June 20, 2007

A Question about Peer Pressure and Punishment

A Letter from a Great Mom

Dear Mac,

Your book Parenting with Dignity is my bible!! Thank you for sharing this loving, warm way of parenting children. I have a question I was hoping you could answer.

My son is 5. He is very sensitive and sweet but is also in the "testing" phase of childhood. There is a 7 year old boy across the street who my son interacts with often (I do my best to discourage play time, however he is right across the street and comes over a lot seeking to play). The boy is extremely disrespectful to his parents and talks in a manner that sounds very fresh and rude.

My son seems to have adopted this manner of speaking and has tried out some of the disrespectful acts. He has always ended up losing a privilege, but I am searching for ways to help him and stop him from speaking and acting this way. It is quite frankly embarrassing at times, and I feel like I am spending so much time focusing on this. Please help me!!

Thank you,


An Answer from Mac

Dear Mom,

Thanks for the nice words about the book. I am extremely pleased that you find it helpful.

Well, first of all in my answer to you, and to every other parent who reads this I want to say congratulations! By writing with your question and by reading this Blog, you are seeking sound answers about effective parenting skills! You will find help!

Your child is lucky to have you as a parent because you care deeply enough to find answers rather than resorting to frustration or simply ignoring the inappropriate behavior of your child. (Sounds like that might be what your neighbors are doing.)

Permissiveness? Hardly!

My experience tells me that when many people first read Parenting with Dignity or go through our Parenting with Dignity classes, they get a first impression that the program teaches permissiveness or an attitude of just letting kids go and do whatever they want. Teaching kids to make their own good decisions and to select their own great behavior is the farthest you can get from permissiveness. It pleases me that in your question you don’t seem to have that mistaken impression! Parenting with Dignity is not a program that teaches permissiveness.

Like just said, Parenting with Dignity is the farthest thing from a program of permissiveness. You are absolutely correct in seeking parenting skills from us that demand the very highest standards of behavior from your son!

Now Let's Solve the Problem

Here's some logical and common sense advice for you.

First of all, in the wording of your question you only confirm what I have written in Chapter 12 of my book and what we cover in Lesson 9 of our DVD Course... Punishment does not work!

You say, “He has always ended up losing a privilege.” Then you go on to say that the behavior continues. Your action of withholding privilege

To this I reply, “Well, that didn’t work!” Artificial consequences rarely result in lasting change in behavior. Often what happens is the child learns that you don not like that behavior so the child just starts hiding it from you.

What your child needs is for you to TEACH him some of the desired behaviors that you would like him to use. Nowhere in your letter do you tell me what you want your son to do either when this neighbor boy uses his disrespectful, fresh, or rude behavior nor what the behavior is that you want your son to use in place of the inappropriate behavior.

You must use Rule # 1 from the Parenting with Dignity Curriculum and “End any criticism with a positive statement of the desired behavior. You must tell your son precisely what it s that you want him to do!” You must describe that desired action in behavioral terms that your son understands. You must teach him that his world will improve because of his choice to use the behavior that you have spelled out for him!

Then you must use Rule #3 from the Parenting with Dignity Curriculum and you must “not assume that he has heard it simply because you have said it!” hen you must apply the corollary to that rule which states that if you have repeated your instructions three times and your son is still not doing what you have attempted to teach him… you need to find another way to say it to him!

Now, remember that when you are working with a very young child most often the worst way to teach anything is with words. You need to role play. You need to demonstrate. You need to have him role play. Then you need to practice the desired behavior with him so that he has the idea of the appropriate action firmly in his head before he goes out to play with the seven year old across the street.

You need to apply Rule #4... you need to get your son to say it for himself!

Using Peer Pressure to Help

Now I would like to address one other thing in your letter to me. You say that the other boy is acting in an inappropriate manner. I would imagine that the parents of that child do not approve of his inappropriate behavior any more than you do! As a matter of fact, I would imagine that if you were to talk to them they may be just as frustrated by the rudeness and the disrespectful behavior as you are! There is one difference between you and those parents. You are seeking outside help! You will teach your son some more desirable ways of interacting with you and others and most likely you will succeed in teaching your son in spite of the negative behavior he may see the other boy use. (He will resist negative peer pressure.)

Start a Parenting with Dignity Class

Now here is my suggestion to you that is pretty far reaching but really quite simple. I would like help you to greatly improve the chances of teaching appropriate behavior to your son. Peer pressure can be your greatest ally if it pushes in a positive direction. It is so much easier to teach appropriate behavior to your son if most of the other kids he interacts with have been taught to act in a similar manner. If the boy across the street was acting in an appropriate manner it would now be a good thing for your son to play with him!

This is pretty simple to achieve… get a set of our DVD Parenting with Dignity Curriculum and start a class for parents in your neighborhood! By doing this you will insure that you have all talked together about the things that you, as a neighborhood, want to teach your children! Working together will increase the effectiveness of each of your families. You don’t all have to agree to make this work either.

To learn how to start and effective class, please check back here in the next few days and I will do another article on starting and running a class.

Good luck with your son… he is lucky to have you for his mom!




Anonymous said...

This is beautiful! So that more parents know about your site, I will put a link to this post in Whole Hearted Parenting's free weekly e-zine, Parenting News You Can Use. If any of your readers would like to receive the e-zine, please visit and register at www.wholeheartedparenting.com.

There is one additional piece that I would like to add for Mom: When the 7-year-old neighbor visits your house, he is within your sphere of influence and the limits and boundaries that you establish for your home. Talk to your son and his friend in concrete and specific terms about respectful and disrespectful communication. Let them know the words and tone of voice that are respectful and those that are not. Do this from a place of teaching with no sarcasm or mocking. Then establish an agreement that they may play together as long as they are respectful. If one becomes disrespectful, play time is over. Always give them the optimism of "the next time." You know they will choose differently the next time. Their behavior is a choice.

Wishing you well --
Maggie Macaulay, MS Ed

Jennie said...

Wow. We also are dealing with a disrespectful, misbehaving neighbor child. It is frustrating to deal with a child that plays mean, but even more frustrating when the parents instigate, allow and exemplify the same behavior.

Our children's day care, the public school, and the area education agency is suggesting Love and Logic for discipline, but after I read it, the concept seemed to assume that the child knows appropriate behavior. When I see how my neighbor child behaves, he has no idea what is appropriate behavior, and his parents don't either.

Parenting With Dignity sounds like employs both teaching children how to make appropriate behavior choices, and advocates that parents (and caregivers) need to teach and show children the appropriate behaviors. I would think that the technique to show correct behaviors and making good choices would also help with my 5 year old that has Autistic Spectrum Disorder. We just need to find techniques to teach and show him how he can control his own tantrums and frustration points.

I will definitely need to check this book out. Thanks for the blog!

School teacher said...

great post Mac, I love the peer pressure bit!