Psychological Self-Help

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Their own growing anger should be a warning to them. These parents are
often isolated from other adults and have a passive, ungiving partner. They
often don't like themselves and feel depressed. They may have impossible
expectations of their children, e.g. that a 16-month-old will stop dirtying his
diaper, that a 13-month-old will stop crying when the parent demands it, and
so on. They often see the child as bad or willful or nasty and mean or
constantly demanding or angrily defiant. They may have strong urges to hurt
the child and have previously acted on those urges to some extent. They are
often in a crisis--a fight with the spouse, have recently been fired, or can't
pay the bills. If a parent is being battered, the child is also at risk, especially a
If you have such a background and find yourself in several of these
conditions, try to become more and more aware of your potential of becoming
abusive and be especially cautious. Start reducing your frustrations; make it a
self-help project to find ways to get away or to understand the child and
control your anger (see the last section of this chapter and chapter 12). On
the other hand, don't immediately over-react and panic--you aren't an awful
parent--just because the kids bother you and you end up spanking them
(without any injury). It is better if you never hit a child, but a rare moderate
spanking isn't awful. Abuse is much more violent and harsher than discipline
(see chapter 9); psychological and physical harm happens when you are "in a
rage and out of control." Remember, too, that anger expressed in the form of
psychological abuse or criticism or neglect ("I hate you," "I wish you had
never been born," "you're stupid", "I don't want to see your face again") may
also be very damaging (Garbarino, Guttmann, & Seeley, 1987) and has to be
Whether you were abused as a child or not, as soon as you admit to
yourself that you are close to abusing your children, start right away the long
process of healing yourself and, please, seriously consider getting therapy
(Sanders & DeVargas-Walker, 1987). I want to reassure you that a few
research centers have carefully researched treatment methods for “troubled
kids” who are violent, oppositional, defiant and seemingly headed for
delinquency and trouble in school or with the law. These treatments are
science-based or “evidence-based” and have been taught to many
psychologists in large child treatment center around the country. Three
programs are noteworthy: 
(1) Parent Management Training at Yale University
(, under the leadership of Alan Kazdin, has
been evaluated over 50 times for children between 2 and 13. It is effective.
The approach is to train the parents to use rewards and punishment in
carefully controlled steps. 
(2) The Incredible Years program is for parents of 2 to 8-year-olds at
the University of Washington ( Dr. Carolyn
Webster-Stratton has supported seven outcome studies over the last 20
years. Parents attend 12 training sessions based on videos about anger,
conversational skills, and appropriate behavior in school. The research
indicated that the parent-child relationships got better, the child’s behavior
improved at home and at school, and the parents used less violent discipline.
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