Reality therapy methods can put a stop to yelling


March 26, 1995|By BEVERLY MILLS

Q: I don't believe in spanking my children, but I do find that I yell at them a lot when I get frustrated. The result is that now my children yell, too -- at me, at each other, at the dog. I don't like this pattern, but I don't know how to stop it. Any suggestions?

-- T.L., Phoenix, Ariz.

A: As we discussed last week, this problem has plagued families for generations. Strategies such as humor, incentive charts and a family reminder system are helping parents change their ways.

Another strategy that may help is a new way of looking at your relationship with your children based on a counseling technique called reality therapy.

"Parents need to realize they have a choice in how they behave," says E. Perry Good, author of "Helping Kids Help Themselves" (New View Publications). Ms. Good, an educator from Chapel Hill, N.C., trains teachers, social workers and parents in reality therapy techniques.

"Pick a calm time and ask your children if they like it when you yell," Ms. Good says. "Ask them if they want to have a happy family, and then talk about what a happy family would look like."

Then, when a yelling match starts, parents can follow a basic script that goes like this:

* Ask the children in a calm voice: "What are you doing, right now?" "Usually, they're so surprised by the question, they'll stop and answer," Ms. Good says.

* Then: "Is that helping us be the happy family we want to be?"

* If the child answers no, your next line is: "Would you be willing to sit down with me and make a plan so this sort of thing doesn't happen again?"

At this early stage, anything the child comes up with that's remotely appropriate is acceptable. The child may apologize, agree to take turns or decide to put a disputed toy out of reach.

* If the child won't take part, your line is: "Well, I'm not happy with this behavior, and if you can't control yourself, I have to step in."

Then use time-out or take away privileges. Over time, Ms. Good says, the child will figure out that "making a plan" is the more desirable option.

"This method is not as easy as it sounds," Ms. Good says. "But in the past, we've had so much belief in discipline being a quick-fix or a reward rather than thinking about the relationships we want to have with each other and the kind of people we want to be."

This is how reality therapy goes a step beyond the discipline many parents are used to, such as time-out, sticker charts and logical consequences. These methods react to inappropriate behavior in the traditional stimulus-response mode.

"A lot of parents understand consequences, but without tying it to how we believe we should treat each other, it's rote and hollow," Ms. Good says. "The goal of reality therapy is to establish an environment where children are not afraid to evaluate their own behavior."

While a reporter at the Miami Herald, Beverly Mills developed this column after the birth of her son, now 5. Ms. Mills and her husband currently live in Raleigh, N.C., and also have a 3-year-old daughter.


Here's a new question from a parent who needs your help. If you have tips, or if you have questions of your own, please call our toll-free hot line any time at (800) 827-1092. Or write to Child Life, 2212 The Circle, Raleigh, N.C. 27608.

* Won't eat: "My 2-year-old daughter is a very picky eater," says Patty Gleason of Colonial Beach, Va. "How can I get her to eat more?"

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