Thursday, August 19, 2010


The title of this blog is somewhat misleading. We do not truly teach respect. We actually earn it. I am contacted regularly by parents who say, “My kids do not respect me!” My first question tends to be, “Do you respect them?” This is a difficult question. Mrs. Elmira put it bluntly, “I expect respect, I put food on the table ... I am the mother. I expect to be respected.” 
Behavior counts. In fact, behavior counts more than words. Your children watch you closely. They pick up most of their social cues from you (until high school). One parent told me the following story:
I walked into the living room. My three girls were playing with their dolls. I paused at the door and watched. My eleven year old was running the play household. Every few seconds she had the mommy doll complain and hit the other dolls. Not hard hits, just constant hits. She kept saying, “Let's go honey, mommy is in a hurry,” or, “hurry, you’re making mommy late!” The part that hurt the most was that my daughter was using my words with a tone of hate. She sounded so put out by the children dolls. I asked the children over dinner about the game, and my eleven year old said, with an innocent smile, “I got to be you, I bossed everyone around and clobbered them for not listening.”
This parent was astonished to discover how she sounded through the ears of her children. She never thought that she “clobbered” her children. What she learned was that her children did not feel respected by her. What she thought was prodding, the tapping, motivating pushing behavior of her own childhood, was a regular example of disrespect.
We, as parents, need to model respectful behavior. This is easier said than done. Our children are around us 24 hours a day. Fortunately for us, teaching respectful behavior is a slow process. It only takes a few long years for a child to learn to read, but it takes many more for a child to internalize self respect and exhibit it outwardly.
We teach respect by using “please,” “thank you,” “I don’t know,” and “I'm sorry” on a regular basis. We exhibit respect by not shrieking or over powering our children with words. We share the love of respect by talking at eye level to a young child. We respect by directing children to do versus not do. A child feels respected when a parent directs him away from misbehavior versus telling him to stop doing the misbehavior.
Which sounds more respectful to you?
“Billy, stop bothering the cat!” or “Billy, will you help me in the kitchen?”
“Sally, I told you not to tease your sister!” or “Sally, please let the dog out.”
“What are you up to, put that hammer back!” or “What do you need a hammer for?”
Children will “test” behaviors out on their parents that they see others doing.  Mrs. Story was upset,
 Carl (age 14) walked into the house and plopped himself on the sofa putting his shoes on the coffee table. I was shocked. “What are you doing young man?” I asked him. He told me to, “@$#$%^ off.” I couldn’t believe he would talk to me like that. My husband and I don’t use such language. 
Carl was practicing what he saw at his new friend’s home. To Carl's surprise, his parents’ reaction was not the same as his friend’s parents. Carl was trying out behaviors “modeled” in another’s home. This is normal. Children will try behaviors seen elsewhere. Even two dimensional TV and movies are influential in your child’s life.
We need to use clear messages when a new behavior is not acceptable. When there is no character assassination, kids tend to make quality choices. For example, a few years ago a movie showed the tough gang bangers sucking on baby pacifiers and reprimanding their parents. Lots of kids in my area started carrying pacifiers around. The fad lasted a few weeks then ran its course. (I guess the idea sucked.) Many parents had to learn how to support their children during this fad.
Judging: What are you, a baby?
Advocating: You can suck on a pacifier if you need to, but I'm not comfortable with you sucking it around me. Please put it in your pocket.
Judging: If you talk to me like that again I'll wash your mouth out with soap!
Advocating: I do not allow such language from my children. Please respect my wishes.
Teaching respect is a long process. Mrs. Columbia called to thank me about a family session almost two weeks prior. 
Dr. Phil, I just want to let you know that Bethany is trying. She asked me if I had time to fix her jeans. She was polite. She said, “Mamma, would you be able to fix my jeans? I would appreciate your help.” 
This is nice, she usually says, “Fix this, I need them after school.”
As parents we need to demand respect while we show respect. This way we can teach our children that some behaviors are acceptable while others are not. This is not only in our home. I have received appropriate respect from rude acting children and adults alike by firmly stating, “I do not allow people to talk to me like that. How can I help you?” This firm but respectful statement has avoided many uncomfortable situations.

