Can Your Thoughts Impact Your Child’s Behavior?
A Glass Half Full: Parent Perspectives and Child Behavior
Have you ever been frustrated with your child’s behavior and found yourself thinking something like, “It really doesn’t matter what I do…my child is just not capable of understanding or behaving better”, or “I must not be a very good parent if I can’t handle this”?
When those thoughts crossed your mind, did you find that you behaved differently? For example, did you get angry with yourself or your child, give in to your child’s unreasonable demands, or retreat from the situation altogether? As parents, negative thinking can significantly affect our expectations, reactions, motivation, and follow-through. When discouraged, we may deviate from our preferred parenting practices.
A five-year study by Mark Durand, Meme Hieneman, and colleagues explored the impact of parent beliefs on interactions surrounding child behavior and the outcomes of behavioral intervention. We compared simply providing parents education in positive behavior support in an effort to support management practices with the same program combined with a cognitive-behavioral approach called “optimism training.” That component helped parents explore and adjust their thinking, as well as their behavior. Not surprisingly, parents who learned to understand and overcome negative thinking made more positive gains with their children and felt better about themselves in general. This article will briefly describe this optimism training which, when combined with effective behavior support, can improve child behavior and family life.
Optimism training comes from work by Dr. Martin Seligman related to learned helplessness. Here is a summary of the process and some examples of each step:
Identify situations that provoke negative thinking and beliefs.
Consider events, activities, or circumstances that upset you. For example, going grocery shopping may be particularly difficult because your child grabs or demands items and refuses to remain by your side. His behavior is disruptive and embarrassing. You are frustrated and have lost hope. As a result, you think, “I can’t take him anywhere and everyone watching thinks I have no control of my child.”
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