Monday , March 27 2023

Opinion: How to correct misbehaving children

In the Health & Beauty supplement of the Daily Herald, the following article is published related to education of children.

Dear Mr. Psych,
Our daughter is five and she is very defiant in school. We are completely out of ideas.

At first, my husband and I thought there might be a problem at school, so we did not punish her. We talked with her and met with teachers,  even went as far as to go and observe the class one day. After that, we realized it was a behaviour problem so we started getting a daily report; and every time it was bad, she got punished.

We tried no going outside; no TV; and taking away every privilege we could think of. We did not get the desired result, so we have gone to spanking. Every time she gets a bad report, she gets a spanking from either her dad or me when she gets home. It has cut down on the bad behaviour a lot; but she has gotten several spankings as well. It’s just not how I envisioned us parenting. It’s still about once a week she gets a spanking for misbehaving in school. She is not getting beaten up, but we have begun to spank a little harder to make them more undesirable. Is this wrong? Are we terrible parents? What should we do? Please help.

Dear parents,

First of all, you are not terrible parents. From the letter, I understand you are concerned about your child and her behaviour and want to help her. These are qualities of good parents! Parenting, however, can sometimes be very challenging: many parents experience the same.

Let’s go back to one of the basics of parenting: First; teaching your children. Children learn in different ways. One way is by observational learning: they observe others and copy this behaviour. The other is by consequences; when a certain behaviour has a positive outcome, they will show this again (positive reinforcement). When certain behaviour has a negative outcome (punishment), they will eventually not do this again. The consequence should follow the behaviour quickly, for a child to be able to make a strong connection between the two.

Studies show that positive reinforcement is the best way to teach children; a compliment when a child behaves well can already be enough, and it also improves the bond between a parent and a child. Setting boundaries and using punishment are sometimes also needed, but need to happen with more caution.

You use punishment to teach children something: not to make them scared of you. Also, you eventually want children to understand why certain behaviour is inappropriate and have them integrate this rule, so that they also obey it when no one is around to punish them. Spanking is not the best method to use for punishment.

Studies show that these children often show more violent behaviour throughout their life (children copy behaviour; and you are not giving the right example) and also integrate rules and correct behaviour less. For instance, if it is usually the dad who spanks them; they might listen when he is home, but show bad behaviour again when he is not.

A better method for punishment is using time out. Directly following the unwanted behaviour, a child will be put in a time out with only a short explanation and no discussion. For how long depends on the age and how bad the behaviour was, but usually 10 minutes is more than enough. Explain to the child afterward what behaviour you would like to see next time, and make up. This way, a child will learn more from the punishment. This method might take some more time and effort to work; but will eventually work better! Regarding the behaviour of your daughter in school, I would therefore suggest that the teacher in school starts using positive reinforcement more, in combination with a punishment method like the time out. By already acting on the behaviour in school, the consequence will directly follow the behaviour, which will make her learn faster. At home, you should try to use the same approach when she misbehaves.

However, I do think it is important to find out where the behaviour is coming from. If the teacher has complaints almost every week, the amount of problem behaviour seems to be exceeding the ordinary. A general behaviour problem would be unlikely if she is only showing bad behaviour in school. An assessment by a psychologist, for instance from the Mental Health Foundation, can help better understand the problem and assist you with the correct approach.

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