Behaviour org uk

How Parents Create 'Badly' Behaved Children
And How To Reverse the Process


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Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11
Chapter 12
Chapter 13
Chapter 14
Chapter 15
Chapter 16
Chapter 17
Chapter 18
Chapter 19
Chapter 20
Chapter 21
Chapter 22
Chapter 23
Chapter 24
Chapter 25
Chapter 26
Chapter 27
Chapter 28
Chapter 29
Chapter 30
Chapter 31
Chapter 32
Chapter 33
Chapter 34
Chapter 35
Chapter 36
Chapter 37
Chapter 38
Chapter 39
Chapter 40
Chapter 41
Chapter 42
Chapter 43
Chapter 44
Chapter 45
Chapter 46
Chapter 47
Chapter 48
Chapter 49
Chapter 50
Restoring Childhood
How We Create 'Badly' Behaved Children
©Copyright Warwick Dyer 2016
(Copyright Unedited Beta Version)
(To be read online only)

Book One

Chapter 2

What is normal parenting?

Some parents want to interact with their children in the same way they relate to others outside the home. Some of the parents I have spoken to tell me of a vow they made never to let becoming a parent change them. This is fair enough, as long as it does not include their interactions with their children. If it does they may well be entering parenthood without a vital piece of protective information. They may not know that their child requires them to enact some stereotypical unchanging key behaviour within the home. Regardless of their race or culture all children need exactly the same key behaviours from their parents. In these areas, parents do not have the luxury of holding on to any personal preference. They may strive to be many things with their children, but there remains one thing they can never avoid being if they want their children to feel secure: they cannot avoid being the leader in the home.

I have not aimed this book solely at parents; it is also very much a book for professionals who work with children and those that work with parents. It has been many years in the writing and gone through many drafts. Earlier drafts favoured tact over clarity. More recently I have realised that since I may not write another book on this scale, I had better favour clarity. This does not mean, and please don’t let it be said, that this book ‘blames’ parents for their ‘badly’ behaving children. It does not ‘blame’ them for the way they respond. How can we blame intelligent parents who, loving their children, use all their intelligence and common sense, follow every scrap of advice from professionals, from books and newspapers, and from their parents and friends? How can parents, who are doing their best, be blamed? Clearly they cannot – and it would be completely unfair to do so.

Yet the fact remains that ‘bad’ behaviour does not grow spontaneously within the children who display it. It is the children – not their parents – who are the true victims of it. Children are, as you will see as we go forward, trapped into behaving ‘badly’ by the responses their parents choose. Their parents also become trapped the moment they identify the wrong cause of the ‘bad’ behaviour, the moment they believe the problem is caused by their child’s immaturity or personality, by heredity, or by poor temper control, strong will or selfishness – in fact, the moment they attribute their child’s behaviour to any cause that does not include them.

What other parents do behind closed doors is always a mystery

None of us know what happens in other people’s homes. Once doors are closed, homes are very private, inscrutable places. New parents are handicapped by this privacy. They have little idea of the day-to-day decisions that other parents make. In the London of my youth, neighbourhood children played out together in streets that were relatively free of cars. It only required one parent to notice that it was getting late and break into the sounds of children playing with “Johnny, time to come in”, for this to be quickly followed by the others calling their children in. Yet even these parents had little idea of what other parents did behind their front doors. They, too, had no way of observing ‘normal’ practice.

The fact that we now live in a communication age has made very little difference. New parents see snippets of what other parents do in public and have a very selective memory of what their own parents did, and that is about it. They are at the mercy of what they think other parents do and what various experts tell them. When they seek help, much of the advice they get is polarised. It often comes from philosophies that do not sit well with each other. All new parents want to conform, but to what? What is the received wisdom when, for instance, they are in public and faced with behaviour that they deem unacceptable?

Avoiding a scene

Sometimes, in public, parents seem to act as if they think it best not to commit themselves. It is not unusual to see mothers with babies crying in pushchairs remain silent while they rock them furiously, not wanting to commit themselves to even a single word of comfort. Or perhaps they have not discovered the vital calming effect that the parent’s voice can have on a child.

I am standing with a shopping trolley waiting for the supermarket’s lift to take me down to my car. Standing next to me is a father with his 3-year-old daughter sitting in the trolley’s child seat … She shouts, “I want to get down”. Her father does not respond. “Daddy, I want to get down,” she says for a second and then a third time – now she is screaming. Her father says, “Look Julie, the doors are opening now.” His daughter screams again to get down. Inside the lift she continues to scream, and her father continues to ignore her or attempts to distract her.

This father tries to distract his daughter from her desire to get down. He does not point out, very gently, right at the beginning, the key piece of information that his daughter needs. She needs to know, when making requests, that demands will not even be considered; and that she needs to restate her request in a quiet and reasonable way for it to be considered. Yes, she may still be told that she will have to wait until they get to the car, but it is far easier for a toddler to accept the loss of a desire expressed as a request than one expressed as a demand.

This father, like many new parents, avoids putting his instruction into categorical form because he is frightened of his daughter’s reaction and because he has found that young children can lose interest in their requests. He even avoids answering at all. His priority is not that his daughter learns to accept that unavoidable disappointments exist; his fear is that if he states what needs to happen categorically, it will intensify her screaming and embarrass him. He has allowed himself to become frightened of doing what is reasonable and necessary.

