A Book for
Parents, Not a Parenting Book
The behaviour change system described in this book
I have rarely had a failure with
parental clients who stuck to it—and nearly all did. My success comes from
changing firstly my clients attitude to their child, in particular their belief
that their child is to blame for the ‘bad’ behaviour, and secondly their
technical skill in training it away.
The first two parts of this book
Part 1 How the parents mindset creates “bad” behaviour
How to quickly change
‘Bad’ Behaviour contain all the information that parents need but cannot
replace the monitoring, badgering, and sometimes, bullying that are also often
needed to for them to see that they are not the ‘victims’ of their child
behaviour but the child is the ‘victim’ of their attitudes and handling.
If you are a parent seeking answers and you start using
the technical strategies in Part 2 of this book without carefully taking in the
principles from Part 1 that underpin them you will not get the changes that you
want and will become disillusioned.
techniques are simple, but don’t throw everything away by starting with your
attitude to your child unchanged.
assume that you know what this book is getting at without really reading and
taking it all in. It has the potential to make wonderful changes to your family
and your life, so don’t throw these away by impatiently starting to make these
changes as you read it.
you have a partner, both of you need to read it, make your own notes,
and fully agree what you are going to do.
Only then set a
day to begin your new regime.
Part 3 covers the Most Common Problems & Issues
that parents face and Part 4 looks at Mercury’s Child for Teachers.
After reading carefully parents will need to decide upon a
day to begin their new regime.
sitting down with all your children not just the targeted child and explaining
the way things will now be for all of you. You may well have tried and
discarded much advice and many strategies in the past. Much of what was
discarded may well have been necessary for any change to occur, but not sufficient
by itself to produce the change. This is why I urge you to try to understand
why each of the strategies given here is needed and not to discard a strategy
because you think you have used it before. Each individual insight and strategy is necessary so if you
discard, misunderstand or misapply any one of them the whole programme is
liable to fail. Take your time - perhaps even read through a second time just
to be sure.
Every parent needs to be aware of the key mistakes
described here that can be made when rearing children and what is happening when
behaviour breaks down.
But that does
not make this a “parenting” book.
your parenting isn't broken, don’t attempt to fix it.
This book is designed to help parents
speedily change a spectrum of
behaviour” from mild to very serious and then maintain that change.
When we use inclusive terms like
“we” in the text we do not mean “we
parents,” but "we, the parents of children with serious behaviour
Advice on how to handle ‘bad’ is easily
I have already had
parents inform me that they are using my methods based on viewing the TV
documentaries when each programme showed just 3 minutes from a whole day of
training that the parents received. I
have also had a national paper retract an article in which I was quoted as saying
that I blame the parents of ADHD children.
Then a psychologist refused to translate the book when approached by the
Danish publisher because the themes of Making Categorical Statements; The
Need for Consequences and Effective Sanctions appeared to him to indicate a
draconian, authoritarian “back-to-basics” book.
Yes, this book talks about these themes but not because it
wants us all to go
to a time incidentally as fraught then as now – and not because it advocates a
blanket authoritarian view of parenting but because it is essentially a
practical book which says what to do.
It has to talk about these themes because it is talking about
children who are simultaneously trapped by their well-meaning parents responses
whilst at the same time are themselves making categorical statements and
threatening consequences - like temper tantrums and other “sanctions” - if they
do not get their own way.
cannot be avoided because they are the sea in which behaviour swims. They are central
because if parents do not provide consequences then their children will
If parents are not categorical then their
children will be; if parents do not provide consequences and “sanction”
unwanted behaviour then their children will use intimidatory behaviour to “sanction”
and restrict the options of their parents.
The story of chronic
behaviour” is always a story about the reversal of roles.
My hope is that this book will encouraged parents to analyse
and avoid all polarised views of parenting and think about their
child’s behaviour in a new way.
they have finished reading parents do not understand the difference between a
moderate consequence or sanction and - the angry alternative - the
“interpersonal sanction or punishment,” then they will not change their child’s
This is essentially a
practical book, the strategies and responses described here will, when used
carefully by parents, quickly transform their child’s behaviour. The changes
will occur so quickly that a theoretical underpinning is implied, and this new
way of looking at the problem I have called the Interactive behavioural approach, which I take a few pages to describe before we begin.
Professionals use four main theoretical approaches and
their derivatives to change behaviour, they are:
Problems due to maladaptive learning; uses rewards and punishments
Problems due to child’s self-concept; aims to redress discrepancies between the
child’s actual and ideal self
behavioural: Problems due to maladaptive thinking; uses training for
erroneous or unrealistic thinking
Problems due to unresolved unconscious conflicts; helps child to gain insight
and increase ego strength
This book describes a fifth approach
Its scope of interactive behavioural approach is limited
to children and adolescence and those in dependent positions.
