One of the most difficult questions new parents ask is:
“How do I know when to punish my child?”
Like most parenting matters, this is best answered with guiding principles rather than specific formulas that may or may not apply to your child or your circumstance.
We are blessed to possess deep insight into how the brain works and we should use that knowledge to collaborate with our child’s brain as we guide and nurture him. The primary mode of behavior modification is to notice his desirable behaviors and then pour on the appropriate praise. Unfortunately, many of us do just the opposite: Barely noticing the positive in his outcomes and certainly his process, while shooting off fireworks and releasing the equivalent of an attention soaking firehose on the undesirable behaviors.
To the child’s brain, attention, which is a direct connection to you, is a reward in whatever form it comes. The worst experience is to be ignored. If undesirable behaviors are the only way to create an impactful connection with you, they will take it, at least for a while.
Using neuroscience as our guide, we should draw attention to, focus on and significantly reward the behavior we want more of. By reward, I mean praise, and by praise, I mean passionate, precise and deliberate acknowledgment of his behavior and the effort of his process. This reward will powerfully reinforce the desired action and grease the neural pathways so that the action is likely to be repeated.
On the flip side, we want to give little to no attention to undesirable behavior. I am not promoting permissive parenting, but intelligent, research-based parenting. If behavioral expectations have been clearly communicated and the child fails to follow through, then the expected consequence is applied. Importantly, this should be done “clinically” with minimal emotion and intensity. This alone, should suffice to associate the old, undesirable neural pathway with discomfort and displeasure. As the behavior decreases, the undesirable pathway is “pruned” and shut down and is less likely to assert itself on his reality.
Your attention and connection to your child is his greatest reward, so collaborate with his brain and focus it in a way that encourages him to develop in a way that will bring him long term joy and satisfaction.
Rabbi Elazar Bloom, LMFT, is licensed psychotherapist specializing in marriage counseling and parenting consultantions with a private practice in Hollywood. To learn more about his work, visit: www.elazarbloom.com