Parents who know what a child is capable of understanding, feeling and
doing at different ages and stages of development can be more realistic
about what behaviors to expect, leading to less frustration and aggression.
In several studies, Kazdin and his team found that when
parents changed their responses to behaviors — for example,
they ignored screams but gave a lot of attention to their children
when they asked nicely for something — the child learned that
asking nicely is the better, more reliable way to get attention
(“The Kazdin Method for Parenting the Defiant Child,” 2008).
Learn about child development
Parents are also more effective when they read up on
child development to understand the misbehaviors that
are common for each developmental stage, says Eyberg.
Often, when a child displays a behavior that a parent doesn’t
like, such as making a mess while eating, it’s because the child is
simply learning a new skill, she says.
“If parents understand that the child isn’t making a mess
on purpose, but instead learning how to use their developing
motor skills in a new way, they’re more likely to think about
praising every step the child takes toward the ultimate
goal,” she says. Parents who know what a child is capable of
understanding, feeling and doing at different ages and stages
of development can be more realistic about what behaviors to
expect, leading to less frustration and aggression.
Do time-out right
Three decades of research on time-outs show that they
work best when they are brief and immediate, Kazdin
says. “A way to get time-out to work depends on ‘time-
in’ — that is, what the parents are praising and modeling when
the child is not being punished,” Kazdin says.
APA’s Violence Prevention Office offers the ACT
Raising Safe Kids program, which provides
parenting skills classes nationwide through
a research-based curriculum delivered by
trained professionals. The program teaches
parents and caregivers how to raise children
without violence through anger management,
positive child discipline and conflict resolution.
For more information on ACT, visit http://
actagainstviolence.apa.org or the ACT Facebook
page or contact Julia da Silva, the program’s
national director, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Research also suggests that parents need to remain calm
when administering time-outs — often a difficult feat in the
heat of the misbehavior — and praise compliance once the
child completes it. In addition, he says, parents shouldn’t have
to restrain a child to get him or her to take a time-out because
the point of this disciplinary strategy is to give the child time
away from all reinforcement. “If what is happening seems more
like a fight in a bar, the parent is reinforcing inappropriate
behaviors,” Kazdin says.
John Lutzker, PhD, who directs the Center for Healthy
Development at Georgia State University, has even
stopped advising parents to use time-outs. Instead, he
teaches parents to plan and structure activities to prevent a
child’s challenging behaviors, based on previous research:
• Plan ahead to prevent problems from arising.
• Teach children how to cope effectively with the demands of
• Find ways to help children stay engaged, busy and active
when they might otherwise become bored or disruptive.
“We’ve found in our work over the past 20 years that if you do a
good job teaching parents planned activities training, there’s no
need for time-outs,” Lutzker says.
Take care of yourself first
Parents receive some of the best parenting advice every
time they take off on an airplane, says Palmiter: If the
cabin loses pressure and you must put on an oxygen
mask, put one on yourself first before you help your child.
“I see households all across America where the oxygen masks
have long since dropped and all of the oxygen is going to the
children,” says Palmiter.
Yet the research makes it clear that children are negatively
affected by their parents’ stress. According to APA’s 2010 Stress
in America survey, 69 percent of respondents recognized that
their personal stress affects their children, and only 14 percent
of children said their parents’ stress didn’t bother them. In
addition, 25 percent to 47 percent of tweens reported feeling
sad, worried or frustrated about their parents’ stress. Another
study published last year in Child Development found that
parents’ stress imprints on children’s genes — and the effects
last a very long time.
That’s why modeling good stress management can make a