Creating the changes you need.

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Change

Change.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Changing self or others?

So very many people who come into counseling report their major problem is – the behavior of someone else. They ask “How can I get —– to change and stop doing —–.

Recovery literature frequently takes the view that you really can’t change someone else. If they change it will be because they recognize a problem and decide to change. So if 99% of the problem is their fault and only 1% is yours you need to start by working on your one percent.

There are times you can get others to change, but the trick here is that often that change begins with a change in you.

There are four primary change options. Which you chose and how effective it will be will depend on the nature of the change you need. You partner driving you nuts by being a slob is quite different from a child who breaks out all the windows in a house.

1. Change by stop letting it bother you.

Change your thinking and stop letting it upset you. This is easy to say and sometimes difficult to do. If you began by liking a partner who was spontaneous, a free spirit, but now you are upset because they are irresponsible and a slob, recognize that the problem is in you. The very thing that attracted you to them is the thing that is causing the problem.

Anger management techniques, especially that Cognitive Behavioral Therapy technique involving the A-B-C-D-E model can be especially helpful.

Mindfulness training, meditation and relaxation training can also help you to reduce your negative feelings so you can go along with what is happening but not get upset.

2. Help them move through the process of change.

If the other person has the problem and you are doing all you can to accept them but you decide it is they, not you who need to change, you can still help them change by assisting them in moving through the stages of change.

Counselors and professionals are specifically trained in the stages of change model and can help someone move through the process. Take a look at the blog posts on Stages of Change.

3. Create change by changing the dance.

Couples, families and even workplaces get into a predictable way of doing things. Sometimes this works and sometimes it is dysfunctional. Think of the way this dance happens over and over.

Relationships are a lot like a square dance. Everyone moves around the square doing the same things over and over. If one person changes the way they move, starts walking in a different direction the whole square falls apart.

In relationships, we get into predictable patterns. A friend calls with a problem; we spend hours on the phone. We drive over to their house and help them out. Then we realize that we are always helping them, they never have the time or resources to help us.

Next time they call and describe their problem, rather than telling them you will help, tell them wow that is some problem, I am really looking forward to seeing how you solve that one. Then excuse yourself and hang up.

They may escalate the demands for your help by calling again and asking you to do something. Here is where you may need some assertiveness training. But at some point, you may need to tell them that if you keep solving their problems for them they will never learn to solve them on their own. Besides, right now you have problems of your own that need attention.

Once you have changed the dance, the other person will keep pushing you to get back in the old pattern. You will need to keep to the new direction. But eventually, they will stop asking for help. They may even stop inviting you to their problem dance.

But if you lose this “friend” because you put your needs and those of your family first, well they weren’t that good a friend, to begin with. You deserve better than that.

4. Change others using Influence.

Sometimes you need to make others change even when it would be easier and safer to let it go.

If your young child falls on the floor and has a tantrum, you teach him to stop. If your teenager is doing that you need serious intervention. You should not have let it get to this point.

Parents and teachers change kid’s behavior all the time. We use rewards and appropriate non-physical punishment to produce change all the time.

There is a series of posts about how behavioral modification specialists get people to change their behavior. This is not some form of brainwashing or mind control.

You get to drive if you take the required steps including taking some tests. If you drive without a license you may get arrested or your car impounded. Society uses rewards and punishments every day. For rules to work we need to keep enforcing these rules.

If you want to alter behavior in your child or others in your life consider the more subtle uses of behavior modification described in my Changing Others series. Praise you child or your partner when they do well. Make sure that they don’t have to do something wrong to get your attention.

What you attend to you will get more of. Make sure you let those in your life know when they are pleasing you.

See also the posts on

Stages of Change

Changing others by Influencing  

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Two David Joel Miller Books are available now!

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Amazon Author Page – David Joel Miller

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

Want the latest on news from recoveryland, the field of counseling, my writing projects, speaking and teaching? Please sign up for my newsletter at – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.

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Creating an underachiever

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Mistakes and errors

Mistakes.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

We hear there are a lot of underachievers in our society. Our schools and workplaces seem to be designed to create them. If you want to turn someone with a natural talent into an underachiever the process is simple. Here are the steps you will need to take to create an underachiever.