Teaching Honesty

By Philip Copitch, Ph.D.

Teaching Honesty
Many parents demand 100% honesty from their children. This is a tricky proposition when we do not demand it of ourselves. In fact, I doubt that it is possible to be 100% honest. More often than not, honesty is a gray area. If we say, “in a minute...” we know that we are generalizing. We do not really mean sixty seconds. For many children, at their discretion, one minute means just that, sixty seconds. “But mom, you said, ‘in a minute’... it’s been three minutes!” This whiny child’s statement is true, but is it really true? What we are talking about here is the spirit of the law of honesty not the letter of the law of honesty. 
An important part of building trust is picking your words correctly. I find myself saying, “if all goes well...” a lot when talking to children (and most adults). “If all goes well, I will be at your school at 3:00.” “If all goes well, we can go shoe shopping Saturday afternoon.” This teaches people that I am basically an honest person. This keeps me away from the “YOU SAID!” indignation of the mortally wounded child. 
However, on a very subtle note, I do listen carefully for the honesty of life. For example, if I am walking by the bathroom and notice that a damp towel is left on the floor I tend to get involved. “Whose towel?” I call down the hall. “Mine dad, I’ll take care of it in a minute,” an innocent voice responds. I’m not concerned about the “minute” word; I am concerned about my child’s intent to be honest. So, an hour later when I see the towel still drying on the floor my focus changes.
“Ethan (the former innocent) you led me to believe that you were going to take care of the towel.”
 “Yeah!” he mumbles. “I was, I’m going right now.” 
“After you pick up the towel, come and find me, we have to talk about being honest.”
“I was honest, I’m getting the towel right now!”
Calmly I explain, “This isn’t about the towel, this is about your word. I’m not worried about the towel, I’m worried about your word.”
In a few minutes I will, again, explain that I put a lot of faith in his words. That when I get my hug and kiss good night, I really mean the words, “I love you.” when I hear the words, “I love you,” I want to believe them. If a person is willing to deceive me about a nothing towel on the bathroom floor, how can I be sure about really important words such as, “I love you?”
Please note, the towel is an inconvenience. Honesty is a necessity to help your child feel loved and protected. 
As parents we need to watch our words carefully. We need to be careful not to teach dishonest behavior. For example, recently a family got into a heated discussion about answering the phone. The voices got loud. It was clear that the issue was not the phone, but rather trust and honesty issues around the phone. In this particular situation, mom had a sister that she didn’t care for. So, she refused to answer the phone in case her sister called. When the sister did call, the children were instructed to tell her, “oh, mom is out...” or “mom is in the bath.” mom was surprised, when I pointed out, that she was teaching her children to lie.
Relationships are built on small moments, if these moments are dishonest, the relationship cannot be stable.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Bribing children to do their homework does not work

By Philip Copitch, Ph.D.

Mrs. Conrad was very concerned that Paul, age 14, was not getting his homework done. So, she decided to motivate Paul to do his homework with a deal she heard that had worked for her friend’s child. If Paul did his homework every night she would give him $1 per assignment. She and Paul calculated that he could make around $30 dollars a week. Paul was highly motivated to do his homework. Every night for three weeks Paul proudly presented his assignments to his mother. Depending on the night. Mrs. Conrad gave Paul three to five crisp dollar bills she got from the bank for this very purpose. Mrs. Conrad told me:
I thought I had found homework heaven. Paul was doing his work. We had stopped arguing over his homework. I really thought I was brilliant. I told my friends how easy it was to be a great mother.
Then the report card came home. I was dumbfounded. Paul’s grades were worse then ever. He was failing half his classes. I was positive there was a mistake. I was sure that if I showed Paul his failing report card he would feel like a failure. I didn’t tell him it came. I had seen Paul’s work and he understood his assignments. I was sure the school had messed up. I marched right down to that school. I was furious that they couldn’t get their act together.
I found Paul’s math teacher in the hallway. Do you know what? My damn kid hadn’t turned in any of his assignments. Not one! Every teacher told me the same story. “Paul is a great kid, but not very motivated, he never does his homework.” Almost $200 dollars, and for nothing!

