Parents learn when to praise, when to correct their child’s behavior
June 13, 2012
By Sebastian Moraga
This pizza had some unusual ingredients.
Fake pimentos and mushrooms. Real praise and progress.
The chef was a 3-year-old named Nicolas Garcia. The sous chef was his mother, Francisca Irarrazaval. They are both residents of Snoqualmie.
The kitchen was a room at Encompass, no kitchen implements except the toy ones on a center table.
The room had one window near the corner, behind which coach Rocio Collado, of Encompass, watched.
Collado and Irarrazaval, both Chileans, communicated in Spanish through headsets. Collado could see them, but they could not see her.
“Now,” Collado said, “this one is harder. Tell him to hand you the fence because you want to hold it.”
The “fence” was a fake pizza spatula turned sideways, shielding a sleepy, pizza-eating toy mouse.
She obeyed Collado. He obeyed Mom. Collado chuckled.
“I thought it was going to be harder for him,” Collado said.
Nine months ago, orders like hand-me-the-fence were tantrum starters for Nicolas.
“He yelled, he fought about everything,” Irarrazaval said in Spanish. “A point came where I did not know if I could control him.”
The problem arose, Irarrazaval said, when Nicolas’ twin siblings were born and his mother lacked the time or energy for Nicolas she once did.
“He wanted to keep having the same things he always had,” Irarrazaval said, “but I couldn’t give it to him.”
Irarrazaval came to Encompass, for the family services organization’s Parent-Child Interaction Training program for children ages 2-7.
In the program’s first phase, children and parents play with toys, and children control much of the action and the environment.
“They are getting attention,” program coach Liann Smith said, “and they feel like they have some control over their environment.”
In the second phase, the parents direct the interaction, set the limits and consequences, and give the commands, Smith said.
“When parents ask to do something, the child will learn through the process what happens in the labs that if he does not obey, consequences are coming,” she added.
The program uses time-outs as a way to discipline a child.
The program also discourages asking children questions, as they plant doubt in a child’s mind as to whether what he or she is doing is good. Same for correcting the children if what they do is unusual but not dangerous.
Feeding the mouse, Nicolas said it was sleepy and put it in a bed. He placed the spatula as the fence.
“Let the child’s imagination lead the way,” Collado said. “Don’t look for anything that looks more like a fence.”
The practice encourages repeating what the child is saying, to ensure the child knows he or she is being heard.
Above all, the program encourages pouring positive reinforcement atop the slightest sign of good behavior and ignoring tantrums, so a child knows what will or won’t get him or her what he or she wants.
“Rescue the positive he does and that will make him keep doing it,” Collado told Irarrazaval as Nicolas put his own toys away.
Smith coaches Anglophone parents and children. Collado coaches Spanish-speaking parents and children.
Groups struggle with different things, Collado said. Latino families don’t know much about positive discipline. They know about giving and taking orders, but not about how effusive praise can lead to behavioral change.
Anglophone families struggle setting limits and consequences, she said. They are used to having to explain themselves to children, instead.
“They kind of want to be their friends,” she added.
The results of the program, Collado said, are so astounding, the families sometimes don’t remember what brought them in in the first place.
“He’s changed 100 percent,” Irarrazaval said. “He has learned how to take orders, to do things without yelling or fighting for everything. I can tell him what to do and he does it. This program taught me how to have a relationship with him.”
Children’s attention spans grow, self-esteem grows, and their social skills and abilities to take directions improve, Smith said.
The children aren’t the only ones changing or benefiting, Collado said. Parents benefit, too.
“They say things like, ‘Even if it takes me months, now I know what to do,” Collado said.
Benefits exist for the coaches, too.
“It’s a gift for me to see the change,” Collado said. “When I worked as a therapist, I got a report, ‘Yeah, he’s doing better at school.’ Now, I see it happen.”
Sebastian Moraga: 392-6434, ext. 221, or firstname.lastname@example.org.