Friday, August 24, 2007

positive parenting

The last day we were in New Mexico my mom gave us a few parenting books she had on her bookshelf. I didn't really take a good look at them until a couple days ago when I picked up a book called The Power of Positive Parenting by Glenn Latham. I read the forward and was impressed by this:

Whatever a child (or anyone else) does or says has consequences which influence the way that child will behave in future similar situations. With repetition, those behaviors become part of a child's personality. In other words, the consequences of a child's behavior, whether the behavior is considered by the parents to be desirable or undesirable, shape a child's traits--abilities, habits, manners, attitudes, etc.

...Hence, the essential ingredient in dealing with problem behavior and in child rearing practices in general, is the management of consequences in ways that increase desirable behavior and decrease undesirable behavior.

So how do you do that? Well the author's advice is very simple, but rather mind-blowing as well. He says that all parental attention, positive and negative, reinforces behaviors. Basically that kids act up because they get attention when they do, even though it's negative attention. So to decrease bad behavior, parents have to constantly give attention for positive behavior. And actually ignore a lot of bad behavior!

This makes sense, but it's also quite radical. Think about it. When kids are behaving and playing nicely with each other, what do most parents do? We leave them be. We ignore them. It's only when they start fighting or hitting or what have you that we show up and scold and punish. But the attention given when they are misbehaving actually reinforces that misbehavior because they are getting attention from us. Crazy!

The author says that instead parents should find ways to give attention when children are behaving to reinforce those behaviors. It can be a simple statement like, "I'm so glad to see you children playing nicely together." Things like that. But you need to do it pretty frequently to keep the reinforcement going.

So here are the author's five parenting rules:

1. Clearly communicate your expectations to your children. This includes a clear description of those behaviors that will get your attention. This is typically best done through role playing.
2. Ignore inconsequential behaviors.
3. Selectively reinforce appropriate behaviors.

4. Stop then redirect inappropriate behaviors.

5. Stay close to your children.

I've only read about 40 pages so far and haven't gotten into the details of each of these rules, but I've already made a paradigm shift. Today, Jared and I made a real effort to be positive and make sure the kids are aware of all the things they are doing right that we appreciate. And we've been better about ignoring those behaviors that don't deserve our attention, like whining, mild tantrums, etc. And today really has been so much better. I can see the kids light up under all the praise and learning that they won't get our attention with crying and whining.

We've also been using our "penny points" system more. Olivia came up with this a couple months ago and we've extended it to all the kids. When they do things we ask, help out around the house, or make improvements in behavior, they get pennies. It's been a great tangible reward system. (kinda like giving a dog treats!) And it works!

These sweet children have gone through quite a lot with their parents' divorce, and they are good kids. But they are not the best behaved children and it's been a challenge retraining them this summer. The frustrating thing is that I feel like I have made a dent, and they are getting better, but now we are leaving and they are going back to their mom. I'm so afraid that all my work will be undone. It's one of the major difficulties of this situation. They have a good mom who loves them very much, but she obviously must let them get away with a lot if they act the way they do. Kids behavior is a product of their environment. Dr. Latham says that if you fix the environment, you fix the kid.

I just hope that they will remember how they are expected to act when they are with us and we can get back to that when we see them again. And hopefully Jared and I will be able to share some of what we've learned with their mom and she'll be able to continue it.

I love these three crazy kids very much, and I've learned and grown so much this summer. I am a parent with all that word means, except that I haven't given birth. I want them to grow up to be good, loving people who care about those around them. I want them to be happy. I want them to feel loved. I want to make sure I do all I can so that they reach their highest potential. Which I guess is what every good parent wants for their children.

I totally recommend the book to all parents, no matter what age your children are. I will write any more insights I have as I read through the book. And I'd love to hear any thoughts you all have about these ideas. After all, I'm still VERY new at this!

And because they are so cute, here are a couple pictures I took today of the kids in front of the gorgeous flowers near the BYU library.


  1. That book ROCKS! It is the best self-help book I've ever read. I've probably only read two, but it was the best.

  2. WOW! That is really bold of you to judge so harshly her parenting skills. Heaven forbid these kids find out how there lovely step mother feels about the mother they adore and that you essential think they are brats or rather you find there behavior soooooo unexceptable. This is just an outsider looking in at how harsh words can hurt, you words may be parenting but I would not call them postive, actually damaging and hurtful. Maybe you need to find a new book or not let the whole world know that you magically conquered parenting in one're amazing.

    And did it occure to you that maybe the childrens behavior isn't just a reflection of their mother?

  3. To Annonymous-

    Yes, words can hurt. Just as yours hurt me. I find it interesting that you accuse me of judging too harshly when you yourself have just done so.

    I'd like to set a few things straight:

    1. This is my blog and my forum for my ventings and frustrations. But it is also available for anyone to read, so there are bound to be judgments made. I accept that.

    2. Obviously, I don't know who you are, but you said yourself that you are "an outsider". Therefore, you don't know my situation and don't understand what a lot of my "judgments" are based on.

    3. It was never my intention to appear that I think I know it all and the kids' mother knows nothing. Of course that is not true. As I said, she is a good mother. But she's not perfect and neither am I. She is dealing with the very difficult situation of being a single mother. I realize that. But it doesn't change the fact that she is letting some behaviors slide that in my opinion she shouldn't.

    3. I do not refer to my step-children at brats. They are normal kids. Sometimes they are good and sometimes they are not so good. And as parents, it is the responsibility of their mother, myself, and my husband to help them learn what is acceptable and not acceptable.

    4. I do NOT speak badly of the children's mother in front of them. EVER. I have a lot of respect for her and for her relationship with her children. I would never want to damage that. The kids do not read my blog and to my knowledge their mother doesn't know about it either.

    5. I also obviously realize that the children's behavior is not solely a reflection of their mother. Obviously, their father has a part in it and I do too. And it's more complicated than that even. But it doesn't change the fact that their mother has had the biggest influence up to this point.

    Divorce is not easy on anyone, especially the children. This is a difficult situation for all involved. We are all trying to do our best. And we really are trying to put the kids first. They deserve the happiest life we can give them. This isn't a contest about who the better parent is. It is about how we can best parent the children together so that they can be good people.

  4. first of all, i can't believe the anonymous person's comments, but with that said, i think you responded in just the right way.

    and secondly, i can't even tell you how much i needed to read this post! i have been sooo frustrated lately with some of abigail's behaviors, and i felt like she was hearing a lot of "no, no, no" and that was depressing me, so i am so glad you blogged about this book and moreover that you gave some highlights from it so that i could start implementing some of these right away even before i get the book! thank you thank you!

  5. I know! I was pretty shaken up at first and considered just deleting it. But I decided I would feel better to speak up for myself, so hopefully they came back and read it.

    And I'm so glad that this post helped you! After that negative comment, it helps to know this benefited someone. I can't tell you how much these ideas have improved our lives the past few days. I SOOOO wish I could have read this book at the beginning of the summer! I will be posting more about it later. But it makes such a difference to focus on what kids are doing right instead of wrong and then using those moments to teach them what is right instead of always just scolding. Kids usually know how they should be behaving, so when they are behaving inappropriately, we ask them what they should be doing, instead of just telling them to stop all the time. It reinforces the GOOD and doesn't focus on the BAD. And if they don't know what the appropriate behavior is, you teach them and make your expectations clear.