Parenting Bookshelf: Choice Parenting by Richard Primason, Ph.D.
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Does this mean that there are no consequences for a child’s misbehavior? Not at all. But the major consequence for the child should be a serious conversation with his parents about the problem. “My biggest discovery,” Dr. Primason told me, “is that parents underestimate how powerful their relationship is with their child. They resort to control because they don’t trust how much their child needs to belong and feel accepted in the family.”
Dr. Primason trained with Dr. William Glasser and was impressed with the application of choice theory, but early in his career, he was known primarily as a behaviorist. Other clinicians would refer difficult child behavior problems to him because Dr. Primason was successful at developing behavior modification systems, “specific technical methods to help parents gain greater control over their children's behavior.” However, over time he realized, “that the potent part of what was working was the improved communication with the parents, the working together…So now I’m a different kind of behaviorist.”
In his private practice, Dr. Primason consults with parents and sees kids (over age 8) with very tough behavior problems and atypical temperaments. The parents are usually at their wits’ end. When he first met the Pattons, mentioned earlier, they’d been relying on threats and rewards to get Tim to do his homework. Tim was doing the minimum, and poorly. After an initial consultation, Dr. Primason told Tim’s mother that she could not force him to do his homework, it had to be up to him. Dr. Primason then talked to Tim and learned that he wanted to be successful in school, but felt he was under too much pressure. So together they worked out a plan: Tim felt he could do half of his homework, and his parents were to back off; however they were entitled to know his plan and check to see that he was accomplishing it. If his plan was not carried out, his parents would have an evaluative conversation with him and they’d have to reformulate the plan. Before long, however, Tim was doing all his homework on his own, and doing it well.
In Westchester, Dr. Primason has observed that “many well-meaning parents tend to be too controlling and involved in their children’s homework, leisure activities, and in all details of a child’s life. It’s important to let the kid go out and have a life of his own.” Kids need to take responsibility for their own behavior.
Dr. Primason uses Choice Parenting techniques with his own two sons, ages 13 and 17, and reports that it’s been pretty successful. The technique can be used not only with children, but in all relationships. In fact, Dr. Primason and colleagues also consult with businesses to help organizations improve teamwork and leadership.
In Choice Parenting, Dr. Primason compares parenting strategies with the work of sculptors and gardeners. Sculptors try to shape the stone into a picture they have in their mind by chipping away at it, i.e. control psychology. Gardeners also have a picture in their minds, but know there are elements out of their control; they can only choose the location, cultivate the soil and nurture the plants. Dr. Primason encourages parents to be gardeners rather than sculptors, “Work hard to provide the best conditions for your child’s growth, but understand that you can’t determine the shape of his life.” Staying connected is the most important thing.
Dr. Primason holds a monthly parents’ meeting at Java Babies in Hastings-on-Hudson where a topical subject and Choice Parenting techniques are discussed. Usually held the first Monday of the month, the free meetings are open to all. To learn more about Choice Psychology or the parenting meetings, call (914) 478-2146 or visit www.choicepsychology.com.
*names changed for confidentiality