Wednesday, March 11, 2009


One of the odd things about my job is that it often requires giving parenting instruction and advice to foster parents and biological parents. Specifically, it often includes modeling discipline and redirection. Sometimes I feel like a total sham doing this...who am I, someone who doesn't even have kids yet, to be giving parenting advice? But you also have to keep in mind that with some of the folks we're working with, common sense approaches like giving a time out aren't always obvious. Anyway, while some of the techniques used by child welfare to teach about parenting are a little hippy-esque, I DO feel blessed to be learning so much about parenting before actually having kids. For example, I learned yesterday that with children under five, the praise to criticize ratio should be 20:1! The parenting instructor advocates accomplishing this by "positive re-direction". So instead of, "Stop jumping on the couch right now or you'll all get time outs!" you'd say, "Feet on floor, bottom on couch, right now."

They don't advocate threatening time outs (which is something I'm totally guilty of even with the nieces and nephew), but rather creating the expectation with kids that they follow instructions the first time, every time, or they receive a time out. For the first couple of weeks, that means a LOT of time outs, but most of the kids quickly learn to follow instructions the first time.

Another thing that they try to implement with kids under 8 who have really bad behaviors (but I think that this could be modified for any kid), is something called Parent-Child Interaction Therapy. This therapy is a concentrated way to implement the two above ideas--positive reinforcement, and following instructions the first time. PCIT is a focused five minutes a day that a parent spends with an individual child. During that time, the parent and child do some activity together like drawing or playing with building blocks. The parent focuses on praising the child's positive behaviors as much as possible, PARTICULARLY when the child follows instructions the first time, and completely ignoring any negative behaviors unless they're destructive, or dangerous. If the child's behaviors become destructive or dangerous, then the "special time" ends immediately and the child is placed in time out. If the child makes it through the session, at the end of the session, the parent reinforces with the child that they expect the child to follow instructions the first time, and gives the child a specific example that they'll be expected to follow for the day (i.e. "Today, when I ask you to get on your shoes, it's my expectation that you will put on your shoes the first time I ask.") Parents continue to add another task every day (so the next day would be shoes AND something else) for about a week before the expectation becomes "Today, I expect that you will listen to and follow mommy's instructions the first time."

Now keep in mind that the kids that we're working with in the above scenarios have REALLY hard behavioral stuff going on--many of them have PTSD diagnoses, or Oppositional Defiant Disorder. So while some of this seems more praise focused than discipline focused, that's partially because some of these children really didn't ever receive praise growing up (and did receive horrific discipline), so it's essential that they receive focused and intentional praise now in order to build up their self-esteem and enforce their positive behaviors. But I think the 20:1 rule is a great thing to keep in mind for ANY parent--especially with kids under 5, you really can't praise them enough!

So anyway, I hope this didn't come off as presumpuous--the "non-parent giving parenting advice that isn't at all practical in real life." I just thought that I'd share some of the things that I've learned so will be interesting to see whether or not J and I are actually able to implement some of these things when WE have kids.


  1. Amen! Good advice! I feel blessed to have learned a lot of that stuff working in day care- before having kids too. (although I wouldn't really recommend day care as a job to anyone!) In day care you can't even put kids in timeout due to the fact that the separation from the group could be emotionally damaging! I love that I learned how to redirect and chose other options for "discipline" long before my own children are brought into the mix.

    I liked your stat- 20:1! Man, no wonder you always sounds like dope when talking with kids. I say "good job" all the time- I guess I just learned that you have to say good stuff all the time for them.

    (I also feel weird when I talk to people with kids, about their kids. Especially when they talk about a problem they are having, and I have some sound market research to back up my advice, I don't feel I can give it because I don't have kids. Oh well. )

  2. Haha I didn't roll my eyes. I agree with you! And I feel like I have learned quite a bit about what works and what doesn't work with kids vis a vis my sisters and their unique parenting styles... but man oh man, when you can't communicate with the kid (or express your authority OR praise) is near impossible. I had dropped my expectations of my time with them so drastically that I just hoped that I could keep them safe, period...and I also quickly gained a ton of sympathy for any foreign language nanny. ;)


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