Family Matters and Child First Thinking

 Effective parents use the technique of Family Matters and Child-First Thinking to create a positive mental health environment for themselves and their children. Positive parents understand that they can use either of two basic wellness techniques to influence the growth, development and personal health of their children.

Think Ahead or React to Behavioral Problems and Bad Habits

Parents can think ahead and recognize what is desirable behavior for their child to achieve or perform.  Parents then make changes to the world of the child, which increase the likelihood that the child will grow in the desired positive direction.

 Or, parents they can wait for the child to behave, and react after the child displays a specific behavior or behavioral problems.

Parents can increase the strength of any behavior by either helping the child to achieve a desired outcome, or avoid discomfort. They can decrease the strength of any behavior by removing a desired outcome or increasing discomfort.

 If you observe the parenting technique of most parents, you will find that the majority of them use a style that reacts to the child’s behavior.  They try to direct their child’s growth and development by altering or changing the consequences of the child’s behavior – thus behavioral problems follow accompanied by stress, anxiety, worry on both the parents and child.

 Frequently this is done without forethought and without a plan.

For example, if a child does something the parents view as positive and which the parents hope will occur more often, they will reward that behavior with praise, attention, or a concrete reward. If a child behaves in a way the parents do not value, or which may be harmful to the child, the parents may sanction that behavior by creating discomfort for the child. This is done by withdrawing attention, commenting negatively, or through punishing the behavior by removing or limiting what the child views as desirable.

 Notice that parents who concentrate on these techniques are always reacting; usually to something the child says or does. Taken to the extreme, some parents try to change bad habits and behavioral problems primarily by creating discomfort for the child. The use of punishment to change bad habits and behavioral problems is, at best, inefficient and anxiety provoking.

Punishments don’t help long term bad habits or behavioral problems

Punishments are rarely effective for long periods. Punishment does not help the kid, teen, child to learn alternative positive ways to behave. It only temporarily keeps bad habits and behavioral problems in control while it is applied. When used without a balance of positive and reinforced strategies, it actually lowers the self-esteem of the child – thus developing susceptibility to anxiety, depression, sleep disorders and other mental health issues.

Physical punishment should never be considered an appropriate strategy to influence a child – Positive Parents use Family Matters and Child First Thinking

Positive parents – family matters parents – use a different and superior style from the typical parent who reacts and focuses on the consequences of bad habits and behavioral problems. We call this Family Matters and Child-First Thinking. In this strategy, parents attempt to influence their child by thinking ahead. They make changes to the family’s world that ‘set the stage’ for the child to display desirable behavior. For example, if a parent observes that a child is continuously running out of time in the morning and is late for school, a thinking-ahead parent changes the ‘world’ by waking the child a few minutes earlier to allow the extra time needed. Combining this strategy with positive consequences for on-time behavior will be much more effective than trying to change the slowness by consequences alone.

Evaluating the Child’s World to Find Opportunities for Positive Behavior

 Family First and Child-First Thinking means the parents think ahead and evaluates the child’s world to determine if it presents opportunities for the child to display desirable behavior. The parent tries, to the extent possible, to make changes in the environment that will increase the chance that the kid, teen, child or children will behave in the desired direction. This type of evaluation also helps the parent to recognize when the child’s display of negative behavior may be the appropriate, self-protective response to discomfort or a hostile environment. Clearly, in these situations, the parents would seek to create change in the child’s world, which would naturally lead to an end of the discomfort. They know that if they can end the discomfort, they will usually end the bad habits or behavioral problems.

Changing a diaper, feeding an infant, or giving a toddler a nap are actions that change the child’s immediate world, end discomfort and lead to more pleasant behavior. Parents who take this approach believe their child can and will display appropriate behavior if the conditions ‘set the stage’ for its display. Those who practice a family matters and child-first approach stop and think about the meaning of their child’s behavior. They seek to raise competent children by the balanced use of the thinking ahead and reactive styles of parenting. They look at what is influencing their kid, teen, child at that moment and how it will effect the child in 5 minutes, 5 hours and 5 years. Family matter and child first thinking is about developing a successful parenting approach to bad habits and behavioral problems which will minimize anxiety and maximize family health.

A World View

A primary guideline of Family Matter and Child-First Thinking is the protection and enhancement of a child’s self-esteem. This emphasis on protection of self-esteem directs the parent to look first at the child’s world, to determine if it is a positive place for growth. This ‘world evaluation’ shows an understanding and concern for the meaning behind the behavior of the child.

 Parents and caregivers who are sensitive to a ‘world view’ recognize that negative behaviors may be the child’s way of dealing with ineffective or hostile environments.  Remember, a basic purpose of all behavior is protection from discomfort and threat.  The behavior of younger children is often a direct expression of their immediate need for comfort and protection. As children become older and more verbal, they are more able to express their reactions with words and rely lesson behavior to communicate their needs.

– by Frank Doberman, PhD

Dr. Frank Doberman is Co-Founder of Karner Psychological Associates (KPA) and is a leader in the fields of clinical psychology, is a Licensed Psychologist, Certified in School Psychology, Educational Administration and is a regular contributor to News 10 WTEN.

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