Sheldon H. Wagner & Michael J.S. Weiss "Using Behavior Management To Increase Your Child's Potential" 


Additional thought of Graham White in italicized highlights.


Raising a child is one of the hardest, and most important jobs we will have in our life. It is one we enter into without any significant preparation or training. Many parents feel overwhelmed and inadequate by the demands of parenting. 

Yet some parents and family units manage extremely well. So well that it is natural to wonder what is it about those families or those parent/child relationships that make the whole system work as well as it does. 

Studying and mastering the techniques of effective parenting are crucial for the well-being of the child because parenting is one of the very few variables that shape children's lives over which we have any direct and meaningful control. We cannot control our child's genetic make-up and we have very little immediate control over their socio-economic status and the broader social and educational context in which they are raised (I don't believe that I agree with the last part of this statement, but I may misunderstand what is meant.  I believe we are able to choose to learn and change our socio-economic status, social context and educate ourselves continuously, then pass what we know on to our children, but that is a different subject); but we do have direct and significant control over the family environment in which they grow and develop. 

This family environment - rather than being insignificant to the child's future, has a pervasive and life-long impact on the child. There are numerous studies that show that parenting style and child-rearing techniques have significant effects on self-esteem, academic success, and social competence. [i] 

The evidence is that children who are raised properly have greater independence, are more successful, and have richer lives for the simple reason that inappropriate behavior has dramatic social consequences on the part of peers and adults that affect the child throughout his or her life. The implications from these studies are clear: good parenting does not simply make your life easy, it makes your child's life better.

What is the essence of skillful parenting? It is raising a child in a warm environment where there is frequent physical and verbal affection. It must also be an environment where (s)he is held accountable for his or her actions. 

Skillful behavior management is productive for all children no matter how gifted, how loving, or how well-behaved. However, the "difficult" child, the child with special needs or the child with emotional problems present a special problem for the parent and the educator. The presence of these difficulties renders the already Herculean task of child-rearing especially difficult. This is due – not simply to the physical and financial demands of the disabilities – but the psycho-social demands as well. 

Because of their children's problems, parents are often led to treat them differently, setting up a cycle of inappropriate parenting routines that often result in connected behavioral problems. These problems aggravate the already stressful parenting environment. 

Successfully dealing with behavioral problems both in the school and home can measurably reduce the stress in the home on the one hand, and accelerate the developmental growth of the child on the other. This is because social and familial experience have a significant impact on the child's development. 

Take as an example, a child with an expressive language disorder or a learning disability who is often frustrated by his or her disability. This often, in turn, leads to a cycle of escalating, inappropriate behaviors such as defiance, non-compliance, tantrums and aggression. These behaviors once established in the behavioral repertoire of the child, continue to influence his or her development because school and family usually accommodate to the deficits by "altering" the life-experiences of the child. 

For example, they avoid or reduce the number of occasions that they take their child out or they restrict the circle of friends to whom the child is exposed. The family and school environment can systematically fail to challenge the child in academic and cognitive activities due to learning style or behavioral resistances. All these factors ultimately have an influence on cognitive development, learning styles and academic achievement. 

Our clients are children ranging in disability from profound developmental disabilities to "gifted but spoiled brat syndrome."  We see common patterns emerging where children experience difficulty.  One can think of these as "management errors." 

In describing these errors, we outline an approach that we believe works better for all children whether they have any particular disability or not. There is a common misconception that Behavior Management is a way of controlling behavior - of making robots out of children or adults. In our view Behavior Management is not about controlling behavior it is about promoting development.

Error # 1: Adjusting the environment around the deficit of the child

One of the most common situations we encounter is the family "adapting around" the deficits of the child. While some adaptations are of course necessary, (a child with cerebral palsy cannot be “made to walk” ) many are not and serve only to perpetuate and reinforce incompetencies that should be challenged in order to push the potential of the child's limits.

For example, we have been involved with many children who have an expressive language disability who are often raised in an environment where language becomes progressively less important as the family compensates for the deficit by imaginative and creative understanding for their children. The irony is that many of these children should be reared in environments in which language is more important - an environment in which language is pulled out of the child. Children with special needs do require special care and attention but often this care can be applied in such a way as to reinforce and promote the special need rather than assist the child in optimizing his or her developmental potential.

Compensating for the deficit of a child can take many forms. One such common and insidious form is "over baby-proofing" one's home. While it is not only desirable but necessary to protect children from accidents that can cause them or others harm (such as covering wall sockets, locking away poisons, etc.), there is no such argument in favor of "locking" the refrigerator because your child "won't keep out of it" or putting toys out of reach - because they make too much noise, or the kids are fighting over them. We have seen many families where the number and selection of toys that a sibling is allowed to play with is controlled by the tantrum reaction of ano