Punishing a child, even with the mild naughty step’, may suppress bad behaviour, but probably won’t stop it happening again, according to a man heralded as America’smost eminent living child psychologist’.

Dr Alan Kazdin says what will stop bad behaviour is getting the child to practise the good behaviour you want instead, and then heartily praising them for doing it.

Such an approach, says Dr Kazdin, isn’t a quick fix. But repeating `positive opposite’ behaviour, children of any age will automatically start using the alternative good behaviour their parents want to see.

Dr Kazdin, director of the Yale University Parenting Centre and Child Conduct Clinic, says: “Almost every parent has been exposed to star charts, praise and almost always they’re doing it incorrectly.

“Take telling the children to `time out’, for example; it suppresses the behaviour then, but it won’t lead to long-term changes.”

He says most parenting books are based on information that’s now known to be wrong, but says his own book, Parenting Your Defiant Child, is rooted in decades of research on how to develop positive behaviour and eliminate undesired behaviour.

However, he insists: “The book isn’t about disparaging the advice in other books; what it’s about is what you do before behaviour, and then how you praise it afterwards. If you do it this special way, the results are unbelievable.”

To illustrate his method, Kazdin uses the example of a child having a tantrum – although he stresses that the time for the child to learn the `positive opposite’ of their behaviour is when they have calmed down afterwards.

The parent should tell the child they’re going to play a game, with the same scenario that caused the tantrum. But in the game he/she can’t get angry and if he/she manages that, he/she can have a star which will ultimately lead to a reward.

If the child does this, says Dr Kazdin, the praise should be effusive, and the parent should touch him/her. The `game’ should then be practised four or five times a week for a few weeks – by which time the positive behaviour should be the child’s automatic response.

“The child has to know what he can get ahead of time. The process changes the brain and it will lock it in as a habit.”

He points out that humans are `hard-wired’ to pick up negative behaviour. “Don’t focus on what the child shouldn’t do – turn it around, and look at the child’s positive behaviours. If you punish, it won’t suppress the behaviour, except at that moment.”

He stresses that his method doesn’t need to be used long-term, pointing out: “The intention is that you build the frame of the method around your child’s changing behaviour, but that once the desired behaviour takes deeper root you quickly scale down the frame and then take it down entirely.”

Dr Kazdin claims his method also improves life for parents.

It’s about getting parents to act in a different way. Once they practise alternatives to punishment, they get results from their child. Parental stress and depression go down, family relationships improve and home life is made much less stressful,” he said.

Source: Manchester Evening News, UK