Thursday, November 12, 2009

Interview: Dr. Cary Chugh, author of Don't Swear With Your Mouth Full! [Part 2]

This is part two of a two-part interview with Dr. Cary Chugh, author of Don't Swear with Your Mouth Full! When Conventional Discipline Fails Unconventional ChildrenClick here for part one, or here for my original review of the book.

Your ideas seem to include a lot of common sense and are based on existing research--so why is it that so many parents and so-called experts get it wrong?

It’s not really fair to say the older approaches to discipline were entirely wrong. It’s more accurate to say that the status quo is partially correct. I never intended to write a book in the first place. I was trying to figure out a way to make behavior plans more efficient, to “build a better mousetrap,” so to speak. Ironically, I used the same research that spawned the conventional approaches to point out the flaws contained therein. I look at my contribution to the field of behavior modification as an extension of the behavioral model, not as a replacement. I think people will read these new ideas and have a similar reaction that you did, namely, “Why didn’t we think of this before?” And it is my hope that once behavior-limited discipline becomes the new status quo, the next generation of psychologists will take my innovations even further.

In the book, we're cautioned to avoid "control activities," such as assigning a chore if we're trying to make sure children learn something from discipline.  Is there appropriate use for this, i.e. you made a mess so you'll help clean it up?

The argument against using control tactics with children is that this mentality flies in the face of our overarching goal for them - teach them to develop self-control. My re-interpretation of basic behavioral research suggests that ending a punishment based on a predetermined length of time creates all sorts of problems for both the child and the adult. Ending a punishment after the child completes some type of corrective activity not only feeds into the child’s need for control, but also requires them to strengthen a better alternative behavior. Having a child clean up his mess is a fine first step for choosing a corrective activity, but that alone doesn’t teach the child how to use his materials any better in the future. We try to select corrective activities that fix the mess and impart a new skill. For example, if a child makes a mess with his desk supplies, that child would not be able to progress to the next activity until his work space was cleaned and he was able to practice the appropriate use of his supplies for the teacher or class. The next time, the teacher might not let the same child start his activity until he first practiced the “right way” to use his materials.

How can we get teachers and schools to embrace more behavior-limited punishments?  I think most traditional public school teachers are in an environment where time-limited punishments are the only way things are done.

That’s true and it’s a major problem. Think about your friends who got regularly got detention in high school. They came back the next day laughing about it. And the students who didn’t get in trouble never needed detention in the first place. In other words, time-limited punishments work great for the kids who don’t really need it! However, in elementary school, teachers use behavior-limited punishments all the time without really appreciating what they’re doing. If a kindergartner runs down the hallway, rarely does that child get put in time-out or have to write his name on the board. Most teachers simply stop all of the child’s activities until he can go back to the classroom and “walk down the hallway like a big boy.” The best time to impart a new school or strengthen a better behavior is when the adult sees the unwanted behavior. There is no need to wait until tomorrow to give the child another crack at demonstrated what is expected of him. Because we didn’t really grasp the dual nature of punishments before my work in this area, teachers (and parents) didn’t understand how to make punishments more effective for older kids. Now we do and that is why I am working hard to get the word out, not just with interviews like this one, but by initiating research with schools in my area to start spreading the word!

I drew a lot of parallels between your book and Teaching With Love and Logic by Jim Fay & David Funk, which I have been recommending to teachers for years.  What are the differences in your approach?

Again, I am prefer to look at my approach as an extension of the behavioral model. I actually like a lot of what Teaching with Love and Logic has to offer. The spirit of giving children more control over their own fate is something we share. However, like so many other good books out there, Love and Logic falls into the same traps when it comes to giving the child a consequence for their failure to comply. While they talk about giving the kids choices before a punishment is given, they offer kids no control after the punishment is given. We only punish to create motivation. So if we take a privilege away for the day, what if the child is motivated after 10 minutes without the privilege? They find their own use for the motivation, usually in the form of a meltdown. But what if they needed two days without the privilege to be properly motivated? Then they got the privilege back too soon. There is no way to predict how long a consequence has to be in effect before the child is sufficiently motivated and yet virtually every other book on the subject, even if they talk about giving the child control, advocates for these kinds of interventions that pit the child versus the adult. Don't Swear with Your Mouth Full! is unique in that it offers an approach that is completely based on basic research and makes the most efficient use of child’s new found motivation.

Click here to learn about a chance to win a copy of the book!

Related Posts:

Part one of the interview with Dr. Chugh
My review of the book