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Communities that care: Parents can guide behaviors with their use of language

Parenting is hard work. Whenever we are faced with choices about how to handle a situation, we are likely to find that the correct solution is the one that requires the most work and effort. Many of us read articles, books and blogs about child development and theory to learn more about how children are supposed to grow and respond to our parenting styles.

However, it seems that many times our children are reading different materials and our understanding of theory is challenged by reality. Fortunately, I have found that while not every theory applies to everyone, there are often fundamental skills that can be helpful.

One approach that I use daily at my private practice and at my home relies on the use of the PRIDE skill set derived from Parent-Child Interaction Therapy. PCIT was developed by Sheila Eyberg in 1970 to help parents and children deal with significant disruptive behaviors. The programcomprises two parts — with the first being a child-led, positive behavioral support component, focused on relationship building.

The second part focuses on effective commands and responses for parents to guide behaviors. The skills reviewed and practiced during the first part are referred to as the PRIDE skills, with each letter representing a different skill: Praise, reflect, imitate, describe, enjoyment. I have found these skills very useful in all of my interactions with children (and some adults). One of the skill sets focuses on reflection of words and description of actions (the “r” and “d” of PRIDE). Simply stating back to a child what they have said to you can make a big change as it helps increase language and encourages conversation. We are so used to asking each other questions as a way to connect, but children do much better with interactions with fewer questions. Relying less on questions and incorporating more statements within interactions can allow children to be more thoughtful and stay focused.

Replacing questions with statements incorporates the use of more descriptive language. Instead of opening with, “What are you doing,” open with, “Oh, you are building with Legos. Legos are lots of fun.” This slight shift allows children to bring you into their activity, which supports them taking a leadership role. Practicing this skill also helps when there is conflict or off-task behavior. Instead of, “What’s all the noise about,” try, “I see that you are both unhappy and having a hard time sharing.” This change turns down the intensity and helps the children identify their emotion — and what is causing it.

There is no magical solution to helping our children navigate the challenges they face, but using these skills to build up our relationships with them will have long-lasting effects.

Rachel Love is a licensed developmental psychologist at Taking Flight Developmental Center.

IF YOU GO

What: Straight Talk series: Steadying the Emotionally Reactive Child Part 2

When: 7-8:30 p.m. Jan. 19

Where: Mount Nittany Middle School library, 656 Brandywine Drive, State College

Info: www.scasd.org

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