Kazdin Method for Parenting the Defiant Child

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Most children are defiant at one time or another, as they test their limits and take on the rules of the world. Some, though, exhibit a pattern of overly defiant behavior that requires more than the traditional parenting methods. Dr. Alan Kazdin has developed a method to help parent these challenging, but rewarding, children.

About Dr. Kazdin

  • Alan Kazdin, PhD, is a professor of psychology at Yale University and the director of the university's Parenting Center and Child Conduct Clinic. He has authored or co-authored more than 20 books on a variety of subjects, including child psychology and behavioral interventions. Kazdin's research has focused on antisocial, defiant and oppositional behaviors, and his methods have been proven to increase positive behaviors and improve the parent-child dynamic. He believes that parents should model the type of behavior they want to see: Becoming angry and punitive does nothing to help an angry, aggressive child.

Focus on the Positive

  • The Kazdin Method for Parenting the Defiant Child involves lots of positive reinforcement. However, this doesn't mean you praise your child effusively and arbitrarily. Telling your child he's doing great may sound like a nice thing to say, but it doesn't reinforce a specific behavior.

    If you want to get rid of a negative behavior, you need to replace it with a positive behavior. Your focus must shift from what you don't want your child to do (stop yelling, stop hitting, quit goofing off at homework time) to what you would like him to do (speak in a quiet, respectful tone, use his words rather than his fists to solve problems, finish his homework on time). Parents tend to notice behaviors they don't like and address those, and take good behavior in stride. The Kazdin Method changes not only your child's behavior, but yours as well. You will learn to focus on positive behaviors to bring about the change you want to see. You will notice when your child is doing something you want him to, and praise him immediately. Be specific and enthusiastic: "I really like how you used your inside voice when you were upset. That was awesome!" Add a physical reinforcement like a high-five, pat on the shoulder or kiss on the head. Do this often, but be sure to keep it behavior-specific. Soon you will see an increase in the positive behaviors as they replace the negative.

More About the Kazdin Method

  • Kazdin believes that punishment does have its place, but that it should be brief, mild and used sparingly. Punishment tells a child what you don't want him to do, but doesn't let him know what he should do instead.

    When parents focus more on the positive, it becomes a habit, just as good behavior becomes a habit for the child. You will find yourself feeling less angry and stressed, and that will help you and your child build a stronger, more positive and fulfilling relationship.

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