Problem behavior in children is a long-standing issue parents across the world continue to struggle with today. Across different generations and different cultures, varying discipline approaches have been used to manage children’s inappropriate behavior, with varying degrees of success. Child discipline tactics have ranged from completely extreme behavior management methods to somewhat laxist strategies. But what if there was a simple solution to managing your child’s problem behavior? Well, science says there is.
In a recent study, researchers from the Cardiff University, University of Oxford, University of Amsterdam, and Utrecht University undertook a study on disruptive behavior in children. They decided to go over different scientific studies to determine the strategies that had been scientifically proven to effectively reduce children’s behavior problems.
The researchers assessed more than 156 studies that had evaluated problem behavior in children aged between two and 10 years old. Their objective was to analyze the common discipline strategies used by parents to deal with problem behavior and to highlight those identified as the most effective in reducing child behavior problems.
The study assessed over 15 000 families in over 20 countries. Among the behavior issues identified were frequent temper tantrums, excessive arguing, deliberate attempts to upset others, and uncooperative behavior. This is what the researchers found:
4 tips from science to reduce your child’s behavior issues
Focusing on positive behavior reduces problem behavior
Do you know which teachers have the most cooperative students? The ones who focus on their students’ positive behavior. Positive reinforcement works. The token economy system is one of the most effective discipline management techniques simply because it focuses on “catching students being good”.
A token economy system is a positive reinforcement approach that focuses on identifying, promoting, and rewarding your child’s positive behavior. This system has been the subject of research for many years now.
In one study, researchers attempted to understand whether a token economy system could help parents whose children refused to help with chores, used verbally inappropriate language, or frequently bickered among themselves. They taught parents of children between the ages of five and 10 years how to effectively adopt a token economy system at home. The reinforcers selected to help modify the kids’ behavior were those commonly found at home. The researchers found that the token system successfully modified 15 child problem behaviors in one family and six child discipline issues in a second family.
There is no doubt that positive reinforcement works, but it can only work if it is implemented the right way. We now know that the more children receive positive feedback about specific behavior, the higher the chances that that behavior will be repeated. But bribing your child for inappropriate behavior (“I’ll give you a cookie if you go back to bed”) is a terrible idea. Rewarding disruptive behavior reinforces that behavior.
It has been repeatedly proven that reinforcing positive behavior and ignoring negative behavior is an effective strategy for dealing with your child’s behavior issues. This strategy, which is referred to as differential reinforcement, involves determining the behavior to reward and the behavior to suppress, then identifying the different ways you can reinforce that specific behavior.
Using a token economy system to modify your child’s problem behavior can be a little tricky if you are starting out. It is important to choose your child’s behavior chart and behavior incentives wisely, watch out for the most common pitfalls you are likely to encounter, and adopt a strategy that increases your chances of success. The Positive Behavior Kit has all the resources you need to help foster your child’s positive behavior using a positive discipline strategy that works. It uses specially designed and colorful Robo-bucks and Robo-cards to help you adopt the system to successfully reduce your child’s problem behavior.
Using adequate nonviolent disciplining techniques can help you manage your child’s discipline issues at home
Despite popular belief, punishing your child rarely leads to behavior change. Science has shown that punitive environments in which kids are repeatedly criticized severely or punished physically do not help improve children’s behavioral issues. Punitive environments destroy kids’ sense of worth and can even destroy their lives. They have a negative impact on their social, emotional and psychological well-being.
Appropriate nonviolent discipline methods are the most effective strategies you can use to change your child’s behavior, but only if they are used the right way. While discipline teaches your child about appropriate behavior, punishment does not.
According to the Paediatrics & Child Health journal, effective disciplinary methods share six characteristics:
· They must be given by an adult with an affective bond to the child
· They must be consistent and close to the behavior needing change
· They must be perceived as “fair” by the child
· They must be age-appropriate
· They must be temperamentally appropriate
· They must lead to self-discipline
What you can do: There are several nonviolent discipline strategies to choose from. While a self-quieting approach may work with some kids, it may fail miserably with others. Negotiation can help reduce your child’s problem behavior, but not necessarily in all circumstances.
Get informed about the different discipline strategies and try out different approaches to find the ones that work best for you depending on your child, your values, your circumstances. The only thing you need to remember about dealing with your child’s inappropriate behavior is that love and discipline go together.
Building a strong relationship with your child goes a long way in reducing problem behavior
Several research studies suggest that most of children’s problem behavior are worsened by a weak parent-child relationship. They say that the more you enjoy a positive relationship with your child, the easier it is to correct disruptive behavior. This is because your child is more likely to value positive feedback if you have a strong parent-child relationship.
The relationship you have with your child influences his behavior and that’s not all – children in families that spend time together have better social, academic and psychological outcomes. The available research has found that:
- The more kids participate in family bonding activities, the fewer behavioral issues they display
- Close knit families are better able to cope with life’s challenges
- Alcoholic parents are less likely to transmit their alcoholism to their children if the family shares simple activities such as dinner and holiday practices.
What you can do: Being a “sensitive parent” is one of the most effective ways of building strong bonds with your child. It simply means being attentive to your child’s emotional and physical needs and knowing how to respond to them appropriately. Sensitive parenting also involves being empathetic and accepting to see things from your child’s perspective. It means understanding that your child’s behavior is rarely an attempt to undermine your authority and can actually be affected by surprising things.
Spending quality time with your child is also an easy way to strengthen the parent-child bond. Coming up with special routines (for example, every day after dinner we spend 10 minutes doing…, or every day before meals we… or every Saturday night we…) can make it easier to schedule activities to do with your child. Adopting weekly family traditions that involve the entire family is also a great way to reinforce your family’s bonds and improve your parent-child relationship.
To help you get started, download your FREE 30-DAY CHALLENGE filled with activities you can share as a family. The good news is that most of the activities in this challenge are quick and easy to do. You can either follow the predetermined schedule or have your kids choose a family bonding activity at random and cross it off once it’s done.
There’s no right and wrong approach to disciplining your child (so long as you don’t forget that love and respect go together with discipline)
Not all families use the same approach to deal with their children’s discipline issues. The study cited above found that when parents learned relationship enhancing skills AND behavior management skills, they were better prepared to reduce their children’s disruptive behavior, but only if their children already displayed problem behavior. In other words, what is effective for one family may prove completely ineffective for another. So long as your discipline approach does not humiliate your child, there are many different effective approaches.
What you can do: Do not get caught up in the latest “best discipline strategy”. Remember that a behavior strategy can only be effective if it is aligned to your personality and your child’s personality. One strategy that works with one of your kids will not necessarily work with another so do what works for each of your children. If necessary, get help to determine the best strategy for your family. If you are struggling with your child’s behavior, The Discipline Bundle will help you determine an appropriate and respectful discipline strategy you can use to reduce his/her problem behavior.
One of the key lessons from the available research is that when you are dealing with misbehavior, building a strong parent-child relationship has the potential to radically change your child’s behavior.
An earlier version of this article was published on ParentMap