Child behaviour- Can it be moulded?

- By Tanisha Vakharia

Parenting is the easiest thing in the world to have an opinion about, but the hardest thing in the world to do.

- Matt Walsh.

As parents, worrying for our child tends to become our second nature. We are always worried about our child’s future, how they might lag behind from others, or find themselves in a problematic situation. Most of these worries are pre-surfaced with constant involvement towards discipline and questioning like “Is your homework done?”, “Keep your things in place”, “Don’t use your phone too often” to an extent that we find ourselves ‘Nagging’ our child all the time. 

‘Nagging refers to a pestering complaint or demand by one, often criticising until the said job is done.’ In the short run this seems to be the most viable option as it gets the job done immediately. However, have you ever thought of the harm it can cause in the long run? Nagging could create anger and resentment within your child towards you. Being constantly told what to do and what not can be frustrating and unpleasant to an extent that the child eventually stops listening to what you have to say. This leads you to head towards the  path of punishment, which might have an adverse effect on your relationship and on the child's mental and emotional health. Results show that children who are nagged more often than others end up with Low self confidence and esteem. 

Psychologist Erik Erikson believes we go through 8 stages of psycho-social development before we form our personalities. These stages help us determine who we are and what we will become from birth to death. Our roots of personalities are formed and determined by several factors, one of them being ‘nagging’. The question that arises is how can we avoid nagging and continue to get the desired behaviour? The answer lies in reinforcement.  Reinforcement involves strengthening a response, it can be positive and negative. Positive reinforcement involves adding a stimulus to strengthen response and negative reinforcement involves removing a stimulus to strengthen response. The use of Positive reinforcement is seen as the most effective method in encouraging desired behaviours among children.

Decoding Positive and Negative  reinforcement

Consider the following examples:

Core concept : Strengthening the Desired Behaviour

a. Every time your child helps you with a house chore (Desired behaviour) appreciate their effort and Thank them and take their suggestions with respect to some decisions as to what should be the dinner menu (Positive Reinforcement).

Added Stimulus: Autonomy to decide dinner menu

b. You have realized that your child is not devoting extra time to study  before his/her exam. You want him/her to spend 2 hours extra on his studies (Desired Behaviour). So, you decide to give him a break from his daily routine of taking the pet out early in the morning which he/she as such does not like much (Negative Reinforcement). 

Removed Stimulus : Getting up very early in the morning

Think and Reflect:

How can you positively reinforce the desired behaviour of spending 2 hours extra on studying?

Factors determing the effectiveness of reinforcement

With reinforcement we can easily help our children develop new healthy and desired behaviours without upsetting them and ourselves. It demands respect for children's concerns and issues along with a deep sense of trust in their ability. Hence, always try to understand the root of the issue and listen to the child’s problems. Be thoughtful of your actions. Remember, communication is the key.

A potter shapes and moulds wet clay into a unique build. He is forced to put it under tremendous heat and pressure for it to come out beautifully. Similarly, parents are often forced to be hard on children for them to be prepared to become great individuals. This heat, if turned at a higher degree can crumble the individual, while just the right heat can make the most beautiful ceramic. It is you who has to decide the right degree of heat for your ceramic. 

About the Author

Tanisha Vakharia is  a student of psychology from the University of Mumbai. She is  passionate about creating content, watching movies and making life one big adventure. She aspires to become a true humanitarian and help the world one smile at a time