Parenting Support

Most parents can benefit from brushing up on their parenting skills. During difficult times, children and teens may act out and exhibit new or more extreme behaviors. For example, when a military spouse is parenting solo, as a result of a deployment, this new family dynamic may result in added stress for the parents, as well as the kids in the family. The added stress on the family may lead to behavioral problems at home.

It’s not unusual for parents to find that the discipline techniques that once worked successfully are no longer effective. If you are having difficulty managing a child or teen, or you simply want to learn some parenting tips, you’re in the right place.

FAQs

Parenting style refers to the differences in how parents try to control and socialize their children. Diana Baumrind, known in the field of Psychology for classic, empirically-supported research on parenting styles, found that parents tend to exhibit one of three parenting styles:1

  1. Authoritarian parenting is associated with high control, frequent use of punishment, and a general lack of consideration of child views. Rules are expected to be obeyed without question.
  2. Permissive parents are often unconditionally accepting of children’s behavior and tend to be lenient. They also tend to avoid confrontation.
  3. Authoritative parents are warm, involved, consistently enforce developmentally appropriate expectations, and favor reinforcement over punishment to control behavior.

Maccoby and Martin expanded on Baumrinds’ findings, and suggest a fourth parenting style identified as uninvolved or neglectful. These parents are neither directive, nor responsive, and instead tend to ignore their children.2

Although there is no one correct way to parent, research shows that children raised by authoritative parents fare better on virtually every indicator of psychological health than their peers who are raised by non-authoritative parents.3, 4

Contingency management refers to the strategic use of reinforcement or punishment to change or maintain the behavior of others. The basic principles of behavioral change are as follows:

Provide reinforcement or incentives for behaviors that you want more of. Examples include:

  • More attention (e.g., interacting, noticing, commenting)
  • Praise (e.g., “Good job!” “I like that!”)
  • Concrete rewards (e.g., favorite treat, book or toy)
  • Privileges (e.g., going to the zoo, a movie or having a friend over to play)
  • Removal of negatives (e.g., “If you keep up with your school work and keep your room clean this week, then you can be excused from yard work this weekend.”)

Provide punishment for behaviors you want less of.
Examples include:

  • Time out
  • Critical feedback (e.g., “No,” “I don’t like it when you do that”)
  • Removal of privileges (e.g., television viewing, time with friends)
  • Ignoring or withdrawing attention (e.g., not responding or reacting to a child when he or she whining or throwing a tantrum)
  • Enforcing consequences (e.g., additional chores or homework assignment)

Reinforcement and punishment must be applied in specific ways to be successful:

  • Reinforcement and punishment must be consistent. If you put a child in time-out for hitting another child, but your partner, a teacher, or other disciplinarian allows this type of behavior to go on without a time-out consequence, the hitting behavior will likely continue. Disciplinarians involved in a child’s life must apply the same rules consistently to help a child learn to make better behavioral choices.
  • Reinforcement and punishment must occur very quickly after the behavior has occurred. It is important to associate the specific behavior with a consequence. For instance, if a child throws a toy, they have a time out. If a teen completes all homework assignments for the week, they can watch television, etc. Delayed consequences are less powerful. Therefore, if you see a child throwing toys, for example, it is more effective to put him in time out right away than to delay a punishment. When using an incentive to reward positive behavior in young children, it should follow the behavior immediately (a few seconds). The reason behind this is that incentives delivered days or weeks later are no longer directly associated with the positive behavior. If you want to use a big incentive (for example, a bike for maintaining good grades for an entire semester or year), it’s important to provide check-in points, and/or provide ongoing praise and encouragement for the assignments and test scores received along the way—reminding the young person that their goal is within reach.
  • Reinforcement must be something that the child or adolescent actually wants. For instance, offering an adolescent a small amount of money is not likely to be a powerful reinforcement. Likewise, a punishment must be something a child actually wants to avoid. If you tell a teenager that she cannot watch television until she finishes her homework she may not care. However, she may become very upset if you take the cell phone away from her. It’s important to know what motivates the individual child.

Positive control refers to the use of reinforcement, as opposed to punishment to control behavior. Positive control is necessary because punishment alone is not successful over time. If you simply punish children for the behaviors you do not want to see, they are likely to reduce the frequency of punished behaviors, but only when they are around you. More desirable behavior will not automatically emerge unless you reinforce the desired behaviors. Look for opportunities to tell young people when they are on the right track, when you are pleased with how they handled a difficult situation or school assignment. When young people are not getting attention for good behavior, they will often find a way to get attention for other kinds of behavior. Parental response to bad behavior only often leads to more bad behavior, in an effort to maintain parental attention.

