App Treasure Hunter

Behavior Modification for Children - totally misses the point.

Hi App Treasure Hunter,

Behavior modification is based upon the theory that if you can force a child to act in a kind and friendly manner, you will magically change the way the child is on the inside. In other words, if you can make him act "good" and he will then become good.

Many studies back up the common sense observation that this is simply not true. How many times have you seen the "good" little girl baiting boys or perhaps some unpopular kids into a frenzy of misbehavior while calmly and innocently watching war erupt in the home or classroom? She is acting very nicely while causing utter mayhem, tears, punishments and frustration to all those around.

I am sure that you can come up with many examples of your own but the simplicity is that children naturally act fairly unruly, greedy and even rude because they have not learned the niceties of getting along with others. Add to this the fact that while they are very aware of their own needs they are not yet very aware of all the social dynamics around them and you have a recipe for tantrums at grandma's, sibling fisticuffs and all manner of upsets for everyone.

Now, when I assert that children naturally act unruly, greedy and rude, I must at the same time assert that as persons they are naturally very sweet, loving and compassionate. You have probably experienced a time when you were sad or under the weather and your young child tried to cheer you up with kisses or rubbing your back or some sort of unexpected and unsolicited but compassionate outpouring.

The harsh truth is that when you try to mold a child's behavior, you are totally missing the point and will actually create a monster.

However, if you point out to your child how fun it can be to do certain things - like saying 'please' and 'thank you' or taking a dirty plate off the table after dinner - you will have an amazingly civilized child who is a delight to be around.

One way I taught manners to my kids was to lean over and whisper in a very conspiratorial manner: "ok, when you ask dad for the lasagna, watch what will happen if you say please… it's like magic! He will do almost anything you ever want if you say it so friendly! Let's try it!"

Of course dad would pass the lasagna and everyone would comment positively on the whole thing. Conversely, if a child didn't want to try it, I never forced it on her but would make a point of saying 'please' myself and commenting on how I seemed to get my way a lot by being friendly to my family.

There are times when you must intervene and halt dangerous behavior or insist gently but firmly that they cease throwing Aunt Alice's famous jello fruit salad at the thanksgiving table, but pounding into a child's mind that they must be a 'good boy' or a 'good girl' is poison because by doing it in that way you are inferring that they are basically bad and somehow deficient.

No, your child is already a good boy or a good girl. It is only nagging, anxiety and constant correction, aka behavior modification that will create rebellion and an urgent necessity for handlings.

Ironic, isn't it?

Lyn Demaree