Book Excerpt: How to Discipline a Defiant Child

And take heart, too, in the knowledge that kids aren't as fragile as we sometimes make them out to be. Stop worrying that you have somehow inflicted permanent "psychological scars" on your child with less-than-perfect parenting — which is, of course, the only kind there is. Think, instead, of your child's behavior as a complicated bundle of habits and routines. It's never too late to change those habits and routines by reinforcing different ones, and when you improve your child's behavior, you give both your child and yourself a chance to feel better about everyone involved. Change the behaviors; the feelings will follow.

I intend this book as a resource you can use to build a better family life. It explores how both parents and children see the world and themselves, and how both children and parents often come to express that self-conception in troublesome behavior. Such behavior can drift into a self- perpetuating destructive pattern, but the cycle can be interrupted and the troublesome behavior changed, bringing greater harmony to the family. I have distilled the science into practical guidance — sample dialogues between parents and child, for instance, and explanations for why one dialogue has been shown to be effective while another has not. I keep foremost in mind the necessity of answering practical questions like, If I want to start applying these methods today, what exactly do I do? or What exactly should I say? The scientific research has clear and often surprising things to say about even the most common and typically unquestioned practices we all employ, from explaining to nagging to punishing. So keep an open mind. Help is here, and it's the best help science can offer.

Copyright © 2008 by Alan E. Kazdin and Carlo Rotella. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company.

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