Your child does something cute, it may not be perfect but that first burst of effort gets noticed. You give them lots of praise. What they did was adorable. You tell them so. They love all the attention. In school, the child may put in extra effort to study and do well on a test. For this example let’s say it was a math test. But it could be a sports skill, art or anything where superior performance would be noticed. They are rewarded with acknowledgment, a good grade. Everyone is happy. They should be motivated to continue putting in the effort. But they don’t. Why?

On the job site, there might be a critical project, a report that needs to be out right away. This is something that takes extra effort. The employee puts in a burst of effort to get the task done. They get the task completed and they get some praise. They feel good about their effort. Then something goes wrong, very wrong.

The child who got lots of recognition begins to be thought of as good at math. The teacher stops spending time with the child on his lessons. There are other students who need her help more. The parents may slack off on helping the child with his homework. He doesn’t need help, right? He is good at math. This time the child gets no help. They study, for sure, just not as hard. No one seems to care about them and they are identified as good at math. Then their grade slips, maybe on the first test, maybe slowly over time. No one notices till the grade gets back to the level of the rest of the class. Suddenly everyone notices.

The employee, who got that report out on time, now gets assigned a lot of reports to do. They are good at report writing, aren’t they?  But now the recognition and the praise stop coming. They are expected to always do better so they start getting assigned more work. Now if that employee gets a raise or a better office that may continue to be rewarding. But often they get taken for granted and the work piles up. Until one day they turn out a report that is not very good or they turn it out late. Then the boss has a talk with them.

Now in both cases, the person is now getting noticed again. The child may study extra hard for the next test. The employee may work extra hard on the next report. They both get a renewed round of attention for their renewed efforts. But this second round of notice fades faster than the first. What is the lesson these people learn from this?

In both cases, they learn that there are more rewards from occasional flashes of brilliance than from persistent good performance. So they learn to hold back most of the time and then occasionally do a superior job which is always rewarded by being noticed. They have learned the advantages of underachievement. If people have low expectations of you, you get rewarded for good work, but if people expect a lot from you, you might occasionally fail and that will be punished.

This procedure is not the only one that encourages people to fail.

The child wants to please his mother. She tells him to come to help with the dishes. So the child finishes what he is doing and then comes to help. He tries really hard. At the end mother thanks him for the help and then adds that back-handed compliment – “But you could have come sooner.” The lesson learned – no amount of effort is good enough. Maybe they start to think they are not good enough.

Another child may study really hard for the math test. They get ninety-nine correct out of the one hundred questions. Is the parent happy? No! They say to the child “Why did you get that one wrong? You knew that!”

No matter how much that child or that report writing employee do, it will never be enough. Pretty soon the connection between their efforts and success or failure doesn’t look to be working. They may develop a connection that Martin Seligman calls “learned helplessness.”  You might want to check out his book called “Learned Optimism.”

So what is the solution to this problem? If you are that child’s parent or teacher, don’t take superior achievement for granted, keep positively reinforcing it. You don’t need to praise the child every time, but over time you need to vary the intervals between praise so the child knows you are still noticing their efforts. If you are the boss or supervisor of a good employee make sure you don’t take them for granted and pile extra work on them while letting the less able employees slide. The rewards need to match the effort and the work output.

What should you do if you are that child or employee and people no longer notice your efforts? What if you were not rewarded as a child and grew up as an underachiever? Are you doomed? Not at all!

In all these examples the problem for the person who is no longer getting rewarded is that they needed reinforcement from external sources. If you can learn to have what we might call an “internal locus of control,” if you can learn to do things so that you can be proud of yourself, then that lack of reinforcement may not affect you so much.

So it would appear that one of the secrets of having a happy life is being happy with the life you are leading.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Two David Joel Miller Books are available now!

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Amazon Author Page – David Joel Miller

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

Want the latest on news from recoveryland, the field of counseling, my writing projects, speaking and teaching? Please sign up for my newsletter at – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.

Why ignoring them doesn’t work- or does it?

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Bad behavior.
Photo courtesy of pixabay

8 rules for extinguishing bad behavior – Part 4 in our changing others series.