For older children and teens, simple contingency management techniques may be insufficient on their own. Behavior problems in young people often improve when family members learn to negotiate and problem solve effectively with a young person. It is important to demonstrate respect, even if you do not agree with a young person’s point of view. An authoritarian approach (expecting rules to be obeyed without question, high control, frequent use of punishment, lack of discussion) is rarely the most effective way to obtain a teen’s cooperation. Demonstrating a desire to problem-solve is often a more effective way to reach an agreement and promote cooperation.

It’s not always easy to determine the difference between “normal” behavioral ups and downs versus a behavioral problem. Always consider your child’s developmental level (which is not the same thing as your child’s age), identify your expectations, recall how you were parented, and identify your parenting style. A good way to find out about how your child’s behavior compares to other children’s behavior is to ask a teacher. Only trained professionals, such as a pediatrician or mental health provider, can make a diagnosis. Consult with a provider if you have questions about your child or adolescent’s functioning.

Using effective parenting strategies will greatly increase the chances that children and teens will comply with a parental request and/or rules. Occasional disobedience should not necessarily be interpreted as a sign of a behavioral problem. Children and teens are influenced by their peers, their siblings, behavior they see on television, etc. Just like adults, young people have different temperaments, and some young people exhibit more challenging behaviors than others.

No parent is perfect. The good news is that children are fairly resilient. If you fail to enforce a rule now and again, life will go on and new opportunities will present themselves. It is important to try not to take your frustrations out on your child. If you do, apologize and move on. Learn what you can do to keep your cool when presented with parenting challenges.

Usually parents seek professional help when their child is exhibiting a behavioral problem, such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, school refusal, etc. Research suggests that parent training programs are effective for treating oppositional behavior in children.5, 6 Parent Management Training involves helping parents learning new skills for dealing with oppositional and defiant behavior. Parents learn to consistently apply consequences (e.g. rewards and punishment) and to promote positive behavior in their children. In general, behavior therapy is an effective treatment for many pediatric behavioral problems. Usually treatment involves teaching parents behavioral interventions that can be implemented at home.

Behavioral Interventions and Behavior Therapy
Although teachers are not mental health professionals, they have experience dealing with children and adolescents, and may be able to offer suggestions for managing behavioral problems. Also, teachers often play an important role in the treatment plan, as children and teens may also be exhibiting behavioral problems at school.

No. Parents and other caregivers can improve their parenting skills by incorporating a few simple tools into their daily routine. Check out the self-help tools offered on this site. If your child is exhibiting problem behavior and your doctor believes it is necessary to seek specialty care, they will be able to assist you to that next level of care. Sometimes family, friends, or clergy can be excellent sources of support when facing a behavioral change.

References:

1Baumrind, D. (1966). Effects of authoritative parental control on child behavior. Child Development, 37, 887-907.

2Maccoby, E. E., & Martin, J. A. (1983). Socialization in the context of the family: Parent child interaction. In P. H. Mussen (Ed.) & E. M. Hetherington (Vol. Ed.), Handbook of child psychology: Vol. 4. Socialization, personality, and social development (4th ed., pp. 1-101). New York: Wiley.

3Lamborn, S., Mounts, N., & Dornbusch, S. (1991). Patterns of competence and adjustment among adolescents from authoritative, authoritarian, indulgent, and neglectful families. Child Development, 62, 1049-1065.

4Steinberg, L. (2001). We know some things: Parent-adolescent relationships in retrospect and prospect. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 11(1), 1-19.

5Walter, H. I., & Gilmore, S. K. (1973). Placebo versus social learning effects in parent training procedures designed to alter the behavior of aggressive boys. Behavior Therapy, 4, 361-377.

6Wells, K. C., & Egan, J. (1988). Social learning and systems family therapy for childhood oppositional disorder: Comparative treatment outcome. Comprehensive Psychiatry, 29, 138-146.

Professional Help

Getting Motivated to Seek Professional Help

Choosing a Mental Health Professional for Your Child

Help for Children with a Mental Illness

Additional Community Resources
(Providers may not be TRICARE certified)

Association for the Advancement of Behavior Therapy—Find a Therapist
Or call 1-212-647-1890.

American Psychological Association—Find a Psychologist
Or call 1-800-964-2000.

National Association of Social Workers—Search Clinical Register

Self-Help Resources

Parenting information and tools are organized here, with links to additional resources. If your child is exhibiting behavioral problems and you are having difficulty managing or coping with these problems, you may also find information posted under other behavioral health topics for children on this web site to be helpful.

Fact Sheets and Handouts

Discipline Guide
Learning how to effectively discipline your child is an important skill that all parents need to learn. Learn how to encourage good behavior, implement effective discipline techniques, utilize time-out, and more in this comprehensive guide.

