How awesome would it be if there were a way to get your kids to behave and increase your own earning potential at the same time?
If you believe the discipline craze coined "parent management training" or "ABCs training" ... there is.
Parent management training (PMT) refers to programs that train parents to manage their child's behavioral problems in the home and at school.
In addition to getting your kid's behavior under control, learning the skills taught in these programs could also help you, as a mom, in your career and your life. Single mothers in a 9-year study at the Oregon Social Learning Center who went through a version of the ABCs training exhibited gains in income (a $3,656 30-month gain in the experimental group, as compared to $1,967 in the same time for the control), occupation and education (not to mention that, you know, their kids acted better).
Intrigued? We were, too.
At its core, science-based parent management training focuses on three areas of discipline, or the ABCs, to gain sustained behavioral change in children. For the purposes of the technique, the ABCs stand for:
- A: The antecedent, or the environment and events that set the stage for a tantrum or undesirable action
- B: The behavior itself, and how parents can help a child learn new behaviors, in some cases using pretend scenarios
- C: The consequences, which involves reinforcing a positive behavior or discouraging a negative one
The program seeks to change the way parents interact with their children in order to enforce behavioral change. In other words, all those fights you have with your child to get her to stay in the time-out corner? Yeah ... those aren't working.
Would You Pay for Behavioral Classes?
Have you ever thought about taking behavioral classes to help discipline your child? Would you, or have you, ever used a version of PMT?
Instead, the research behind the ABCs says that slight changes in a parent's reaction to their child's actions can yield major changes in the children. Instead of focusing on making changes in the midst of a tantrum (which researchers say will make no lasting difference), parents are instead encouraged to focus on day-to-day changes. Take the example of wanting your child to clean her room. Running it through an ABCs-type scenario might look something like this:
- The antecedent would be the way you convey to your child that you want her to clean her room. Directives like "I'd like you to pick up your toys" don't work with children, who generally don't want to feel like they are being told what to do. Instead, a parent is encouraged to say something like, "Your room seems messy. Let's clean it together."
- The behavior itself would be putting your arm around your child, walking with her to her room and showing her how to complete the action by taking turns picking up the toys. Direction like this requires that a parent make pleasant contact with the child (like physically standing close to her, making eye contact, the arm around your child, etc.), followed by the clear, short directive.
- The consequences, which are integral to the process, would be your positive reinforcement of the clean-up (a smile, high five or simple thank you will suffice). In the days and weeks following the action, you would reinforce the behavior with less and less vigor, until a child does the action on her own without any nudging.
"Science has shown for decades, and it's accelerating now, that these techniques based on learning are changing the game of behavior," said Alan Kazdin, Ph.D., Yale psychology professor and head of the Yale Parenting Center. "It's really like playing a musical instrument--parents are expected to develop and maintain these skills to keep the process working properly."
Learning the ABC principles does not come easy. (Sticking with the musical instrument metaphor, remember the days of violin practice? We do. Not so easy.) They require both patience and emotional restraint from parents, who may be tempted to yell or lash out at a child, as well as energy and time.
Sound like a lot of effort? The byproduct results can be just as incredible as getting your kid to clean her room without having to ask.
Parents Hit the Jackpot
When Marion Forgatch, senior scientist emerita with the Oregon Social Learning center, set out to conduct her study using a version called PMT, or Parent Management Training, she felt fairly certain that she would see behavioral changes in the children involved, but she didn't foresee the financial changes that would occur for the mothers, as well.
"Our study focused on recently separated single mothers, because both they and their children are at risk for multiple problems, like financial stress, career difficulties, depression and anxiety," says Forgatch, who was the lead author on the study. "More than 50% of the participants were on welfare and living at the poverty level."
While some of the results of the study were expected—reductions in non-compliance, increases in academic function and decreases in police arrests—others were not. "We didn't expect to see the mothers in the study show increases in their standard of living, including things like education, occupation and income, as well as decreases in maternal depression, but nonetheless that was happening," said Forgatch.
While she can't say for certain why this happened, Forgatch does have an idea. "A theory I have, and that I'm hoping to test in an upcoming study, is that the skills we teach in the class--effective problem solving skills, emotion regulation and conflict management--all can be generalized to apply to the workplace as well. I think this training affected the mom's general ability to interact with other adults in social settings."
So to sum up: Engaging in this type of discipline training leads to better behaved kids and a potential increase in workplace productivity or income. In other words: We're sold.
Unfortunately, science-based behavioral training classes are not widely available yet, although many "imposters" do exist. (The Yale Parenting Center in Connecticut and The Parenting Clinic at the University of Washington are two of the few scientific-based ones available.) These "imposter" forms of parental management training may or may not work; there's just no specific scientific backing to any changes in method they might teach, says Kazdin.
To combat the lack of available classes, however, video classes are available through some of the science-based clinics (you can find out more about Yale's classes here). "Since our classes have been made available online, we've helped parents in Peru, Australia and around the U.S.," said Dr. Kazdin. "We offer a sliding scale in terms of price, too. We always ask for income, and base our prices on what people can handle."
If an actual class isn't in your future, you can still use some of the main takeaways to attempt change in your own child's behavior.
- Your tone, or how you speak to your child, is big in PMT. Discouraging or exasperated tones are big no-nos.
- Touching is important. Follow through on your requests to your child to perform some action with a comforting touch on the arm or quick hug.
- Reinforce your practice. Don't expect one good behavioral experience to change your child forever. Follow up with similar situations in the upcoming days and weeks, and fade back your positive reinforcement as you notice that your child is handling the changes without it.
What do you guys think? Would the ABCs work with your child?
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