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Family Matters: “The Well-Adjusted Child”

"The Right Fit”

When I was a young mom I read a book by Phil Quinn entitled "The Well-Adjusted Child".

The Well-Adjusted Child. Dr. Quinn had a less than ideal childhood, as he was subjected to severe physical and emotional abuse. His description of “The Right Fit” really helped at a time when I was confused about when to use positive discipline and when to just “let it go”.

He writes about three basic categories of acceptable and unacceptable behaviors: “No Behaviors”, “Maybe Behaviors”, and “Yes Behaviors”. He maintains that each type of behavior accomplishes a specific goal and requires a different amount of parental control.

No Behaviors: “No Behaviors” are the “non-negotiable” behaviors in a relationship. These acts are not tolerated under any circumstances, because they are the minimal standards of conduct required to protect and preserve relationships. In a family, non-negotiables like hitting, kicking or biting are acts that threaten the welfare of the family and its members. They are always Not OK. In this area, kids learn appropriate limits. For the welfare of all, these non-negotiables must be consistently enforced with a firm, but calm response from the parent. If a child hits you in anger, your response should be to immediately and calmly place the child in the time out spot for the appropriate number of minutes (1 minute for each year) with minimal engagement on your part. Later, when everyone is has had time to deescalate, a discussion about “family rules” is called for. In that discussion, a parent can reinforce that no matter what, the child is loved--but that “No Behaviors” will not be tolerated. As Jane Nelsen says, “I love you, but you must do as I say.”

Maybe Behaviors: “Maybe Behaviors” are the negotiable behaviors in a relationship. Negotiable behaviors include a wide range of family activities that are important, but not so vital that changes would threaten the welfare of the family. They are accepted standards of conduct, but can be flexible if there is an occasional exception to the rule. For instance, there may be routines for chores, bedtime, TV watching and so on, but on occasion those routines may not be followed. Perhaps the kids are permitted to watch the Superbowl, extending their bedtime. A child is recovering from the flu and doesn’t do his chores that week. In addition to common sense exceptions, kids may get good at negotiating changes to some of their rules and routines. This ability to negotiate helps kids learn assertiveness and decision-making skills. These behaviors are wonderful opportunities for kids to learn how to set priorities, make choices and live with the consequences of those choices. A child might beg to do her homework in the morning before school and find that there isn’t enough time to finish it. The natural consequence of turning in unfinished homework (and having an “unhappy” teacher) is a valuable lesson that can be much more effective than a parental lecture.

Yes Behaviors: “Yes Behaviors” are the ones which are almost always OK. They are simply a matter of personal choice or taste. Is it really so important that Joey has the red glass and not the blue one? To him it is! It takes a little more time to honor personal preferences, but it can be worth the trouble. This is the area where your child will learn self-expression. Building a positive self-image and positive self-esteem are essential for healthy development. Allowing a child to express her likes and dislikes helps her to develop her unique talents and abilities. When kids approach adolescence, understanding the need for self-expression can help you avoid many unnecessary conflicts. Save your “No’s” for the important stuff. “Yes Behaviors” are harmless to parents, but very important and of great benefit to the child.

Being as consistent as possible in your response to children’s behavior is crucial for the emotional health and development of your kids. Kids feel more secure and safe when they know the limits and when they know that enforcement of limits will be fair, dispassionate and consistent. A growing sense of trust and security will result in growing respect for parental authority. A healthy respect for adult authority is essential for children to live happy, productive lives in their families and in the world.

Source: “The Well-Adjusted Child”, by Dr. Phil Quinn

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