Child Behavior Modification and Control Myth Busted

Many parents strive to learn child behavior modification and control techniques. Sadly, this approach is based on a faulty assumption. It assumes that parents really have control over their child’s behaviors.

The truth is, you do not have control over anyone but yourself. Even if you exert pressure in the form of rewards and punishments to change your child’s behavior, they still choose how they will behave.

You can beg, plead, cajole, punish, and urge. You may get cooperation. You may get compliance. You might even see the behavior you want to see. When they choose to cooperate, it might look like you have control, but you don’t. Before your child’s behavior changes, they have to choose to cooperate with you.

Some people would say that their children had to cooperate or else. Here’s the question to consider: Or else what? If they want to accept some type of incredibly uncomfortable, painful, or otherwise unpleasant consequence as the result of their behavior, they can. It may seem crazy, but they could choose to accept painful, negative experiences rather than cooperate with you. It is always up to them what they actually do in any given situation.

Early in our experience as parents, we found that we had a much higher success rate with our kids when we worked to influence their behaviors rather than to control them. Every time we try to control them, they push back in some way. When we use influence strategies, they generally cooperate.

Here are three of our favorite influence strategies:

  * Strive to always say please and thank-you to both your spouse and your children.

  * Talk about the behavior you want to see more than the behavior you don’t want to see.

  * Name the behavior in specific terms rather than label your child with non-specific labels. For example, say “thank you for picking-up your dirty laundry” rather than “you’re such a good boy.”

Interestingly enough, the less we try to control, the more our children cooperate. In the end, accepting that we only have influence with others (including our children) has given us more apparent “control” because they normally choose to willingly cooperate.

With his wife Sandra, Guy Harris co-created a positive parenting program called The Behavior Bucks System. Guy and Sandra Harris are both Human Behavioral Consultants and parents.