Parenting coaches tell parents to ignore bad behavior. They call this process “extinguishing.” They warn that paying too much attention to the child who is misbehaving only rewards them and increases the targeted behavior. Professional’s tell parents to use extinguishing a lot. Many parents say it doesn’t work. Why?

Parents hate it when their child throws a tantrum. They try lots of things to make the kid stop. Fresh from the therapist, they decide to take the professionals advice. The kid starts to scream. They ignore him. Eventually, he has to stop right? Four hours later the parents give up on the extinguishing method as their child is still screaming.

Rule 1: Bad behaviors are likely to get worse before they get better.

Most parents give up before the bad behavior ends. Kids can be a whole lot more stubborn than most parents. Isn’t it the reasonable person in a relationship that ends up giving in to the unreasonable one?

Rule 2: Kids will pick a place for their bad behaviors were you don’t want to make a scene.

If you chose to try to extinguish a bad behavior, in the early stages avoid places where you won’t be able to stick to your guns. Taking the kid with you to the store is sure to result in a tantrum in the early stages. It is easier to extinguish bad behavior at home than at the in-laws.

Rule 3: While extinguishing a bad behavior, make sure to reward any behavior change.

Just make sure not to fall into the bribe trap by offering positive rewards for stopping the bad behavior. We all have urges to do something positive to distract the misbehaving person, but if the distraction comes to close to the bad behavior it looks like the bad behavior got the reward. Wait till the child stops the tantrum for twenty seconds or so and then reward them for stopping.

Rule 4: Be sure you are not extinguishing a desired behavior.

A child crying can be annoying at times but they should cry when in pain. Make sure you check that there is no legitimate reason for the “bad” behavior before you decide to try ignoring it and play your “extinguishing” game.

Rule 5: If you want to stop something you need to always stop it.

Of and on actions are called intermittent reinforcement. But out food once for a wild animal and it will come back for a while until it is convinced that there will be no food. But if you feed it off and on it will keep coming back almost forever. People are like that also. If you want to extinguish a bad behavior, don’t give in, not even once. If you are not consistent the person you are trying to change won’t know which answer to expect and they will keep trying forever.

Rule 6: This is not a one-person job.

If one person in the home tries to extinguish a behavior but the rest of the family gives in it will not work. Make sure all the people who might reinforce the bad behavior are on board with the effort to extinguish the bad behavior.

Rule 7: There will be ups and downs.

Bad behavior that has been extinguished may return after a time. Why shouldn’t a child, or adult for that matter, try something again that had worked in the past. The person who has lost the advantage of their previously useful bad behavior is also likely to get frustrated. Sometimes they even get aggressive or violent. A tantruming child who is ignored long enough, may up the ante and come over and hit you. Consider how you will respond if the aggression increases.

Rule 8: Good behavior extinguishes also.

Good behavior that is not reinforced will start to fade quickly. While trying to get someone to cut down on or stop bad behaviors, you need to keep praising good actions or the good things stop also.

Our series on changing other people’s behavior focused here mostly on children is about to change direction. We talked about getting more good behavior and we have talked about how to reduce or stop an undesirable or bad behavior. But what do you do when the behavior you want from someone is a whole new action? How do you get them to start doing something they have never done before?

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Three David Joel Miller Books are available now!

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

SasquatchWandering through a hole in time, they encounter Sasquatch. Can they survive? The guests had come to Meditation Mountain to find themselves. Trapped in the Menhirs during a sudden desert storm, two guests move through a porthole in time and encounter long extinct monsters. They want to get back to their own time, but the Sasquatch intends to kill them.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Author Page – David Joel Miller

Books are now available on Amazon, Kobo, iBooks, Barnes & Noble, and many other online stores.

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

Want the latest on news from recoveryland, the field of counseling, my writing projects, speaking and teaching? Please sign up for my newsletter at – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.

Rewards gone wild

Need to change

Time for you to make a change?
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Changing others part 3.

By David Joel Miller.

Sometimes positive reinforcement goes wild. Instead of increasing desirable positive behaviors, positive reinforcement incorrectly applied can create more negative behaviors. Let’s look at some examples.

