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Discipline and Boundaries: Insights from a Tokyo-Based Behavioral Expert
When it comes to the best way to teach your children boundaries - and how you react when they've crossed them - it can be hard to know what's the right way, what's the wrong way and what actually works. After all, your kids don't come with a user manual.
While it's a highly personal decision, there are proven methods parents can employ to help their children learn how to behave and discipline them when they don't.
Kozue Matsuda, a Board Certified Behavior Analyst, Doctoral level (BCBA-D) is the founder of Children Center in Hiroo. Children Center offers services based on Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA). In short, ABA is a form of therapy that aims to improve negative behaviors through positive reinforcement.
While her practice primarily focuses on children who have a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder, Kozue's experience and expertise are applicable to all kinds of families. She also works closely with the Tokyo Metropolitan Board of Education, developing individualized education programs for young students who need assistance in the classroom.
We asked Kozue for tips on how parents in the CareFinder community might handle the occasional behavioral issue and she was kind enough to share her insights!
Tip #1: Make the Rules
As the adult in a situation, it is up to the parent to set the rules and enforce them. But "enforce" does not mean shouting reprimands (though your tone of voice does matter). It means sticking to what you've said.
Let's use the example of a young child who enjoys play fighting but hasn't yet learned the difference between having fun and causing harm.
Kozue suggests turning rolled-up newspaper into "katana" and ruling that play fighting is fine, as long as all players have their katana and are ready to play. This way, the child is able to exert her energy through an activity she enjoys while you have created the framework for how she's allowed to do it.
This doesn't mean that she won't try to play fight outside of these rules ever again, however.
"No one wins 100 percent of the time," says Kozue with regard to setting boundaries. But if you're not willing for your first attempt at discipline to fail and aren't ready with an immediate Plan B, you're better off not trying in the first place.
If your child starts to play flight outside of the established rules, tell her you will need to get your sword in order to play and that you can only play for 30 seconds. You've now stopped her from hitting and reinforced the rules you set. She sees that if she has his katana, and you have yours, she gets to play the game she enjoys. Because this is a positive outcome for her, she's much more likely to follow the rules to get what she wants in the future.
Tip #2: Take Control
When Kozue visits schools in Tokyo, she sometimes finds whole classrooms full of out-of-control children (to be fair, most young children have no qualms about misbehaving if the opportunity allows for it). In situations that are not under control, she says, the children who are predisposed to acting out in the best of times are even more likely to engage in bad behavior.
While having a babysitter come to your home is far from chaos, it is a new situation that differs from your child's normal routine. However, you can take steps to mitigate this relative lack of control and any bad behavior that may result from it.
Arrange for a trial sitting so that you can introduce the sitter while you're still there, be sure to have a clear conversation with your child about household rules (and how they still apply even when Mom and Dad aren't home) and do your best to structure the evening so that opportunities for misbehaving are limited. This includes being upfront with the sitter if your child is in a hitting phase, for example, and the rules they're expected to follow. The better prepared your babysitter is, the less likely they are to accidentally create a situation that encourages or enables bad behavior.
Tip #3 Be Positive
We often watch our children sleeping in bed like adorable little angels and think to ourselves, "you are so precious."
As lovely as this thought is, Kozue points out, your child can't hear you when they're sleeping! According to her, it is important that you give positive feedback throughout the day - when your child is actually aware you're giving it. Often, when a child acts up (or continues to misbehave despite repeated reprimands), it can be traced back to a lack of positive reinforcement when they're behaving well.
Take the time to acknowledge your kid's good behavior and accomplishments (even if they may be considered relatively small) throughout the day. Consistent positive reinforcement incentivizes consistent good behavior.
Tip #4: Seek Professional Help!
It can be difficult to discuss the issues your children have with a stranger. The majority of parents Kozue meets, regardless of their background, will take a while in their first consultation to feel ready to talk about behavioral problems. It's human nature to feel embarrassed or unsure of how to address uncomfortable topics.
Where Japanese and international families may differ, Kozue says, is in the treatment options they have available to them. Because they have roots or ties to other countries, some international families may be able to move "back" or send their child to international schools with more resources for kids with different needs.
Japanese families, however, often have fewer resources. For instance, Kozue and her staff are some of the very few BCBAs and Certified Clinical Psychologists working in Japan.
We often see our children as extensions of ourselves and, as such, when they act up, whether it's at home, in public or while under the supervision of another adult, we believe their behavior is an indictment of our parenting abilities.
In reality, children misbehave for many different reasons and often those reasons have nothing to do with our skill level as parents. Trust us! At CareFinder, we've met many wonderful families, with wonderful children... who sometimes act up. It happens! We hope these tips help.