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By Ray Levy, Ph.D.
Remember, big behavior changes are a conglomeration of smaller changes and don't occur without those building blocks. In the earlier example of Ryan violating his curfew, what could his mother have done differently? First, she should continue to ground him for violating curfew. Reinforcing small changes does not mean allowing misbehavior to slide. Second, she could have noted the small changes that he exhibited, such as, taking the cell phone with him, having his girlfriend answer it, or coming in 1½ hours late instead of his usual 2½ hours late. Acknowledging any or all of these steps towards better behavior would have amounted in continued, but slow, improvement with Ryan instead of his abject resentment and demoralization.
While improved behavior doesn't occur instantly, we often inadvertently discourage it by not noting small changes. By setting the bar lower, and raising it consistently over time, we are much more likely to get better behavior from our obstinate youngsters.
Finally, as far as Michael calling me a "diaper-head," I've been called worse.
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