One of the most common questions parents ask is “What discipline approach will actually be effective for my strong willed child?” Luckily, there have been decades of research on that topic and there is answer. Today, Jeff Tesch LMFT teaches us what discipline has been PROVEN to work with our kids!
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Jeff Tesch, LMFT
I regularly have parents in my office asking me “How do I get my child to stop using X behavior?” I like to teach them the formula I’m about to teach you. This formula was developed through decades of research. In fact, there was even one study that monitored kids for 40 years, starting at age 8 to see what kind of parenting the child received and continuing on to age 48 to see what effect the parenting had on the child. The kids that were parented by parents using the formula I am going to teach you behaved better in their younger years and performed better throughout the next FOUR DECADES OF LIFE! They had higher education, better jobs, healthier relationships, and the list goes on. Meaning, that the formula I’m going to teach you could LITERALLY CHANGE YOUR CHILD’S LIFE!
Here are some other benefits of the formula I’m going to teach you:
- It requires less effort and less frustration for YOU the parent while providing incredibly improved outcomes.
- It’s been proven to work with all kinds of kids: Kids with regular cognitive functioning as well as kids with ODD, OCD, ADHD, and even kids with lower functioning such as autism. In fact, if you have a child with a diagnosis, it’s absolutely critical that you follow this formula! When a child has a diagnosis it can be harder for them to behave well and they need you to really guide them. This formula is designed to do just that.
- This formula is so well researched that you can have complete confidence in it and won’t need to read another parenting book again.
- You get to be a unique parent. We give you the formula then you get to personalize how you use the formula to match you and your child.
- If you know this formula, you will be able to know if parenting ideas you here will be worth trying or not. If the ideas you hear don’t fit into this formula, you’ll know not to use them. If they do, you’ll know that they will work because this formula has been proven over and over and over again. It’s the formula all the future therapists are taught to use.
I’m excited to get started! So be looking in your inbox for the next video or click on Video One below.
The 40 year study
I mentioned a 40 year study completed to see what kind of parenting helped kids behave well when they were young and helped them become happy, healthy adults. Research found that the parents who got the best results were parents who:
- Had high expectations of how their child should behave and what skills they should develop. These parents knew what behaviors would not serve their child well as an adult and were really clear with their children that those types of behaviors would not be allowed and gave a fair consequence when children choose to use those behaviors. We call this the FIRM side of parenting
- The parents with the best results were also really warm, loving, and connected to their child. They made sure that the overall tone of each day was positive. They pointed out what things their child was doing well, they spent time with their kids, they hugged them, attended their activities, and were their biggest cheerleaders in life. We call this the SOFT side of parenting.
To give your kids the best chance of behaving well now and doing REALLY well in the future, it is important for you to become REALLY good at being both a FIRM parent and a SOFT parent.
Which leads us to the first part of the Parent Like a Pro Formula:
1. Be Balanced
The first ingredient in the formula is “Be Balanced”. An effective parent is both FIRM (has rules and expectations) and SOFT (is connected to their child in lots of positive ways).
We want you to understand this a little better. I’m going to use some pictures to teach you. I want you to look at this teeter totter or scale.
As we’ve mentioned, research shows that there are two important sides of parenting:
First, there is the FIRM side of parenting. The firm side of parenting includes:
- High expectations of how our children should behave
- Clear household rules
- Consequences for breaking rules or for misbehavior
- Structure and routines
- Our children contribute to the home and to the world
- We teach our kids and expect them to develop critical life skills such as: Respecting authority, being honest, keeping their commitments, working hard
These things are FIRM not flexible. They do not change based on your mood, your location, etc.
Now if that sounds too tough, don’t worry, there’s another side of parenting.
The SOFT side of parenting. This includes:
- Warmth and understanding
- affection, hugs, snuggles
- Positive reinforcement of good behavior
- Speaking kindly
To better understand what it means to be balanced, we need to give you examples of parents who are out of balance and why it doesn’t change behavior in a safe or effective way.
Let’s imagine first that we are heavy on the FIRM side of parenting and don’t do a lot of the soft side of parenting.