It trains parents and parent-figures how to
train their charges. The interactive behavioural approach represents a tangential
shift in focus from all the existing approaches. Unlike all of the other approaches, with the exception, perhaps,
of the family therapies, it does not see “bad behaviour” as the child’s problem
at all, but rather an interactional problem between child and parent, which the
child is incapable of changing. It therefore works, unlike even the family
therapies, exclusively through parents, through their perception of what is
happening, and their responses. It sees the training of parents in the use of
effective interactive techniques as crucial even when they are having to deal
with the most serious conditions and disorders.
If inappropriate behaviour has, in fact, been frozen in place
by parental response then any approach that works directly with the child is
the first time that “bad behaviour” is created and maintained by parental
response represents the new approach’s major asset. Here are some other advantages.
has the advantage, like the straight behavioural approach of not having to accommodate
itself to the child’s conceptual or emotional development however young the
child might be.
training works with what the parents are already doing since all parents
already use an intuitive behavioural approach especially when they give a
reward or a punishment.
the child usually does not know there is a trainer/therapist they are not
required to accept them or build a relationship with them.
With other approaches accomplishing
acceptance of the therapist is crucial and can be extremely time consuming and
may never be achieved.*
the parents to remain as the “agents of change”, Parents can proceed without
the loss of leadership that occurs when the child is interacting with a
therapist from outside the home.
of the main presenting problems and therefore a main indicator of success for
all the approaches concerns the child’s acceptance of, and normal response to,
reasonable parental guidance/authority.
An approach that looks directly at these interactions therefore, has
does not rely on the therapist talking directly to the child and therefore
avoids the problem of rewarding the
“bad behaviour” with attention or the child being made to feel “special”.
Avoids any increase in the child’s
perception of a negative label.**
[ * Acceptance of the therapist by the child is, of course, replaced by the
the trainer and the parents to build a
** I asked a prominent clinical
psychologist why he had brought his problems with
his son to me rather than to one of his
team of behaviour specialists.
“I did not want them, in an attempt to
validate him, to end up validating his
The Interactive Behavioural approach recognises the
importance of self-concept to the changes that parents want to achieve.
sees as crucial the child’s perception of self that is derived from parents’
statements and actions. It sees the frustrations cased by the ineffectiveness
of sanctions (punishments) as leading to the use of “interpersonal sanctions”
which negatively effect the child’s self esteem. It trains parents to maintain a positive approach and reduce
discrepancies between how the child would like to view him or herself and the
view they see reflected from their parents.
The training of maladaptive; erroneous or unrealistic
Parents often believe that it is their child’s thinking
that is the problem.
They engaged in
continuous attempts to change what their children appear to think. Interactive
Behavioural approach sees these attempts as adding to the problems, and
encourages parents to use clear strategies to avoid this trap.
It does not view the apparent maladaptive,
erroneous, or unrealistic thinking/processing of badly behaved children as a
problem associated with lack of logical thinking at all, but rather one
associated with the need to “win”. The
strength of this need, reciprocated and modelled by the parent, gives the child
more than enough incentive to, apparently, suspend logical thinking. Rather than a lack of logical thinking
ability ‘badly’ behaved children have an overdeveloped, parent-maintained, need
to win, perpetuated by a lack of calm training to accept consequences.
Children do what works.
The ‘Interactive’ behaviour model shows that
the unhelpful or unrealistic ways that children appear to think can quickly
This is achieved by
eliminating the rewards that the child always gains from the dogmatic adherence
to non-logical positions.
Not a new behaviour
The phrase “Interactive Behaviour Imbalance” was
first used by me some years ago and is not intended to describe another
behaviour disorder but rather the child’s unwanted normal response to
inadequate and flawed parental training. The key word “Interactive” is included
to make it impossible for parents or professionals to see
“bad behaviour” as a problem that the child
This term is intended to make it
clear that remedial work by professionals needs to be centred on the
interactions between parent and child and that work centred only on the child
is either unnecessarily protracted or futile.
is intended to describe the common counter-productive ways parents handle inappropriate
behaviour in the home and the resulting predictable group of inappropriate
behaviours the child then enacts. This group of behaviours usually occur
together (see chapter three) and are maintained only if the lack of precision
in analysis and response continues.
that is imprecise and combative develops and gratifies the child’s competitive
needs. The child becomes increasingly
concerned with their success in getting their own way and avoiding any
practical consequence, to this end they refuse to accept reasonable
propositions and logical connections.
The child’s strives to make all the decisions themselves. Parents’
authority and leadership is undermined as they inadvertently reward the very
behaviour that they want to stop.
is true of the child’s main tactic, over-reaction and anger and the child
becomes increasingly insecure and badly behaved.
