What follows describes how I came to develop the approach discussed in the book, presented in mock interview, Question and Response, style. It also provides some illustrations of how the underlying principles apply to even very young children.
Q: I noticed on your web page that you said you specialized in work with children, after training in work with adults. Did your training include the sort of approach you discuss in How to Raise Disciplined and Happy Children)?
R: Actually, the approach presented in the book did not come naturally to me. My graduate school training emphasized “learning theory” but most of my clinical training was based on the work of Freud and his followers. As a result, while I was exposed to all the theories of learning, I had almost no experience working with people based on those theories.
Q: So what influenced you to use this approach?
R: As it turned out, a variety of experiences in my professional and family life led me to a whole new appreciation of the science behind the theory I had learned and of the powerful clinical benefits from applying those theories in the real world.
Q: Could you describe some of those experiences?
R: Sure. Early in my career I directed a psychology department serving developmentally delayed individuals in Chicago. One of our psychologists and his staff worked with children at the clinic. After getting to know them well, they designed programs to help parents manage their children’s difficult behaviors in their own homes. However, too often programs which worked well in the clinic didn’t work out so well at home. The problem most often seemed to be that the parents weren’t able to carry out the programs away from the clinic. As a result I was generally dubious about behavior therapy and I never became closely involved with this branch of our department’s work.
Q: With that rather negative start, what happened to change your view?
R: While my experience in the professional world hadn’t seemed so promising, the birth of our first child, Michael, soon made the challenge of dealing with child behavior a lot more personal. Our baby brought constant joy into our lives and we were in awe at his ever-changing interaction with his environment and his rapid emergence into a responsive, active, exuberant, and loving individual.
However, to our mild chagrin, by the time Mike was a few months old, his exuberance made diaper changes a challenging – and sometimes damp – undertaking. Although I didn’t recognize it at the time, our efforts to deal with this taught me a great deal. In fact it proved to be pivotal in the development of my understanding of how to deal with children and their challenging behaviors. It also illustrated how very early in life a child can respond to constructive parenting.
Q: That seems like a lot for a simple diaper change. Can you tell me more?
R: Well, bit by bit the challenges at diaper time had me feeling pretty inadequate. After all, I was much bigger and more experienced than the baby and I should have been able to manage diapering without so much struggle. Of course the “talking therapy” I used with my patients was not much help; after all, at that point Mike’s vocabulary ranged from “coo” to “goo.” A lucky development was to nudge me to a better approach.