Often just a few rather simple adjustments in parenting can with consistent application improve a child's previously obstinate behavior, strengthen the parent/child relationship, and cause parenting to be a more satisfying and hope filled experience. Here are some tips:
Focus less on the child's behavior but rather on your response to their behavior. Stay calm. Demonstrations of anger, irritation, or frustration often reinforce the child's negative behavior. In truth, a child feels, though often won't admit it, that he feels more safe and secure when he sees that the parent is capable of handling a difficult situation without falling apart. Warnings and reminders are not necessary. These only give a child more opportunity to leverage and manipulate a parent. Avoid demands or threats by instead creating conditions upon which you as a parent are willing to meet a child's request: "You'd better . . . or else", or "If you don't . . . then you can't . . .", can be replaced with, "As soon as . . . then I would be happy to . . . , or "Those who . . . get to . . . ". The parent is then able to step back from the situation and allow the child to be up against the consequence of his choice rather than to the parent's demand or threat. It is OK for a child to disagree, even throw a tantrum (if it is done in a place such as a room where others are less effected). Give the child as many decision making opportunities as possible within parameters that the parent sets, where the parent can live with the consequences of the child's decision. This gives the child a sense of control, builds confidence in the child, and allows the child to experience and learn from the consequences of their decisions. Finally, be sure that whatever happens, the child feels loved. Remember this statement and consider it before you respond to negative behavior: "A parent does not have the right to discipline a child for whom they don't feel love." No discipline will be effective over the long run if the child does not know they are important and valuable to the parent.
Contact Michael Van Dam, LCSW, 801.815.6152 for individual therapy, family therapy, and parent coaching. He has taught several courses in Parenting with Love and Logic as well as offering a course for children whose parents are going through a divorce.