This is an example of bribery. Bribery is when we put the proverbial cart before the horse. That is, when we give the reward before the behavior. At first it makes so much sense. If I give you your reward why wouldn’t you do what I asked you to do? The simple answer is that we humans, and every other animal we have ever tested in the lab, need to work for our rewards. By giving the reward we are reinforcing the behavior that comes before the reward. In bribery, the behavior just before the reward is doing nothing and that is what we tend to get. Nothing. In the above story, Paul received the reward when he showed his mother the completed homework assignment. There was no incentive to turn the assignment in. If most adults were paid prior to the work period, what incentive would there be for going to work?

In my office, Mr. and Mrs. Conrad confronted Paul with the homework fiasco. Paul was calm. He simply said, “Mom, you only paid me to do my homework. You didn’t pay me to be a delivery man.”

Using a reward as a promise is useless. It does not teach children to complete a task. The child feels manipulated into doing something they do not wish to do. They are behaving for the reward, not because it is the “correct” way to behave. A child who follows the rules because of the bribe is bound to be a spoiled, manipulative individual. Such a child is going to go through life looking for what he can take. What is in it for him.

I will state it very clearly: BRIBERY DOES NOT WORK!

If family problems are getting out of control, please seek the help of a licensed mental health professional.

Go to Dr Copitch's web site

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

What should a parent do if their child steals?

By Philip Copitch, Ph.D.

Over the years have found that children steal for four major reasons. Three reasons will be discussed here, while the fourth will be covered under its broader category. 

The four major reasons why children steal:
  1. Because they really want the item they steal.
  2. Because they wish to teach someone something.
  3. Because they enjoy the process of stealing.
  4. They steal to cover the cost of the drugs that they want. 

(I will cover number 4 in a later blog concerning drugs and the family)

Because they really want the item they steal

My son is nine years old. He has been caught stealing three times in the last month. My husband and I suspect that he has also stolen money from our bedroom as well as from his older sister’s purse. We have spanked him and grounded him, but he does not seem to care. 

The vast majority of children (under age fourteen) steal for the most basic of needs. They want something—so they take it. It is not unusual that there is no more thought than just that. I want it, so I take it. 
If you ask around (I have) everyone seems to have the “I got caught stealing and my mother did ...” story. The most common story is, 
I got caught and I had to go and confess. I was so embarrassed. I could feel my heart pounding. But my mom was so mad at me. She marched me right back to the store and made me confess to the store manager. I never stole anything again.
For most children, being marched back to the store to talk to the manager is a wonderful life lesson. I definitely advocate doing just that, but it is no longer 1940 America so we need to call the store and make sure that the manager is willing to play his part well (most are). I have had parents tell horror stories of managers that flipped out on them and chased them out of the store. And then there was the story of the manager who tried to befriend the child who was crying by saying, “It’s OK little girl. It’s only a candy bar so don’t worry about it.” It is best to call the manager and ask them to take a few minutes to explain how when people steal from his store it hurts him personally and also raises the cost for everyone who shops at the store. 

Most parents over react to their child stealing by being punitive and forgetting to teach. Many children steal because it is their only way to get what they want and they do not see anything wrong with getting their needs met. If a parent becomes extremely embarrassed they tend toward character attacks and spanking. Some parents exaggerate the situation and call their child thief or tell them that they are going to go to jail. It is important that parents use this problem as a teaching tool. It is important that parents discuss the following with their child:
a. People who have things stolen from them have feelings.
b. Trust in the family is very important.
c. Others trust you by not locking up their belongings. This trust in you does not give you permission to steal from them.
d. If you have a want, how could you get this need met?
It is important for parents to focus on the process of fixing the problem. It is important that children make restitution whenever possible. Children need to be responsible for their behaviors. 

Because they wish to teach someone something

It has gotten so bad that I have had to put a lock on my bedroom door. My daughter is a little thief. If it isn’t bolted down she will steal it. I hate living like this, but we have to. I had to put a chain with a lock on the refrigerator.
Often stealing within the family is a form of acting out in a-round-about-way to teach someone a lesson. It is important to figure out what the underlying problems are. Often this is easy, such as when little brother keeps stealing big brother’s Legos. When you ask him “Why?” he shouts back, “You like Bobby better, he gets all the cool stuff!” If it is this straight forward then you want to help little brother deal with his real feelings. Little brother needs to learn how to get his needs met, while respecting other people’s property.

