The 5 B's of Successful Parenting
By Guy Harris
I hear the questions again and again: "How do I get
my child to...
And I hear all kinds of answers for each situation. Here is my
proposal, rather than handle each situation as an isolated
event, let's look at them in light of what we know about human
Events that appear to be random, isolated behaviors actually fit
into predictable patterns for most children. If you understand
the patterns, you'll know what to do in most situations.
I've developed the five B's to reduce these patterns to five
easy to remember and apply principles.
So, let's get started...
1. Be Positive
People -- including children -- do things for one of two
reasons: to avoid pain or to pursue pleasure. As a parent, you
constantly work between these two options. If you use lots of
negatives -- like punishments -- to drive behavior, your child
will do just enough to avoid the pain. Rewarding good behaviors
rather than punishing bad ones, improves the chance that
you'll get cooperation and not conflict from your child.
Noticing unacceptable behaviors and stopping them with a
punishment is easy. It takes effort to recognize good behaviors
and praise them. You'll need to do both; but the more you
recognize the good, the less likely you are to see the bad.
2. Be Specific
Make sure you speak to your child about specific behaviors.
Whether you administer discipline or offer praise, the more
specific you make your words the better.
Let's say your child interrupts you. Many people get angry and
tell their children to "stop being rude and
inconsiderate." Well, "rude" and
"inconsiderate" are interpretations of behavior, not
behaviors. A better statement would be, "I don't
appreciate it when you interrupt and challenge me. I see those
behaviors as rude and inconsiderate. The next time you speak to
me, I expect you to wait your turn to speak." Depending on
the situation, you might even take a further disciplinary action
based on the rules of your household. Whether you take further
action or not, focus on specific behaviors and not
Here are some examples:
Good girl (or boy), bad girl (or boy), rude,
inconsiderate, disrespectful, arrogant, obnoxious, flighty,
unfocused, smart aleck, and pushy are interpretations.
Interrupting, rolling eyes, speaking loudly (or softly),
shrugging shoulders, looking away, walking away, tone of
voice, and slamming the door are specific behaviors.
3. Be Certain
People act based on what they expect to happen to them in the
future. Whether it's avoiding pain or pursuing pleasure,
it's still about expectations. Your child needs to know --
without a doubt -- what to expect from you based on their
We use pre-defined family rules and behavioral expectations as a
tool to improve certainty. Children need to know the rules. They
need to know what to expect when they follow the rules -- and
when they don't.
We put a list of five family rules and a list of both acceptable
and unacceptable behaviors on our refrigerator. We never have to
discuss what is or is not appropriate in our household. We
defined it together and wrote it down. As parents, we then
enforce the pre-agreed upon rules.
4. Be Consistent
Consistency works in close partnership with Certainty. It is
Certainty's twin in the daily struggle to raise happy,
healthy, respectful, well-behaved kids. Your children will never
develop a sense of certainty if you don't consistently apply
your household rules.
For example, if whining and complaining are inappropriate today,
they had better be inappropriate tomorrow. If you give in to the
behavior to get them to stop whining, you just taught them that
whining is okay. Unacceptable behaviors should never give your
child their desired result. If it is unacceptable, it is always
unacceptable. Even the glimmer of hope that it might work for
them is enough for them to give it a try. They have to know what
to expect from you each and every day.
For me, consistency is tougher than certainty. I'm great at
setting the rules and communicating them to my kids. I'm not
always so great at fair and consistent application. But, I
realize, easy or difficult is not the issue -- appropriate or
not appropriate is. So, my wife and I constantly strive for
consistency when we enforce the rules in our house.
5. Be Immediate
Act now. When your children do something worthy of praise -- do
it now. When your children do something that needs correction --
do it now. Delayed consequences have very little impact on
Let's look at our adult behaviors to illustrate the point. I
like cheesecake. Eating cheesecake offers me both immediate and
future consequences. The future consequence is negative -- I
could develop a weight or blood pressure problem. The immediate
consequence is positive -- it tastes good and gives me pleasure.
When I have the opportunity to get cheesecake, I find it
difficult to resist. Why? The immediate, certain positive tends
to overshadow the future, possible negative.
The definition of immediate can change depending on your
child's age. For example, your ten-year old might respond to a
disciplinary action that happens 15 minutes after the event.
With a four-year old, you had better correct the behavior on the
spot -- even if other people are around. To a four-year old, 15
minutes is a virtual eternity.
Acting immediately has an added benefit for you when the
behavior is inappropriate. If it continues without correction,
you are likely to get angrier every time you see it. As you get
angrier, you will probably have more difficulty keeping your
response proportional to the behavior (i.e. – not blowing your
stack). Act now and you'll probably maintain control.
There you have it -- five simple principles to guide a wide
range of parenting situations.
As I sit writing this article, I can think of times when I
haven't done it right. Nonetheless, I offer the 5 B's in an
effort to help all of us become better parents. Collecting my
thoughts on this topic reminds me of the right way to work with
my children. Writing them down helps me to stay on track.
Some or all of these ideas may be completely new to you -- but
maybe not. It's more likely that you've heard some of this
information before. Maybe not in exactly the same way, but
you've heard it. If this is new to you, I hope it helps you as
a parent. If it's old-hat, I hope it serves as a reminder to
help you stay on track as well.
Copyright © Guy
Harris. Guy Harris is an author, speaker, trainer, and
consultant on human behavior at home and in the workplace. Guy
co-authored "The Behavior Bucks System"
to help parents reduce stress and conflict with their children
by effectively applying behavioral principles in the home.
here to learn more about this book, and
to learn more about Guy. Reprinted with permission.