Changing Children's Behaviors
Tuesday, August 25, 2009

By: Dr. Steven T. Griggs, Ph.D.

In my practice as an outpatient child psychologist, I have seen thousands of kids over the last twenty years. Parents drag them into my office for lots and lots of reasons, usually because the kids are acting out. Sometimes, this is about parents not getting their way, but by and by, on their own, kids are very capable of causing their parents considerable grief. The most common reason I see children is ADHD and/or learning disabilities. These "present" as a cluster of symptoms, ranging from simple oppositional or resistant behaviors to full blown, aggressive acting out behaviors. We hear the word "No" a lot from these kids, but we also see them having a hard time focusing, sitting still, organizing and managing their impulses.

Kids without ADHD or other psychiatric conditions also showcase their bad behaviors. Maybe their parents are separated or their girlfriend just dumped them. Maybe their parents have inadvertently taught them to misbehave because of poor parenting skills.

In my practice, I approach the behavior part of this package (as opposed to the medical part) with a set of principles. These form the basis of parenting skills, but they also are necessary to deal with everyone--adults too. My principles came from working with families for decades. They have been hammered out over time on the anvil of real human experience, highlighted by sometimes-severe troubled behaviors. So, it does not matter too much if the child is psychiatric or normal with difficult circumstances, I treat them the same, behaviorally. The exception to this is if a child's behavior is so difficult that he or she is in need of a higher level of care. My principles work with this population, but first they will have to "tone it down" before they can fit into an outpatient setting.

One of the things I notice right away about children are their positive quality or good traits, behaviors, etc. Put negatively, I try to see what positive goal they have by behaving badly. There always is one. I try to see what positive qualities a child has that are not related to his awful behaviors. I try to look for future behaviors that might help the child achieve his or her goals, without the behavioral fallout.

This is not difficult. Every person has some good qualities, even criminals. We just have to look harder or dig a little deeper in some cases. In my experience with kids, their good qualities jump out at me almost immediately. I am going to use those qualities to shape, condition, or gently encourage movement towards some positive behavior. I am going to choose a behavior that is just the opposite of the one parents do not like. I am not going to focus on punishing the negative behavior, unless necessary. I am going to focus on what is positive and incompatible with the negative one. I think of it as working with the presence of a positive behavior, not working with the absence of a negative behavior. Most kids, especially young ones, and some adults, too, do not understand the difference between the presence of something positive vs. the absence of something negative. This is one of the most powerful concepts (principles) parents need to grasp. Without it, their parenting attempts will fail by as much as thirty percent.

Conversely, pay attention to just this one aspect of their parenting style, and parents' chances of success increase by this same percent. This is just one of several core concepts I wrote about in my ebook, How To Change Children's Behavior (Quickly). Parents wanted a concise, pithy, filled-to-the-brim-with-techniques ebook that would turn their kids' behavior around in the shortest possible time, without emphasizing punishment. I wrote such a treatise, which as it turns out, is a stand-alone product; that is, it works just as well if we do not meet in my office.

Author : Dr. Steven T. Griggs Ph.D
Dr. Steven T. Griggs practices in Escondido, CA. You can learn more about Dr. Griggs here on the Directory.