How to really change your kid’s behavior. Picture an explosive parent who responds to a child’s misbehavior by ranting, rearing of children, and perhaps hitting. Now picture a calm, patient, gentle parent who responds to the same misbehavior—no matter how provokingly awful—by reasoning and explaining.
Obviously, the two parents have different effects on their kids. They model different responses to not getting the behavior they want, and research tells us that children tend to reproduce what happens at home when interacting with peers. But the two parents have one important thing in common: They’re likely to be ineffective in changing the unwanted behavior. More than 50 years of good science tell us that punishment doesn’t do much to improve behavior, so the explosive parent’s approach will almost certainly fail. All that yelling and hitting qualifies as punishment, after all, and punishment doesn’t teach what to do. It rarely succeeds even in teaching what not to do.
The patient explainer will probably fail, too. Before going further, let me say that promoting understanding plays a crucial role in raising kids. Explanation and discussion build intelligence and language skills, develop a child’s powers of rational reasoning, and teach the difference between right and wrong. Engaging your child on a range of topics has another, even broader benefit: It increases the likelihood that he will come to you in the future to discuss things, including touchy subjects. But a large body of research tells us that greater understanding is not a strong path to changing behavior.