Giving Power to Parents - Learning Lab

Giving Power to Parents


Earlier in my career, I spent the majority of my time working directly with children who had severe behavioral issues. I had access to these children for many hours throughout the week either in the home or at a school-based center. Because of this direct access, I was able to make significant changes to unwanted behavior, but what I found was that as soon as the child was no longer with me and returned to the home environment, the behaviors would most likely return. This is why “parent-training” is so important.

Parents are typically those who spend the most time with their children.  If parents are equipped with an understanding of the theory, tools, and strategies of how to properly change unwanted behavior, they become the most powerful “teachers” for that child.  However, stating that and actually making it happen are two different things.

As I have learned from personal experience, being a parent requires so many resources from an individual: time, physical energy, emotional energy, money, focus, patience, etc.  It’s very difficult to be on top of every behavior,  handle “misbehavior” in an appropriate and patient manner, while also remembering to praise and encourage every little “good” behavior.  In addition, the vast majority of us have not spent our time in college and in our careers studying, analyzing, and addressing human behavior. 

It is my responsibility to remember and acknowledge the question: What is realistic for this family to work on?  The tools, strategies, and amount of work I “assign” to those families with which I work varies greatly based upon what is realistic for their families.

I work very hard not to inundate families with more than they can handle.  With all parents with whom I engage in my role there is a certain amount of “theory” being presented and discussed.  This is one of the most important components of parent training.  In order to effectively utilize the tools and strategies I present and to help the child maintain “good” behavior, the parent must have a better understanding of the “why.”   This is true for multiple reasons. 

First, when we utilize a behavioral tool, we are doing so with a human being, and that human being will act differently each time we use it.  The context may change too, meaning that the individual utilizing that tool must be able to be flexible in adapting the tool to each unique situation. 

To do this effectively requires a good understanding of the “why” behind both the behavior you are seeing, as well as the “why” behind the approach we are using to address that behavior.  The common phrase is “a poor craftsman blames his tools;” this is especially true in my field.  I can provide tools, tricks,  and strategies to colleagues and parents, but if we don’t understand how to properly use the tool, it will become ineffective.

The bottom line is that parents should not have to depend on therapists, specialists, teachers, and counselors for the rest of their time living with their children.  Instead, we need to give parents the power to do what we do.  As a behavioral specialist, this is my focus.