Foundations For Discipline
Cognitive developmental psychologists and behavioral parent trainers agree that the overall quality of the parent-child relationship is crucial for discipline. The relationship quality influences children's behavior directly as well as indirectly, by means of making disciplinary responses more effective.
Parental nurturance is the most crucial part of a good parent-child relationship. Disciplinary responses are more effective when parents consistently communicate love toward the child. Positive involvement, verbal and nonverbal expressions of love and concern, praise and encouragement for appropriate behavior, and calm responses to conflict all enhance moral development (Chamberlain and Patterson 1995; Kochanska and Thompson 1997; Pettit, Bates, and Dodge 1997, Rothbaum and Weisz 1994). Responding sensitively to child cues and encouraging child-directed play are two ways to express nurturance. Responding sensitively to an infant's cues makes a secure attachment to the parents more likely. A secure attachment, in turn, is associated with many aspects of appropriate development (Erickson, Sroufe, and Egeland 1985).
The more parents play with preschoolers, the fewer behavior problems appear later on (Pettit and Bates 1989). Frances Gardner (1994) found that conduct-problem children were less involved with their mothers in joint activity and constructive play. They watched more television, and they spent more time doing "nothing." Their mothers initiated fewer positive interactions and were less responsive to their children's initiatives.
Consistent with these findings, most behavioral parent training programs teach parents to initiate child-directed play times (Forehand 1993). Therapists coach parents to follow the child's lead; to describe, imitate, and praise the child's appropriate behavior; to mimic appropriate child talk; and to ignore minor misbehavior. They also train parents to avoid criticizing, instructing, or questioning during child-directed play (Hembree-Kigin and McNeil 1995). Cooperating with children's initiatives at such times has been shown to enhance their cooperating with parents at other times (Parpal and Maccoby 1985).