“Interactive Behaviour Imbalance” does not describe a
behaviour disorder but rather an imbalance between the parent / child roles and
responses within the family.
biggest indictment of many interventions from the existing behaviour approaches
is that they do not first look to see if the “problem” behaviour is a natural
response to parental interactions.
are all too often prepared to believe that it is possible for the child to have
a behaviour problem on their own.
aim to show here that "bad” behaviour is always an interaction problem and
this remains true even when the predisposition to behave differently is
caused by a major behaviour disorder.
The need for
Work with these interactions within families, although on
a small scale, has been so effective that it must now be worth the behaviour
establishment funding some research.
Although there is currently no research to back it up, I.B.I. work is
beginning to suggest that many behaviour disorders merely predispose the child
and the parent to have interactive problems rather than making it inevitable
that the child will behave badly. Interactive behaviour techniques may not
alter the underlying behaviour disorder (ADHD, for instance), but may
dramatically change the trauma of living with it.
Common Characteristics of the child with “Interactive
Although, again, research is needed to confirm these
observations, this book contends that children with chronic ‘bad’ behaviour
have a range of characteristics as predictable as those associated with the
recognised behaviour disorders (see chapter three) whilst not actually having a
further research we believe it is essential to first search for both the
problem and the solution of all behaviour problems within the current interactions the child has with its
The behaviour characteristics
listed in chapter three are found together as predictably as any syndrome but
describe children with the world’s oldest childhood problem -
simply “bad” behaviour.
Behaviour – Consequences
Changing the “bad” behaviour of children is a basically
Reward good behaviour -
Our most distant,
primitive, ancestors would not have been able to avoid sanctioning and
It is a naturally occurring
process; it is as natural as ABC.
fact the traditional
behaviourist model was just
Antecedent - Behaviour - Consequences.
A - what happens before the “bad behaviour”,
B - the
C - the consequent sanction.
The original experiments by the Russian Pavlov concerned
training the reactions of a dog.
Although, clearly the principals of using rewards and sanctions are the
same for children as they are for animals there is one important difference.
Whilst we can be excused for not thinking
about the moment when a dog ‘decides’ to sit when given that instruction, with
children the moment they ‘decide’ to do as we ask or not do as we ask is very
This is the decision
for which parents of ‘badly’ behaved children are striving.
The simple model ABC for behaviour change in
children that does not include this vital decision is not adequate.
In fact the child makes two decisions the
first to move from being O.K and to enact a ‘bad’ behaviour and then a decision
to stop the ‘bad’ behaviour and return to being O.K.
So for those attempting to change a child’s behaviour a
better model for the process looks something like this
Pre decision (what
pre-empts or encourages the decision to stop being O.K)
– to start (the “bad” behaviour)
(what happens after the bad behaviour)
However, written as a list like this the model is still
misleading for parents.
In reality the
model needs to be circular with the consequences parents use and, particularly,
the way in which they use them forming part of the pre-decision ‘trigger’
circumstances for the next ‘bad’ behaviour.
Consequences Pre decision circumstances
Decision to stop
Decision – to start
A model that recognises that the child is making decisions
and that these decisions are influenced by how consequences are signalled is
far more helpful to parents since this is the area they often get badly wrong (see “forcing” Chapter 6).
As parents our aim is for the child to factor
in our consequences for the bad behaviour and decide not to do
it. The child continually puts what he
or she feels has been gained from ‘bad’ behaviour on one side of the scale and
the consequences for that behaviour on the other. The vital third factor is
the way parents signal and apply sanctions because it is this
that can predispose the child to decide one way or another.
You will notice that each time phrase “bad” behaviour
is used in this book we put the word “bad” in quotation marks.
This is because we will be attempting to
show that “bad” behaviour, although undesirable and harmful is not in fact “bad”,
but rather an unavoidable consequence of parental responses to behaviour in
general and unwanted behaviour in particular.
The intention of this book is explain how “bad” behaviour is
created and maintained by the responses we use to it, and to show how it can
easily be eradicated by modifications in these responses.
We can be certain of this connection because
of the speed with which this behaviour changes if we do the right things.
If, as struggling parents often believe, it
was the child who had the problem with his personality, heredity, temper
control, strong will, selfishness etc - then simple changes made by parents
would not work so quickly, in fact they would not work at all.
Countless children are trapped in a cycle of
“bad behaviour”. They gain a power in the home that is totally irresistible to
them, but which makes them miserable.
Parents are completely mystified by what is going on and are equally
trapped. All this suffering is quickly
and completely reversible using the system described here.
It is all, I hope, described with the detail
that you need.
Once you and your
partner have both read this book carefully, sit down and agree on a ‘Start Day’
- a day when you will begin to reclaim your child.