It is Super Bowl Sunday. Dad wants to watch the game. The kids who are bored to death start getting loud and thrashing around. Dad decides to get this to stop and gives the kids some money and sends them to the store. They don’t interrupt the big game. But then over time, something begins to happen. Dad notices that now every time he wants to watch a game on T. V., the kids get loud and rambunctious. He brings them to the therapist because they are “disrespectful.” What has gone wrong?

It is way too easy to positively reinforce bad behavior. Once you reward bad behavior it begins to expand. Often we do this without noticing that this is what we have done.

Another example. The child, in the store, begins to wine. Mom is getting tired and so she decides she has had enough. She leaves the store and goes home. The problem of whiny kid solved, for now. But over the years mom notices she has a very whiny kid. She can no longer go anywhere the child does not want to go or the whining begins. Another example of how a quick response to a misbehaving child can result in positively reinforcing a bad behavior.

A more adult example. Dad can’t find his keys. He is late for work. He begins to swear and yell. Mom goes running and helps dad find the keys. Problem solved for today. But over time if mom runs every time dad is frustrated and yells, dad will yell and swear more. Mom is unknowingly training dad to yell and swear. Sometimes these case end up in counseling. More of them should. After a while, we start to believe that it is others that are making us mad and of course when mad we should vent our frustration. Anger management classes which include cognitive behavioral methods may be needed to break the cycle of anger, yelling and swear words.

But it can get worse. Even if you do not reinforce bad behavior in your child other people may. I worked with one client who had older sisters. They lived in a poor part of town where there were lots of gangs. They used to dress their little brother up like a gang banger. At three it looked “cute” when he reached thirteen and became a real gang banger they were surprised. They shouldn’t have been. They had positively reinforced his looking like and acting like a gang member so much it was natural for him to become one.

This is one reason it worries me when people dress little girls in sexy or “trampy” outfits. Then when she gets to be a teen they try to clamp down on her clothes and behavior. She has been so thoroughly positively reinforced for acting in a sexualized manner why would she change? Besides she is not home now for you to change her behavior. She is out on an overnight date with that “cute” gang banger.

But other people, sometimes with good intentions, also undo our efforts to help children. A child who is shy and feels lonely often begins to avoid others and hide in the corner. So all the staff starts going over to talk to the child. Soon the child is getting lots of attention, which is what the child wanted. So does the child come out of their shell and start being less shy? Not on your life. All that attention for the “shy behaviors” was so completely positively reinforced that the shyness increases.  The right approach would have been for all staff to have watched the child and when they looked over to smile. Positively reinforce any outgoing behavior no matter how small and it might increase. But one staff member can unintentionally undo the work of all the others. So in the home how often do family members, knowingly or unintentionally undo the change efforts of the rest of the family?

It is very important that all the adults in a child’s life be on the same page when it comes to behavior modification. It is also important to be consistent.

Here is hoping that this series is helping you in your efforts to change both yourself and those around you. More to come.

For more on the process of change see the blog post series “Stages of Change

There is also a series of posts on helping others change, under the heading of “Changing Others.” and “Creating the Change you need.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Two David Joel Miller Books are available now!

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Amazon Author Page – David Joel Miller

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

Want the latest on news from recoveryland, the field of counseling, my writing projects, speaking and teaching? Please sign up for my newsletter at – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.

Improving Relationships – Changing Others Part Two – Encouragement

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Couple

Relationship.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Using Encouragement to create change.

One way to improve relationships is to encourage others to do the things we want them to do. This is true whether the relationship we are talking about is a romantic one or the parent-child type. Last time we started to talk about the use of rewards to increase positive behavior. Professional behavior modifiers call this approach the use of positive reinforcement. When we say rewards, lots of people think of tangible things. But positive reinforcements include lots of things that are not physical, like praise and encouragement.  There are some guidelines for using positive reinforcements. Correctly used they are powerful but incorrectly applied they will disappoint.

Marriage counselors stay busy with couples whose main ways of trying to change their partner is to argue, fight and complain. Researchers like the Gottman’s tell us that for a relationship to be satisfying the positive interactions need to outweigh the negative by a wide margin. But not all positives are created equal.