Parenting Tips
Even loving parents sometimes say or do things they don’t mean, like yelling at a child. If you think you’re having trouble controlling your anger or handling your frustration, get help right away and prevent your behavior from becoming abusive.

About Discipline—Helping Children Develop Self-Control
As parents teach children appropriate behavior, and what the expected rules and boundaries are for the family, it’s important to remember the goals of discipline. Discipline means helping a child develop self control and a sense of limits, experience the consequences of behaviors, and learn from mistakes.

Positive Consequences Mean Keep Up The Good Work!
A positive consequence can be your best friend because it reinforces and encourages positive behavior. Learn more by reading this brief handout.

Are You Losing Your Cool with Your Kids?
Parenting is a difficult job. It is not uncommon for parents to feel frustrated sometimes. Learn tips to help you stay calm while parenting.

Decision Making and Problem-Solving with Teens
Learning and using a decision-making and problem-solving process will help a teen grow toward responsible adulthood. Cooperative problem solving is a way to deal with disagreements between parent and teen.
Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies

Taking Care of You–Taking Care of Your Children: Signs of Deployment Stress

Video/Audio Files

Parenting Pointers
Understand how children express feelings and how they learn. There are several brief video clips on tantrums, communication, and more.

Books & Workbooks

SOS: Help for Parents
L. Clark & J. Robb

Your Defiant Child: Eight Steps to Better Behavior
R. A. Barkley & C. M. Benton

Little People: Guidelines for Common Sense Child Rearing
E. R. Christophersen, D. Graves, & M. Walter

Beyond Discipline: Parenting That Lasts a Lifetime
E. R. Christophersen

The Parent’s Handbook: Systematic Training for Effective Parenting
D. C. Dinkmeyer, Sr.

Raising An Emotionally Intelligent Child
J. Gottman, J. Declaire, & D. Goleman

Babies on the Homefront
This free app for smart-phones, available in both English and Spanish on iTunes and the Google Play store, is designed especially for military and veteran families as they navigate the many transitions that are part of serving, including deployment and reintegration, moving, and transitioning back to civilian life.

Kids Health
Positive parenting tips on a variety of topics.

Child Development and Parenting Information
Learn about child development, improving your child’s behavior and ability to learn, raising successful teens, safety issues, and more.

Fostering Resilience in Children and Teens
Resources to support youth during good times and challenging times.

The Incredible Years
Research-based programs that have proven effective in reducing children’s aggression and behavior problems along with and increasing social competence at home and at school.

Directive Parenting
A program teaches you essential parenting skills to help you improve your child’s negative, hostile, and defiant behavior. The fee is $75 for up to three months.

Military OneSource
Parenting information relevant for a military audience includes child care, parenting skills, stages of development, and more. Visitors on this site may be required to create a User ID and Password. Visitors are not required to disclose personal information other than branch of service and unit location.

Coming Together Around Military Separation: Supporting our Babies and Toddlers Campaign
Zero to Three
Addresses the ways that parents and caregivers can support young children through military-specific challenges, such as deployment and relocation.

Veteran and Military Family Health
U.S. National Library of Medicine and the National Institute of Health

MilitaryChildCare.com
MilitaryChildCare.com is a Department of Defense website for military families seeking childcare options

Treatment Options

Parenting Training

Usually parents seek professional help when their child is exhibiting a behavioral problem, such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, school refusal, etc. Research suggests that parent training programs are effective for treating oppositional behavior in children.1, 2 Parent Management Training involves helping parents learn new skills for dealing with oppositional and defiant behavior. Parents are taught to consistently apply consequences (e.g. rewards and punishment) to shape compliant behavior in their children. In general, behavior therapy is an effective treatment for many pediatric behavioral problems. Usually treatment involves teaching parents behavioral interventions that can be implemented at home.

Although teachers are not mental health professionals, they have experience dealing with children and adolescents, and may be able to offer suggestions for managing behavioral problems. Also, teachers often play an important role in the treatment plan, as children and teens may also be exhibiting behavioral problems at school.

A lot of problems experienced by young people can be helped or treated with behavioral interventions or a relatively quick dose of behavior therapy. Learn more.

1Walter, H. I., & Gilmore, S. K. (1973). Placebo versus social learning effects in parent training procedures designed to alter the behavior of aggressive boys. Behavior Therapy, 4, 361-377.

2Wells, K. C., & Egan, J. (1988). Social learning and systems family therapy for childhood oppositional disorder: Comparative treatment outcome. Comprehensive Psychiatry, 29, 138-146.

Do You Know Your Parenting Style?

Take this online quiz.