Sometimes it is not clear exactly what your child is trying to say. It will take time and effort to sort out what the child is trying to teach. But, this is very important, not only for the present situation, but also for the child in the long run. Your child needs to know that his feelings are appropriate, but his behavior (stealing) is not. 

I worked with a forty-five year old man who had lived for forty years getting back at people who he thought had wronged him. He told story after story of making things right, in his mind, by getting people back. He had slashed tires, peed on potted plants, and spat on others’ food. The interesting thing was that he hated himself for it. He sought therapy because he wanted to learn how to tell people his feelings. When I asked him about his earliest memory of righting wrongs his way he said
When I was five, I stole my brother’s pocket knife. I got a beating and sent to bed without dinner. I remember, as if it was yesterday, that I stayed up for hours planning my revenge. To this day, I can’t talk with my brother without hating him.
This man learned to take revenge instead of learning how to communicate his feelings and get his emotional needs met in an appropriate manner.

Because they enjoy the process of stealing

Behaviors are learned. The secondary gain (thrill) of stealing is very rewarding. I have worked with many teenagers, as well as adults, who steal simply for the excitement. It usually starts with small stuff then becomes very large. 

This learned behavior is very hard to unlearn. Most teens and adults need to experience a severe punisher to change their behavior. Because of this it is important that parents do not overly protect their children when they get caught. If your child learns that you will protect him from the police, the stealing will most probably increase after the initial fear of being caught subsides. For most teens this takes about two weeks.

If your child is coming home with items that are not theirs, you must deal with it. I worked with a parent who was surprised when the police searched her home. They found thousands of dollars of stolen property in the form of a stereo, TV, VCR, leather jacket, and jewelry. When I asked the mom where she thought the stuff came from, she said, “He said his friends gave it to him.” It is very hard for teens to make money, even when employed, so it is important that parents stay aware of their child’s property.

I am often asked what to do if a teen comes home with possible stolen property

I advocate that in most cases stealing within the house is a family problem and stealing outside of the house is a community problem. To this extent, I advise parents to deal with small crimes within the house. I advise parents to make their children accountable to the community outside of the home. This can take the form of taking your child back to the store (young child) to calling the police and reporting a crime (teenager). 

Parents often ask me if they should turn their own teen in for, let’s say, stealing a car. And I emphatically say, “Yes!” It is very simple. I want your child to know, for a fact, that there are powers much greater than their parents. And I want your child to learn this fact well before they are adults, at which point society is not very forgiving. 

In closing, if a parent covers up a crime for a child, the child learns that they are not responsible and their parent will cover for them. In my experience this leads to larger crimes and much greater danger. One young adult told me: 

When I was strip searched on my sixteenth birthday— after getting arrested for drunk driving and joy riding ... I knew that I had to change. In jail I was treated like a nonperson. I was only there three hours, but I grew up ten years.
(The young man is now a third year college student studying Business Finance. His parents had called the police when he arrived home intoxicated in an unknown car.)
The following are Must Rules used by families with great success:
Family with three teens with minor run-ins with the law:
Must Rule: No Stealing!
Consequence: Inside the house: One week grounding. Outside the house: Explain your behavior to the police.
Family with seven and eight year old girls:
Must Rule: You must have specific permission to use another’s property before you touch it.
Consequence: Fifteen minutes of sitting on your bed.
Family of fifteen year old with a history of stealing from neighborhood homes:
Must Rule: Terrance is not allowed to steal. Terrance is not allowed to borrow anything from anyone outside of the family. Terrance can borrow from mom and dad only with prior permission.
Consequence: Room restriction for one week; report to probation officer for review. Possible probation violation and legal charges if deemed necessary by probation department.

Excerpted from my book: Basic Parenting101: The manual your child should have been born with

In closing, if this dangerous behavior continues or worsens, please seek the help of a licensed mental health professional.

Go to Dr Copitch's web site