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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Dispelling some myths about kids misbehaving

By John Rosemond

In the late 1960s, the newly emerging parenting experts told parents that high selfesteem would lead to better grades, better behavior, and prevent drug and alcohol use. Unfortunately, it hasn't turned out that way. In fact, not only has research failed to establish a connection between "feeling good about oneself" and achievement or good behavior, it also suggests high self-esteem may dispose certain people to anti-social and/or self-destructive behavior. As it turns out, "high self-esteem is good" is not the only example of a child-rearing myth propagated by parenting pundits.

Myth: Parents should be consistent in how they discipline their children, lest their children become "confused."

Fact: Parents need to be consistent in what they discipline for, but not in how they discipline. More important than the method is the message and the same disciplinary message can be sent in numerous ways. Let's say a 9-year-old has a full-blown public outburst because his parents refuse to buy him a toy he sees in a store. His parents could take him home and confine him to his room for the rest of the day. The next time a public tantrum occurs, it would be perfectly OK for them to make him cancel a weekend sleepover at a friend's house. The point is that every time this child throws a public tantrum, he needs to pay a price. The nature of the price can vary from situation to situation.

Myth: Parents need to discipline immediately after the misbehavior, or the child in question may not be able, later, to connect the misbehavior and the consequence.

Fact: This is certainly true with toddlers, but once a child develops long-term memory usually at about age 3 1/2 consequences for misbehavior can be delayed accordingly. The fact is, it's often impossible to come up with a suitable consequence at the moment misbehavior occurs.

An older 3-year-old can still connect the consequence with the misbehavior if the consequence is delayed as much as a day. By age 5, a child can easily relate to a delay of upwards of a week. And as for a teenager, well, the sky's the limit. Let's say Bonzo, age 17, comes home inebriated one January night. Let me assure you, he will be able to make the connection between that not-so-little indiscretion and not going to the beach with his friends over spring break, even if his parents do not so inform him for weeks.

Myth: Most misbehavior should simply be ignored, as giving it attention of any kind is likely to perpetuate it.

Fact: Again, this is true of toddlers. After all, it's not reasonable to expect a 2-year-old to know public tantrums are a social faux pas. So, when a tantrum occurs, you take said toddler to a relatively private place and ignore his screams. On the other hand, a 3-year-old who throws a tantrum in a store needs to be taken home without that toy he was looking forward to. In most cases, a child who misbehaves needs to be punished.

What's the best way to punish? Take away valuable freedom and/or privilege.

In that regard, something as simple as sending a child to his/her room for an hour, or even the rest of the day, is generally very effective.

Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents' questions at www.rosemond.com.