There was this idea in the 1960s that all behavior was instrumental – some of you will remember the psychology classes then. In fact, it’s still prevailing today that what we do we do on purpose, and therefore the way of controlling it is to be able to control the consequence.
And so that’s when the idea of consequence was born. But it ends up that most problem behavior, probably 90% of problem behavior, is emotion and instinct based. It is not done on purpose. In fact, the emotion or instincts are controlling the child. Consequences here usually only aggravate the problem. And so it’s not the panacea that we thought.
For instance, if a child is aggressive and we add a consequence – we increase the frustration. It’s as if we’re saying, “I see you’re having problems handling frustration today. Let me give you some more to handle.” It doesn’t even make any sense that we would do this.
And so children can learn from consequences, but it ends up that it has a very narrow range of effectiveness.
One, the behavior has to be done on purpose – a child must be able to control it.
Secondly, they must feel sad about whatever happened, because they won’t learn from it unless there’s an emotional counterpart of feeling sad about what didn’t work. And they must be able to think twice. Now, if a child could feel sad about what didn’t work, was able to think twice, they would need very few consequences in life. That is they’re learning from all the consequences that are around. So the problem is is that when children don’t learn, we’re upping the ante, we’re using more and more and more consequences instead of going to the root problem.
Much more important is emotion and motivation, the two most important motivations in the child is: one, that they want to be good for us and that is the function of attachment – we only feel like being good for those to whom we’re attached. I would always ask parents when they say, “Well, how do I get my child to be good?” And I say, “Well, can you feel in his heart his desire to be good for you?” That’s sacred, that must be there. And that’s a function of relationship. If you have that, you need little tricks, you don’t need anything else.
And secondly is that a child is aiming in the right direction, is that you’ve actually inculcated your values inside of them. And you get that by soliciting good intentions in a child. “Can I count on you to do this? Will you give it a good try?” And you’ve got to get a nod. If a child is aiming in the right direction and the child’s heart is in the right place, wants to be good, you don’t need any tricks.
95% of the parenting literature is about tricks according to some estimates. We don’t need those tricks – if the relationship is right and if we reached for the roots of problem behavior which is in emotion and motivation.