posted on Dec, 2 2008 @ 10:14 AM
Interesting thread and situation! I'm a clinical psychologist specializing in conduct problems in children, and I'm also a father. I can empathize
with this mom and appreciate that she loves her kid, has tried other strategies, doesn't want his behavior to get worse, and is being creative. I'm
concerned though she might not get the outcome she's trying hard to reach.
Rules and reinforcement (punishment - like loss of privileges, and rewards) can work well for many kids IF the rules and consequences are applied in a
calm, consistent, reasonable manner, IF it's in the context of a loving/supportive relationship with adult caregivers who themselves model
responsible, healthy behavior, and IF the child already has the mental and emotional skills they need to rise to caregiver expectations. Therapy that
trains parents how to do consequences the right way (called Parent Management Training) can be very effective toward this end. It helps many families
achieve better compliance with defiant/strong-willed kids and can divert troubled kids from an antisocial/criminal life path. It's not 100% effective
though; kids need more than consistent consequences to learn to manage themselves appropriately. They also need good role modeling from listening,
Shaming and humiliating kids can be a tempting form of punishment. But it can also cause problems, just like corporal (physical) punishment. Even
consistent consequences -- if used without warmth, support and guidance -- don't teach kids the skills they need to cope with life's challenges,
like how to comply with rules/authority, manage emotions, and resist peer pressure. Rather, shaming can damage kids' trust in adults to share their
concerns, which kids need to do in order to learn more effective ways to solve their problems. Instead, being shamed can lead us to hide our problems
to avoid negative judgment or other punishment. (Why else would this kid lie when caught?) It's important for people, kids included, to learn to feel
reasonable *guilt* about our misbehavior - this can provide motivation to make ammends and correct it. But feeling *shame* about oneself (as a bad,
worthless person or any other label... "bad kid", "liar", "theif", "thug", "criminal", "offender", "loser", "idiot"...etc) is
extremely painful to carry (even when it's not written on a big sign). Shame and humiliation can lead to clinical depression and low self-esteem. To
resolve the pain and negative self-view, we usually either try to deny the behavior (and thus the label), blame or attack others, or give in and
accept the label as true and build our lives around it.
Study after study shows that praise works better than punishment. Kids are served best when adults provide a supportive environment where their
concerns are solicited and taken seriously, and where they are guided in learning to solve problems in a manner that takes their own and others'
needs into consideration. I think a good place to start, especially with older children/teens, is to put the demands and consequences on hold and ask
the kid: What's going on/making it hard to comply? Can they think up a better solution that will address their concerns and their caregivers?
I don't mean to sound critical of this mom; seems she's trying best she knows how. I also wonder about is Dad's role here. More often than not, the
troubled kids I work with (in correctional settings) have no positive male role models. Their dads have either abandoned, abused, neglected or been
very inconsistent with these kids. The boys often find substitute male role models, like gang leaders, who take them under their wing and mold them. I
think this problem has become an epidemic in the U.S. Where is responsible fatherhood as a societal value, especially in our poor, urban
neighborhoods, where boys learn to equate aggression with manhood? What kinds of fathers do we expect these boys to become? What role do the rest of
Thanks all! - B