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Hilber Psychological Services

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Parenting 101: Discipline, Part 1

Parenting can already be difficult, and it does not help that children always seem to know just how to push their parents’ buttons. According to psychologist Dr. Thomas W. Phelan there are three roles of a parent: 1.) Control Obnoxious Behavior, 2.) Encourage Positive Behavior, and 3.) Build relationships with your child. Today, we will discuss how to effectively discipline based on Dr. Phelan's research to tackle those problematic behaviors. In discipline, among the biggest mistakes parents make are talking too much and expressing too much emotion. Often times, a child can easily pick up on a parent’s frustration, giving the child power and control in the situation. The more a parent reacts to a child’s misbehavior, the more likely the child will continue to engage in the negative behavior. Furthermore, when a parent is feeling frustrated, the parent is likely to talk more. Some parents have the misconception that children are like little adults who can be rational. Parents who believe in this are more likely to try to use words and logic when dealing with young children. However, often times children know that their behavior is wrong, and therefore they do not need reasons and speeches on their behavior. Trying to lecture to a child can be unproductive. As such, it is crucial for parents to stick to a “No Talking and No Emotion” rule. When disciplining a child, parents need to be calm and consistent.

One of the first things parents must discuss before implementing a discipline plan is to agree on what the rewards and consequences might look like. For discipline to be effective, it is important for children to know the consequences ahead of time. Therefore, having a short conversation with your child about new rules can be beneficial. If children are older, they can be a part of the discussion regarding what behaviors may warrant a consequence.

As a parent, you may want to incorporate role playing various scenarios into your initial discipline conversation. This allows the child the opportunity to be a part of the process, and provides examples of rewards and consequences in a way children may better understand. Incorporating an art project may also be helpful in this discussion. One idea may be to have the child create a “Rules” list to hang up on the wall as a reminder for unacceptable behaviors in the home.

Parents may also discuss consequences with the child before a specific event. For example, if the parent does not have to count past a “2” (a parental technique discussed next week) for misbehavior while grocery shopping, the child may be rewarded with ice cream.

Parents should recognize that children may respond to new parenting changes in two ways. 1.) the child immediately cooperates, or 2.) the child begins to test the parent. Children who test their parents gain perceived control by providing parents with an ultimatum: Give me what I desire and my bad behavior will stop immediately. Children will test parents via threats, tempers, badgering, buttering-up parents, and physical tactics. It’s important for parents to keep cool - children may continue to jump from tactic to tactic, but be strong and be consistent!

Tune back to this blog next week as I discuss the specific parenting technique “1-2-3 Magic” based on the research of Thomas W. Phelan, PhD. And don’t forget, as a parent you are not alone! If you feel that you would like to begin therapy to discuss parenting or personal stressors, please contact us to set up an appointment. If you have any general questions about therapy, you can visit FAQ at Hilber Psychological Services.

Verbal Darts

Do you ever blurt out something hurtful to someone in anger?  This is what I call a verbal dart.  These darts are said to make others feel as bad as we do, although we cannot make them feel how we feel.  Instead, we trigger other feelings of hurt, anger, and an unhealthy argument. Some people are really good at finding what hurts others, and some may not be able to hit the target quite right. Generally speaking, those that are competent at hitting targets with their verbal darts have bigger and more prominent targets themselves.  These people may be triggered by thoughts, feelings, or actions that push their buttons.  Once their own button is pushed, verbal darts can be thrown for various reasons, including wanting the other person to feel how they do (bad), wanting to hurt them because they were hurt (revenge-like), or for some other goal.  Darts are typically not thrown when there are no reasons to throw them.

Buttons are generally installed by the family culture via the value system, behaviors, emotions, and interactions within each family.  Although no one can be the same person and have the same buttons, this means that family members may know what buttons to press and where to throw the darts because they have similar views and values.

Verbal darts, which are meant to hurt in some way, tend to be thrown for the wrong reasons.  One cannot make another feel exactly how they're feeling.  That's why we have empathy - so we can try to understand how it is like to be them and feel that way.  We can understand what it's like to feel sad, mad, frustrated, etc, but we cannot feel it exactly the same way another person does.  Each person has their own knowledge, perceptions, experiences, and culture of our family, which is unique only to that person.  Unfortunately, due to this verbal darts are just painful and this pain cannot be shared exactly how it's felt.

I have a challenge for you.  Ideally, no one would throw verbal darts.  But we live in the real world and individuals get to have their feelings whether they are hurt, angry, frustrated, irritated, and so on.  When we are hurt we want others to understand how we feel.

Your challenge is to minimize the amount of verbal darts you throw.  One way to do this is to talk to a professional to decrease the need for someone to understand your anger/hurt/etc. Or even to decrease or minimize your buttons. And if you happen to throw a verbal dart at a point of frustration, it's a great idea to apologize for it. Apologies can go very far when they're sincere and help you to change your decisions or behavior in the future.

For help with minimizing your darts, contact us or visit Hilber Psychological Services for more information.