Dealing with children's misbehavior

When children's misbehavior or delinquency creates problems, it's not enough to deal with the children alone. Mental health professionals recommend behavioral parent training as well, reports the April issue of Harvard Mental Health Letter.

Behavioral parent training teaches parents to substitute systematic for arbitrary discipline. Parents learn how to set rules and define the consequences for disobeying them. They also learn how to negotiate with older children, how to follow through on warnings, and how to identify early signs of trouble and talk to children about these problems.

It is particularly important that parents also respond to good behavior with praise and encouragement, says the Harvard Mental Health Letter. Parents are taught to reward a child's behavior one action at a time. They learn to point out what the child is doing right before discussing what needs improvement.

One study found that in cases of juvenile offenders who had already been arrested an average of three times by age 14, having the parents undergo multisystemic therapy - a form of parent training - reduced the rate of incarceration by 64% in the first year. Another study found that even after 14 years, children whose parents took the training were much less likely to be arrested and jailed as adults.

Parent training has its difficulties. It can be demanding, and the dropout rate is high. Results might be improved by booster sessions and prevention programs. Says Dr. Michael Miller, editor in chief of the Harvard Mental Health Letter, "Despite the limitations of parent training, nothing else has shown as much promise for helping children with behavior problems and their families."

Also in this issue:

  • Deep brain stimulation
  • What makes for a good therapeutic relationship?
  • Psychodynamic therapy found to be effective
  • Living arrangements and fatal child injuries
  • Controlling control groups
  • Learning about fear from a genetic disorder
  • Q&A: Is early care for schizophrenia important?

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