His daughter is not conscious of the reversal of roles that this involves; no child ever is at the beginning. This parent is beginning to show his daughter the intimidatory power of her temper. She will store this information away for future use.

Children are naturally good

Children are naturally ‘good’, provided that alternative behaviour does not work better. ‘Good’ behaviour is never natural or instinctive in an environment that rewards something else. Children quickly work out which behaviour gives them the outcome they want and which does not. Children understand very well the behaviour their parents say they want; however, they always choose the behaviour that parents reward. In families with ‘badly’ behaved children, these two are never the same.

Parents are often in a dilemma. Experts speak out vehemently against the disciplinary ‘spare the rod, spoil the child’ approach, accusing parents of using a ‘rod’ whenever anything negative is done to a ‘badly’ behaving child. Others speak out vehemently against a more permissive ‘everything can be done by explanation – by rewarding good behaviour’ approach, which strives to encourage better behaviour and trusts in an innate goodness in the child’s nature. Parents often feel that they might be accused of being too permissive if they show a basic faith in their child, show sympathy for their distress or strive to protect their child’s self-image. A strange fact, which I am at a loss to explain, is that there are currently as I write this far more advocates of ‘being firm’ with babies – where being firm is nearly always meaningless – than there are of ‘being firm’ with older children.

It is very common to find elements of these two views in conflict within the same family. I regularly go to families where one partner thinks the other is too strict, while the other considers their partner too easy-going. What has usually happened is that each parent has become either more strict or more laisser faire in an attempt to counteract the ‘harmful’ effects of the other. Each parent has become more extreme, which usually means they are right about what they condemn in their partner.

Polar views are always false

It is just not possible for either of these polarised positions to be capable of expressing ‘good’ parenting practice. No polarised position can ever do this, since each encourages parents to fixate on extremes. In reality good parenting is always about balance. There should always be a spectrum of training tools and attitudes. It should not be a surprise to discover that the secret that enables parents to successfully restore childhood to their children contains elements from all of the prevalent views and their variations. Polar views in parenting are always false. They rule out entire parent behaviours when they should rule out only the extremes. They stop parents from using responses that, in moderation, are essential.

Parents who believe that everything can be done by explanation, in an attempt to avoid tangible consequences, we will see later often find themselves trying to control what their children think. In contrast, parents from any of the stricter camps often fail to realise the importance of allowing their children the space to ‘decide’ to comply. Both polar views, in the end, fail to respect the autonomy of the child. They become opposite poles of the same mistake. ‘Badly’ behaving children often bounce around in the middle ground between these false poles but when things go seriously wrong, whatever parents originally believed they always end up vindictively blaming their children. It is the children that they blame for their bad attitudes or bad thinking. If parents lean too easily towards the need to use punishment for their child’s bad choices, they will tend to play down the importance of their own personal skills and disastrously link the punishments they give with their own anger. If they believe solely in explanation, they will begin to discover that their children do not automatically accept that Mum and Dad know best. This quickly leads them, too, to become angry. They angrily wonder “it is so obvious I am right, why do they refuse to get it?”

Taken to extreme, no polarised view will work. Each set of parents tends to become angry and blames their child for a stubborn refusal to accept a more mature view. When things go seriously wrong, the behaviour of parents from each and every camp becomes indistinguishable.

What camp does this writer and this book follow?

As we move on to discover how successful parents manage to balance elements from polarised views, we find ourselves presented with a problem. From this point on in the book, virtually anything we suggest that is deemed to come from one camp will be criticised by another. It is so easy to be misunderstood. Parents who watched the TV documentaries that focused on my work with clients informed me that they were using my methods when just 3 or 4 minutes from a whole day of my training was broadcast. I have also had a national paper retract an article in which I was quoted as saying that I blame the parents of children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. I even had a psychologist refuse to translate a previous book for its European publisher because he believed that discussion about categorical statements and the need for consequences indicated a draconian, authoritarian, ‘back-to-basics’ book.

We cannot avoid these themes

It is true that this book talks in detail about categorical statements. It is true also it points out that the only way to avoid unintentional, relationship-harming consequences is to accept the use of tangible ones. However, it does not do this because of a desire to go ‘back to basics’. There was never a golden age to which we can look for answers. The same parenting successes and failures are seen in every age. At no time in history have parents consistently got it right. Previous times were, in reality, just as fraught. Chaucer, and writers from each generation since, complained about wayward youth and the failings of contemporary parents. Dickens manages to make his descriptions of wayward and rioting schoolboys cheerfully matter of fact. Victorian writers criticised their youngsters – every age does. This book does not hanker after authoritarian times because it speaks of categorical statements and consequences. Neither does it advocate a permissive view when it stresses the importance of relationships and the need to safeguard the child’s self-image and right to autonomy. At heart this is a practical book. When it talks about categorical statements and consequences, it does so because ‘badly’ behaving children themselves routinely make categorical statements and threaten their parents with consequences. If parents are uncomfortable with the use of consequences for unwanted behaviour, no such scruple will restrict their children. ‘Badly’ behaved children will always look to ‘punish’ parents when they are not allowed to get their own way. This book speaks of these themes because they cannot be avoided. This is the sea in which ‘badly’ behaving children swim no matter what philosophy their parents follow.

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©Copyright Warwick Dyer 2016

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