A too firm parent may have rules about EVERYTHING, have unrealistically high expectations of their child, demand perfection, and react very strongly to any misbehavior. Even slight behavior or mistake will be punished. A “too firm” parent can also have a very critical or angry tone of voice, yell, use shame, fear, intimidation and in extreme cases, even abuse to get a child to behave. A too firm parent may even punish a child by withholding love from them.
Research shows that in a home that is too firm a child may behave out of fear and intimidation, but once the parent figure is gone even, for the evening, there’s not a desire to follow the rules. Over time we see these kids rebel and fight back as they move into their teen years and oftentimes they can’t wait to leave home. They often struggle to behave well as an adult OR the extreme opposite: they struggle with perfectionism.
Not the result we’re looking for.
On the other hand, we can be TOO SOFT as a parent.
Here’s what it looks like when we’re out of balance that way.
The parent that is too soft doesn’t have a lot of rules, expectations, or there is no uncomfortable consequence when a rule is broken. Parents don’t expect children to contribute to the home, rather the parent works themselves to the bone to take care of their child. They may even take responsibility for their child’s homework, housework, relationships, and finances. Too soft parents rescue their child from experiencing consequences for poor choices. Too soft parents just try to be really patient with misbehavior or give in to tantrums.
When kids misbehave, too soft parents are pretty soft in their response. They try to talk to their child hoping it will change behavior. These parents almost fall into a friend role instead of being an authority in their home.
Now kids enjoy this type of an environment and sometimes take advantage of it. They know they can push the limits or if they cry enough, their parent will give in. They know they can misbehave and there’s not going to be any uncomfortable consequences.
Also, these children don’t learn the critical life skills of being responsible for their actions and emotions. Long-term, these kids really struggle when they move out, IF they move out. They take advantage of their parent’s goodness while their young and continue to do so as they age.
Now, I’m aware that the Firm side examples and the soft side I just gave you were extreme examples. And I do see those types of parents in my office. But I also see homes where one parent is a little too firm and the other parent is a little too soft. OR the parents will be too soft one day and too firm another.
For the best results, it’s important to be a balanced parent.
Balanced parenting is:
Using both the firm side and soft side of parenting in balance DAILY without slipping into the extremes of either.
So let’s talk a little more about the firm side of parenting.
2. The Firm Side: Be firm, clear, and consistent
I like to teach parent’s three words they need to remember if they want to be good at the firm side of parenting.
- Be firm
- Be clear
- Be consistent
Your first job on the firm side of parenting is to identify which behaviors are disrupting the peace, happiness, and safety of your home, and create firm rules stating that those behaviors are no longer okay. These rules cannot be flexible, rather they must be firm.
Also, there needs to be consequences to breaking family rules. Research calls this behavior modification. The brain is trained out of negative behaviors by receiving positive reinforcement for correct behaviors and uncomfortable consequences for negative behaviors.
Now, for those of you who find it challenging to be firm with your child and to let them be uncomfortable for breaking the rules, let me just tell you some of the benefits of having firm rules and boundaries in your home.
- First, your children’s behavior will improve. Imagine how much more peaceful that will be.
- Second, your child will learn the critical life skill of self-control and respect for authority. Since there is an uncomfortable consequence, they will learn to control themselves.
- Third, your child will spend their time and energy on positive ventures instead of on negative behaviors. How much time is your child spending doing things you aren’t happy about? Picture what amazing things they could do if they spent that time doing positive things?
- Fourth, you will enjoy being around your child more and they will feel the difference! When we feel negative feelings towards our child and their behavior, that influences how we interact with them on a day to day basis, even if we’re trying to be loving and even if we’re trying to be patient.
We often assume that our kids know what behavior is OK and what isn’t. However, it’s better to assume that they don’t. It’s going to be your job, as the parent, to get really clear about family rules. Just think of it this way: Say you worked at a job where you had no idea what the rules or expectations were? You kept getting into trouble, but you really had no idea why. This could be really frustrating for you and may even cause you some anxiety. Plus, it sets you up for failure, whereas if the boss were really clear with his rules and expectations, you’d have an opportunity to perform the way he wants.
The same is true in our families. If the rules for your home aren’t clear in your own mind and they’re not clearly communicated to your child, how likely is it that your kids will know how to behave?