For positive reinforcement to work, you have to pick the right reward. Chapman wrote a book applying this principle to couples called “The Five Love Languages.” The premise is that different positive rewards say love to different people. So if your partner feels loved when you praise them and you try to make them feel good with gifts, you two are speaking different “love languages” and as a result, your positive reinforcement is not going to work. For the full list of languages and applying them, you might want to read the book.

One important rule for using positive reinforcement is to pick the right reward. Say your child really likes playing video games. He hates doing his homework. So you tell him if he does all his homework this week you will get him a gift on your way home from work Friday. One your way home you stop at the toy store and find him a gift, a new book called “Doing Math the Fun Way.” Is this likely to make him happy? Will he be likely to do his work the next time? You picked the wrong reward and it looks more like punishment, more homework, to the child.

Men are particularly prone to falling into this trap when “positively reinforcing their partners.”  If you decide to make her happy by buying her a box of candy, that might work. But if you bring her one two days in a row, presumably before she has eaten very much of the first box, will that be positively reinforcing? The second box will get a lot less result than the first. Now, what if she is on a diet and just lost some weight, should you bring candy? This is more likely to end in an argument than to increase positive interactions.  Pick the right reward.

Now there are times when a given reward works better than others. A drink of water works better when you are thirsty than when you just finished drinking something. Bars put out salted snacks for just that reason. So if someone has been without the reward for a long time it is more rewarding. After going without their phone for a while a kid is willing to do a lot more to get one than if you just took it away yesterday and they are still mad. The principle here is, don’t overuse a reward and use them at the times they will have the most impact.

You take your child out for a treat, a special time together. That should be really positively rewarding. You go to the mall and walk around. Malls are frequently very positively reinforcing for adolescents. Your child lags behind. As you offer to buy them a particularly popular piece of clothing, they burst into tears.  Trip over. You head home. Once home you set the child down on the couch, time for a talk.

You explain to the child that you can’t understand why they got so upset. You were trying to positively reward them for all that hard work and their good grades. You child goes storming out of the room, doors slamming. You look over at your partner. What went wrong? “The new report card came in the mail today.” your partner says. “Four F’s this time.”  How did you go so wrong?

Positive rewards have to occur very soon after the action you want to increase. The shorter the time between the action and the reward, the more reinforcing it will be. You should have done the trip immediately after the last report card when there were some good grades to reward. By waiting so long you let other actions good and bad happen in between. Now the reward looks like a punishment. The sooner the reward is given the larger the result.

How long do you have to keep the positive reinforcement up? People are afraid that once they start it they may need to keep it up forever. There are two ways to get past this. Create a set of instructions that the person whose behavior is being changed can repeat to themselves. Kids learn to repeat these instructions as they do the task and then they can positively reinforce themselves with the knowledge that they did the task well. Look for natural reinforcers in the environment. Humans are social animals, we like others to like us. Once a positive behavior is created the positive reinforcement can be changed from a tangible reward to things like verbal praise. Eventually, smiles may be enough to reinforce the new likable behavior.

Positive reinforcement works not only for changing others but also for changing yourself. If you have embarked on a program of self-change remember to give yourself frequent, positive reinforcement for the progress you are making. Sometimes positive reinforcement backfires and creates a huge negative response. Why?

More to come on behavior modification and changing yourself or others.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Two David Joel Miller Books are available now!

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Amazon Author Page – David Joel Miller

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

Want the latest on news from recoveryland, the field of counseling, my writing projects, speaking and teaching? Please sign up for my newsletter at – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.

Changing Others – Part One

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Change

Change.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Sometimes we really do need to change others.

Now I know I talked to you before about how hard changing others was and how we first need to look at ourselves. We have also looked at the way in which really lasting change happens. But sometimes we do need to try to change others behavior especially when it is not us they are harming but themselves and their acceptance in society. If your child is hitting other students you could wait to see if he outgrows it, but by then he may be expelled from school and you may be stuck with an unruly brat in your home all day. So sometimes teaching others to change is for their own good. There is a process for this way of changing others and it is called behavior modification.

