Many parents believe that there’s a right way and a wrong way to raise children. In reality, no one way fits all children. Some children require more structure while others appreciate more flexibility. As children grow and mature, what previously worked will require modification to fit the developing child. A child who thrived with flexible parenting during early childhood might stumble with this same parenting style in adolescence. So how can parents ever be certain what approach best suits their child? The answer is that you can’t.
Parenting is no easy task. At one time or another, all parents have wished that they possessed some form of magical skills to interact with their child. Whether it’s magic or intuition, there is an art to parenting. The key to that art is your observational skills. Like a detective, you must identify what happens right before and right after a child’s actions in order to nurture a positive behavior or discourage a negative one.
This ABC model is the one constant that I teach all parents at the Renewed Freedom Center:
Antecedent = What happened immediately preceding the behavior? What triggered the child’s actions?
Behavior = Is the behavior desirable or undesirable? Are the child’s actions appropriate?
Consequence = What reinforces or decreases the behavior? Are the child’s actions being reinforced or corrected?
The ABC model of behaviors allows you to observe and analyze a child’s actions objectively without having emotions cloud your judgment. Identifying the antecedent helps parents to be proactive in anticipating future, similar circumstances where the behavior might arise again. If the behavior is desirable, then the appropriate consequence will be one that continues to reinforce this behavior. On the other hand, if the child’s action is undesirable, then the consequence needs to be one that corrects the misbehavior in order to decrease its occurrence.
Example 1 – Reinforcing Desirable Behavior
A – 6yo Suzy finishes her dinner.
B – Suzy takes her used plate and utensils to the kitchen sink without asking. (Desirable)
C – Parents praise Suzy for helping out at the dinner table. (Reinforcement)
*Suzy’s desirable behavior at the dinner table is reinforced and continues as long as parents keep up the praise.*
Example 2 – Reinforcing Undesirable Behavior
A – 10yo Ben is upset that he didn’t get the newly released Xbox game.
B – Ben relentlessly harasses his parents to buy him the game, even though he hasn’t met the requirement for earning the game. (Undesirable)
C – Parents keep explaining to Ben their previous agreement for earning the game. (Reinforcement)
*Ben’s undesirable behavior continues, because it’s given attention to rather than ignored.*
Example 3 – Correcting Undesirable Behavior
A – 15yo Mary is angry for not being able to attend a high school party where alcohol would be present.
B – Mary smashes an object against the living room wall, breaks the object, and plants a hole in the wall. (Undesirable)
C – Parents deduct the amount for replacing the object and fixing the wall from Mary’s weekly allowance. (Correction)
*Mary’s undesirable behavior decreases. Parents reiterate guidelines for appropriate behaviors and social venues for a 15yo.*
Many parents wonder why a child’s previously positive behaviors suddenly stop, or why a once compliant child becomes disobedient. There are many factors that can contribute, which may include the child’s developmental phase as well as the follow-through of the ABC model. Although most parents have no trouble reinforcing desirable behaviors through praise, sometimes they simply forget to keep praising the child for other observed desirable behaviors. The reality is that if you don’t continue to let the child know when a behavior is welcomed, then the behavior will likely cease. Consistency is key here! On the other hand, many parents find it much more arduous to correct an undesirable behavior. In this case, consistency and follow-through is even more imperative. The rule of thumb to behavioral change is actually quite simple. However, you must consistently follow-through on this fundamental strategy:
- When a child’s behavior is desirable, you praise, praise, praise.
- When a child’s behavior is undesirable, YET tolerable, you ignore.
- When a child’s behavior is undesirable and intolerable, you correct.
It’s essential to remember that your parenting style must evolve over time to fit the developing child. During infancy, the primary goal of parenting is to nurture and support. However, throughout the childhood years, guidance and control are the main objectives to parenting. In adolescence, parents must switch gears again to foster independence and responsibility. Keeping these 3 basic parenting phases in mind along with the ABC model will ease the difficult task of parenting.
Now that you’ve gotten the basics of parenting 101, go practice this skill and stay tuned for parenting 201. Remember, consistency and follow-through is key for any long-term behavioral change.