Effective parenting often boils down to effective communication, parenting specialists from Utah Youth Village told foster parents, adoptive parents and professionals attending the Utah Adoption Council's annual conference Wednesday.
Punishment may stop the behavior, but it doesn’t teach the child what to do instead. —Denise Kimber

SANDY — When a child misbehaves, parents want the behavior to stop. Immediately.

So they tell their children things like “Don’t do that!” or they level a consequence.

“Punishment may stop the behavior, but it doesn’t teach the child what to do instead,” says Denise Kimber of Utah Youth Village.

Kimber and Jeanette Sayers teach parents skills to change the behaviors of troubled children through the nonprofit organization’s Family First program.

They conduct intensive in-home interventions, spending eight to 10 hours a week in a family’s home teaching parents to change their child’s destructive behaviors and to maintain discipline without anger or violence.

On Wednesday, Kimber and Sayers shared some of those skills with adoptive parents, foster parents and professionals attending the Utah Adoption Council’s annual conference at the South Towne Exposition Center. The conference concludes Thursday.

“The reality is you are the experienced parents. We’re like Home Depot. We’re going to give you the tools, and you’ll use them,” Sayers said.

Kimber, who is a mother, stepmother and grandmother, said children as young as 3 understand consequences.

“One of our goals as parents is to give children messages they understand,” she said.

For instance, when a parent takes a young child to the grocery store, they need to communicate their expectations.

Telling the child he needs to "be good" is too vague.

"'Good' to a 30-year-old mother is not the same as 'good' to a 3-year-old kid,” Kimber said.

It’s more productive to explain that “good” means no yelling, no hitting or no screaming for candy.

When children misbehave, there should be negative consequences. But when their behavior is appropriate, they should be rewarded with positive consequences, Sayers said.

Examples of negative consequences are requiring a child to do additional chores such as wiping the baseboards or sweeping the kitchen floor.

Positive consequences, meanwhile, could include allowing the child to select what movie the family watches, choose their own outfit or pick a place to eat.

Whether consequences are positive or negative, they need to be implemented immediately and consistently, and the consequence has to mean something to the child, Sayers said.

Kimber said mothers and fathers who level only negative consequences teach their children to avoid them as parents.

“When you punish a lot, you become a negative consequence on your own,” she said.

For families that do not require intensive interventions, Utah Youth Village offers monthly parenting classes.

In a few months, the nonprofit plans to roll out an interactive website that will provide many of the techniques family specialists teach parents through the Families First program, Sayers said.

"We're experts with the skills," Kimber said. "But I also tell parents they're the experts of their families."