There is no entrance exam and no state certification is required. Becoming a parent is so easy that it often happens by accident. Yet raising children is the most profound undertaking of our lives. Prospective parents fantasize about calmly and tenderly guiding their new babies, carefully avoiding whatever mistakes they feel their own parents made with them.
In contrast, once they are actually parents, they are confronted with the daily realities of a needy and demanding infant and often find their patience short and their successes surprisingly limited. Bit by painful bit, they discover that true success in child-rearing does not come so easily and requires effectively managing a relentless procession of perplexing and ever-changing challenges.
How frustrating it is for parents, deeply committed to providing the best for their children, to be confronted with non-compliance and to find their interventions to be ineffective. Most are eager to provide loving guidance but when their children suddenly become stubbornly unresponsive, their own efforts as suddenly can feel highly ineffective.
Sadly, research shows that whenever unacceptable behavior proves persistent, the default response is likely to be more reliance on punishment, even though parents often acknowledge knowing this does not achieve lasting changes in their children’s behavior.
As a Clinical Child Psychologist, I have devoted much of my attention to supporting parents who are working to help their children master the challenges of childhood and mature into responsible adults. Early on it became obvious that most modern parents have had little opportunity to learn fundamental principles of child development and what influences and changes behavior. As I worked with more and more families, it became clear that it is far easier and more effective to guide children to behave responsibly in the first place than it is to wait for them to behave inappropriately and then to punish them for their errors in hopes of bringing about lasting improvements in their behavior. In response, years ago I set about developing a class to provide parents (and all others who serve the parenting role) with a comprehensive approach to positive and effective discipline.
Review of extensive research on how behavior is established and what changes it led me to the most fundamental and widely accepted finding in all of psychology, education, and related fields. That finding, upon which I based the approach presented in my classes, is embodied in the powerful Principle of Positive Reinforcement, which states that:
Any behavior that occurs and is followed by a reinforcement is more likely to occur again.
This simple statement carries with it profound and commonly misunderstood implications. Too often the power shows itself in inadvertent reinforcement of inappropriate behavior; when parents finally give in to their child’s whining for a toy in the supermarket, the principle is at work in the form of reinforcement of behavior which is exactly opposite of the parents intentions. Indeed, both this child, smirking as he clutches his new toy, and another child beaming over praise earned for an “A” on an arithmetic test, are responding just as the principle predicts: they each are more likely to behave the same way again when similar circumstances arise.
It is crucial to understand that this Principle of Positive Reinforcement is a reality that exists in nature, whether or not we recognize that fact. It is no more a matter of conjecture or debate than is the direction of sunrise in the morning; rather, it is just the way it is. Thus, gaining mastery over this ever-present and profound influence on your children’s behavior is essential to effective parenting.
How to Raise Disciplined and Happy Children: Mastering the Power of Positive Reinforcement is intended to guide parents to fully understand and effectively apply the principle. The rich accumulation of research on learning and behavior conducted over many years in clinics and laboratories around the world provides the underlying knowledge base which served as the foundation for my own clinical work and the classes I taught. My program is designed to help parents best apply the Principle of Positive Reinforcement to meet the needs of their families in their own homes, and ultimately to gain full mastery of its power to promote raising happy, responsible children.