Now I know I talked to you before about how hard changing others was and how we first need to look at ourselves. We have also looked at the way in which really lasting change happens. But sometimes we do need to try to change others behavior especially when it is not us they are harming but themselves and their acceptance in society. If your child is hitting other students you could wait to see if he outgrows it, but by then he may be expelled from school and you may be stuck with an unruly brat in your home all day. So sometimes teaching others to change is for their own good. There is a process for this way of changing others and it is called behavior modification.

Now I know I talked to you before about how hard changing others was and how we first need to look at ourselves. We have also looked at the way in which really lasting change happens. But sometimes we do need to try to change others behavior especially when it is not us they are harming but themselves and their acceptance in society. If your child is hitting other students you could wait to see if he outgrows it, but by then he may be expelled from school and you may be stuck with an unruly brat in your home all day. So sometimes teaching others to change is for their own good. There is a process for this way of changing others and it is called behavior modification.

Behavior modification began as largely experimental methods. It was used to change animals and later was applied to developmentally delayed clients. It has been gradually expanded to include all kinds of groups from kindergarten kids to college graduate students. And the great thing about behavior modification is that it works. But it does not involve what most people think it might include. Behavioral modification is not a shorthand name for brainwashing or manipulation. It is about helping people to change who don’t know then need to change.

Lots of behavior change methods have been criticized as manipulation. I cringe when I hear that expression. Don’t all kids manipulate? It is one way of getting your needs met when a direct method does not work. We need to teach others how we would like them to behave and then encouraging that behavior. For the “spare the rod” crowd I reiterate that physical punishment is the least effective method of teaching most of the time. It produces angry people who hit back or beaten people who stop trying. Real discipline is about training, not punishment.

Some people think the opposite of punishment is bribery. That won’t work either. If you bribe someone, particularly a kid, to do what they should do, next time the amount of the bribe will need to be increased. Eventually, the whole bribery method collapses when you can’t or won’t pay the exorbitant amounts demanded. Not sure about this, check with Washington.

The first step in changing someone else’s behavior is to get crystal clear about what behavior you want to change and why. Let’s take an example.

Mom brings in a child which we will call Clarence for want of another name. Mom is tired of getting calls from the school that Clarence won’t behave. She wants me to fix him. Sorry mom, I am fresh out of parts for that year and model. You want him changed, you as his parent need to do that. I will be glad to teach you how but you will have to do the work.  So mom what is Clarence doing? When you say he does not behave – what exactly does he do or not do?

At this point, mom pulls out her list. He won’t do his homework, does not stay in his seat, makes “mouth noises” did not clean his room and got in a fight. The fight might be anger management, but the mouth noises, that is a whole nother thing. So I ask the mother what is the one thing, the one most important thing she wants to change about her son. With behavior modification, we need to start on one thing to change and then progress to each item on her list one at a time.

Mom picks “won’t do his homework” I feel myself starting to relax. This is a case of increasing a behavior. We have more and better tools to increase desirable behaviors than we have tools to reduce undesirable behaviors. Also, this is something specific so we should be able to tell when we are making progress.

Sometimes I get things like I want him to be friendlier. What exactly do you mean by being friendlier? Bringing home a girl?  Giving away your stuff? Or would you settle for smiling more? A specific behavior like smiling more is easier to work on than the vague friendly thing.

The fastest way to increase a behavior is to reward someone for doing the thing we want them to do. Someone in the back of the class just yelled foul. You said no bribes. No, I am not saying bribe the kid. I said reward. What is the difference? A bribe comes before someone does the act. A reward comes after and the two things are connected. So my boss pays me if I show up for work a whole two weeks. He does not give me a bribe first and then hope I will show up. And the amount was clearly understood. It does not go up each time he wants me to show up.

Let me give you a hint here. For many kids, praise for something done well is even more reinforcing than things. Kids who have a close relationship with their families want to please their parents. Just make sure you let them know you are pleased. If my boss were to stop paying me I might get the idea he does not want me working there and I would probably stop showing up. I might also get really mad.

