of your attention, but instead focus on reinforcing the behaviour that is good. Get it?
The problem, according to Kazdin, who has been running the Yale Parenting Centre for the last 30 years, is that our brains are wired to pick up negative things in the environment. "It's thought to be very adaptive from an evolutionary standpoint. If you have a partner, significant other, or a child, if they do ten nice things, that 11th one that you didn't like, you're going to really be all over."
Parents might start out reasoning with their children, but they're likely to escalate to something a little bit more, like shouting, touching, firmly dragging their child, even if they're well-intentioned, explains Kazdin. And goes on to say why this, in his opinion, will do nothing in terms of changing or improving the child's behaviour.
Instead, he argues we need to focus on what comes before the bad behaviour.
"There are a whole bunch of things that happen before bad behaviour and if you use them strategically, you can get the child to comply," Kazdin explains.
The secret lies in giving the child instructions and choice, apparently.
"Choice among humans increases the likelihood of compliance. And the actual choice isn't important, it is the appearance of choice that's important. Having real choice is not the issue, humans don't feel too strongly about that, but having the feeling that you have a choice makes a difference."
And then, when you through giving the child an apparent choice, have your compliance, you praise, says the expert. "Go over and praise it (the behaviour) ... very effusively, and you have to say what you're praising exactly."
Kazdin, who works with children from toddler age and up to teenagers, brought in for very serious behavioral problems and even violence, is very clear on who has to be "treated" first:
"We don't change children. We change the parents, so they can change their children."