So as leader of your home, it is now time to meet with your family to make sure every member of the family clearly understands the family rules, why the rules exist, what positive reinforcement to expect for obeying the rules and the consequences for breaking them.
Now let’s talk about the final word on the firm side of parenting.
Just like every other part of our formula, this is absolutely vital to the success of the formula.
And there’s two different ways that you need to be consistent. We’re going to talk about both of them.
First, keep the rules and expectations consistent. Let’s use a workplace analogy again. Say that your boss keeps changing the rules and expectations at work.
It is really important that the family rules are consistent as well. This gives your child an opportunity to really understand the rules and gives them a better chance of obeying the rules. There will be times that the rules need to be adjusted. But you will be clear with your kids about those changes before you start to enforce them and then you will keep those consistent for another longer period of time.
Now, the next part of consistency: consistent response to misbehavior.
Let’s use a driving analogy for this one.
How many of you speed or occasionally break some other driving laws? I think all of us do. Why do we do that? Because we only receive a negative consequences to breaking rules on the rare occasion that we get caught. What if instead, every single time we went over the speed limit, we received an immediate $100 fine for that decision? How many fines would you need before you drove the speed limit? I imagine the change in your behavior would be pretty immediate.
Now, this is the same is true with our kids. If we were to make firm family rules, communicate those clearly, then follow through consistently with consequences for rule breaking AND positively reinforce good behavior, we would see change in our kids’ behavior pretty quickly.
Last but not least…
3. The Soft Side: Be connected
I think this is the fun side of parenting and is the side of parenting that all of us enjoy the most.
Before we jump in, let me remind you research shows that being firm exclusively causes damage while being only soft interferes with a child’s development. It is the proper balance of both sides of parenting, the soft and the firm that has proven the two most frequently help a child behave at home and grow up to be a happy, healthy adult.
In addition, there has been extensive research to see how much “Soft” side of parenting you need to properly balance out the “Firm” side of parenting. Get ready for this, the ratio of soft side moments to firm side moments needs to be AT A MINIMUM 5:1. That means for every time you have a firm moment with your child you need to have at least FIVE positive moments with that child in the same day!
At least five positive interactions for every one negative interaction…DAILY!
That can feel overwhelming, so we’re going to teach you the word you need to remember for the soft side of parenting: Be Connected.
There are so many ways to positively connect with your child. Since we know your time is valuable, we are going to teach you just a few of our favorite ways to be connected.
First, be connected with your child’s positive behaviors. Research shows that one of the best ways to improve a child’s behavior is to offer praise and positive reinforcement for a child’s good behavior and a consistent uncomfortable consequences for misbehavior.
This means that when you see your child to something that you want them to do again, you follow these steps:
- Say the child’s name
- Make eye contact with them if possible to ensure that they are paying attention to you
- Say what the child did that you liked
- Tell the child how much you appreciated it or the natural positive consequence of making that choice.
For example: Let’s say that your child accidentally hurts someone then apologizes. You would say that child’s name, tell them that you are proud of them for apologizing, then let them know that when they apologize the person they hurt feels better.
Your praise releases chemicals in the child’s brain that feel good. The brain loves these chemicals so much that it will tell the child “Do that positive behavior again! That felt so good!”. This process also helps your child know what the natural benefits of positive behavior are.
Second, be connected through one-on-one time. Our kids need our uninterrupted attention for short periods several times a week. Set a twenty minute timer three times a week and be with your child without any other distractions. Want to make the time even more powerful? Extensive research shows that if you let the child be completely in charge during that time and you are just there to enjoy them and their world and follow their lead, it creates a deep bond between the two of you.
Third, be connected through making positive memories together. Find ways to joke WITH your child, to laugh together, to smile together. You could tell jokes during dinner or watch funny YouTube videos. You could have fun traditions like family movie night, secret handshakes, or bedtime stories. The possibilities are endless, but the idea is that you want your child to smile when they are with you. This helps the child feel connected to you, feel safe with you, feel valued by you, and feel a deep sense of belonging. All of which are critical if you want a child to have self-esteem.
Well, that wraps up the evidence-based discipline formula. Let’s review one more time what you learned:
Be Balanced, Be firm, clear, consistent AND Be connected.