Parenting Skills and Training

by Alan Brandis, Ph.D.

Remember when you bought that shiny new car, or that computer, or that kitchen gadget or power tool you wanted so badly? Remember how, if you had questions about how to use it, you could look in the owner's manual for instructions, and maybe there was an 800 phone number to call if you really got stuck (there's even an 800 number to call about your Thanksgiving turkey!).

Now, remember when you brought your son or daughter home from the hospital. What happened to the owner's manual? Of course, there was none, so you had to do the best you could with limited knowledge and conflicting advice from everyone you know. Can you imagine what would happen if you tried to tune up your car using trial and error to find out what works and what doesn't?

The Importance of Parent Education

Let's face it. Most of us were raised by well-intentioned people (our parents) who had only just heard of Dr. Spock, and who had been raised pretty harshly by their parents ("Spare the rod and spoil the child," "Children should be seen and not heard," "Do as I say, not as I do," etc.). We can acknowledge that they did the best they could, but still admit that they didn't do such a great job. Many of us are responsible adults, true, but we suffer from self-esteem problems or other neurotic stuff which was the result of the discipline methods and relationship practices with which we were raised. Of course, we want to do better with our own kids. And, the world is a vastly different place than it was 30 years ago when we were growing up.

These days, we do not believe in routinely hitting kids, and in fact some well-intentioned parents have gone to jail or had their kids taken away temporarily because of the use of physical punishments. The laws against severe corporal punishment have taken away from some parents the only discipline methods they knew.

These days, it pays to learn to outsmart your kids rather than overpower them. That is where parent training comes in. Learning to communicate effectively, set realistic rules and enforce them (90% of the parents we talk to admit that they do not set realistic limits and enforce them consistently), and motivate your kids rather than intimidate them is "where it's at" in parenting today. We say this not only because it's politically correct - it really works a lot better.

How To Administer a Time-Out

Many parents use the "time-out" method in which the child is isolated for a short time when his or her behavior gets out of control. Many parents who report that they have tried it but "it doesn't work for my child" have, we find, not used it correctly.

First of all, do not use Time Out as a threat or as a punishment. It is not a punishment - it is you assisting the child to regain control of him- or herself. Give a warning, such as, "If you continue to hit your sister you will go to Time Out." Then, if the behavior continues, immediately administer Time Out.

Time Out is not being sent to one's room with TV, Nintendo and a cold Coke. Time Out is sitting in a chair in the corner with nothing to do but ponder how to regain control of oneself. We generally recommend one minute of Time Out for each year of the child's age. Make it clear to the child that the timing starts when he or she is sitting quietly in the chair facing the corner, and that the timing starts all over again if he or she gets up or turns around.

If the child is severely out of control and resistant to Time Out, it may be necessary to hold the child in your lap to help him or her to calm down enough to complete the Time Out. In such a case, it is important to get a professional opinion as soon as possible since most children do not get so out of control, and it is essential to find out if there may be something underlying your child's behavior, such as Attention-Deficit Disorder or Depression.

Above all, it is important to administer the Time Out before you lose your cool. Once you become angry, the Time Out is seen by the child as a result of your anger, rather than as the consequence of their out-of-control behavior. Once the Time Out is successfully completed, help the child to do some problem-solving. "What could you have done instead, so you wouldn't have needed Time Out?" Helping the child think of alternative behaviors is much more productive than artificially punishing him or her to make them feel bad.