So next time we will need to talk about what things might be rewards and how to use these to increase positive behavior without falling down the bribe trap. Rewards are also powerful motivators in adult relationships. If you do not make each other happy more often than you make each other mad your relationship is headed for trouble. So very soon I plan to write a post about rewarding your partner to keep the relationship alive. Till next time

More on the topic of changing others can be found at:

Changing others part two 

Rewards gone wild

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Two David Joel Miller Books are available now!

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Amazon Author Page – David Joel Miller

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For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.

They’re misbehaving – again

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

People fighting

Bad behavior.
Photo courtesy of pixabay

Lots of conversations are going on about kids and their behavior, for good reason.

We see some mighty atrocious behavior every day. Sometimes the poor behavior is by teens, other times it is by their parents. It would be easy to blame the kids acting up on their parents, but that isn’t always the case. Good parents sometimes have poorly behaved children, and when that happens the parents start asking about how do I get my kids to behave. Just for the record, there is also a connection between children’s behavior and resiliency later in life.

Studies of resiliency – that ability to bounce back from trials or not be harmed by them report that relationships, especially with parents, have a big influence on future resiliency. One sometimes overlooked part of this parental influence is the way parents use discipline. Now don’t get excited just yet. The researchers use the word discipline in a different way that a lot of other people do. By discipline, they don’t just mean punishment. They also mean rewards and praise and all the things you do to tell the child when they are doing the right thing.

One analogy is that you don’t shape a garden plant only by pruning. You need to do some staking and directing in the way you want the plant to grow. Some adults think the way to make a child fit the mold they envision for them is to break them into pieces and then pour the parts into the mold. This does not work. It inspires resistance and rebellion and in the more severe cases becomes downright abusive. We might think of discipline more like sanding down the rough edges of a child’s personality so they are more socially acceptable. There are certain natural tendencies; some kids are more active than others, some like licorice etc. You can’t train all the personality out of a child. But then who would want to?

Now some parents think the way to have a good relationship with their child is to let the child do pretty much what the child wants. This does not generally make for a good relationship. Kids who have no or minimal rules don’t learn to follow what they are told. In short, the parents have no control over the child.  You might think this would lead to the child having more control over them but in most cases, it results in just the opposite. As adults, these people often say they are afraid they will not be able to control themselves. If your parent could not control you maybe you are uncontrollable. Kids need limits and structure so they will learn to stay inside the limits. They need parents to teach them how to control themselves and make good decisions. Kids need parents to teach them self-control.

Now one mistake new parents make is to try to teach lessons the child is not ready to learn. Coaches do not begin by teaching advanced skills, they start with the basics. In learning to play chess you are not taught multi-move openings – you start with how the pieces move. But parents often try to teach the proper use of silverware before they have taught the child not to climb on the table. This makes for upsetting dining out for the family and the people at the next booth.

Now the earlier you start training a child in good behavior the easier it is. I am not one who thinks that a person is ever too old to learn socially acceptable behavior but if you don’t teach it to your child someone else – like his parole agent, may need to step in and teach them.

One trap parents fall into is to yell, the worse the child gets the louder and longer the parent yells. This results in a condition called “parental deafness” this is similar to another medical syndrome called “married-man deafness syndrome” which I have written about elsewhere, only parental deafness develops at a much younger age. For a good description of “parental deafness,” you might want to check out “The Discipline Book” by Sears and Sears. They talk a lot about the way to teach a young child to behave. Most of the time I see older people, teens and even adults which were cheated out of their lessons on behavior at a young age and now need some remedial work on behaving.

So the conclusion is: Children who are taught socially acceptable behavior at a young age are more able to control their own behavior at a later point in their life. And good self-control is one factor in being able to recover from the bumps in life’s road.

In future blogs, I plan to write more about behavior, resiliency and what to do if you were absent the day these lessons were taught. We should also look at some of the things you can do if you are responsible for some remedial education on behavioral control. So what do you think about discipline, behavior and its relationship to resilience?

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Two David Joel Miller Books are available now!

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Amazon Author Page – David Joel Miller

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

Want the latest on news from recoveryland, the field of counseling, my writing projects, speaking and teaching? Please sign up for my newsletter at – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.