Alan Kazdin, PhD, ABPP, is Sterling Professor of Psychology and Child Psychiatry at Yale University and teaches the new course, Everyday Parenting: the ABCs of Child Rearing, on Coursera. We got the chance to chat with Professor Kazdin about his course and parenting today.
What are some emerging trends among today’s generation of parents?
There are a lot! This is very relevant to the course. First off, there are more children than ever before being raised in the US by a single parent. In fact, it is 41 percent. There has also been an increase in homes with two working parents. One more trend is that there are more homes today with a grandparent living with the family, about five percent. What all of this means is that these factors can increase the stress within the family compared to what things were a generation or so ago. Stress in the family is reflected in a little less quantity of time and a little less quality time with the child. Both of those CAN make a huge difference in child behavior. The ways around this are covered in my new course, such as how to change the atmosphere in a positive way by having more routines and rituals in the family, promoting good communication in concrete ways, building positive family connections, promoting good social behavior, and creating a household that is characterized by flexible rather than rigid rules. These are just a few of the recommendations that we cover in the course.
What are a few of the main takeaways you hope learners gain from your course?
Every parent has very powerful techniques available to them, which they may not be using. These include modeling, praising a child, and understanding the fact that knowing something is not the same as doing it and doing something regularly. This is a source of frustration in all kinds of relationships, but especially so for all of us as parents. Parents already have these tools in their repertoire and this course just helps bring those out.
What tips do you have for parents as the presence of technology and social media in our society continues to grow?
The key is to monitor what the child is doing. The main negative influences in this area are cyberbullying, decreased socialization, and exposure to things of which the parents are totally unaware. In many situations, the children are much more computer savvy than the parents, so they can make sure there is no way of checking what he or she has been doing. The key to all of this is monitoring what the child is doing and limiting screen time. It is a hard thing to do, though, because so much homework and other activities are based on the computer. Apart from monitoring, it is great when the parent spends some time sitting at the computer with the child doing something together. Perhaps they can pursue a new interest or play some games, but it is important to get involved so that it is not just the child on the computer by him or herself.
What are some tips for parents as back to school approaches?
Establish routines as quickly as possible. If tension is likely to occur, for example while getting the child out of the door in the morning, I would encourage the parent to practice beginning that routine a couple of days before school starts and make it a fun game. More than anything though, try to minimize child stress. This stress can increase the child’s noncompliance, which can also turn into noncompliance at school.
Have the techniques recommended in your course been tested in the real world?
Yes, thousands of people have been using them for many years. Recommendations in the course have been There’s nothing in the course that hasn’t been used many times and researched. This course is not isn’t just another wrinkled professor in a tweed outfit telling you what to do. We have research to back this content in addition to having applied it endlessly to real families and scenarios. We also go one step further and give research-based troubleshooting tips on what to do if certain techniques are not aren’t working because the same thing does not doesn’t work for everyone.
How can parenting skills covered in the course transfer to other areas of learners’ lives?
In this course, we take the science of changing human behavior and interactions and apply it to parenting, but it is not really about parenting. The science applies to situations in which people are interested in changing human behavior. For example, these techniques are effective for teachers in the classroom setting. The techniques, once learned, can be applied in many different ways. In fact, they have been used by the military, professional teams for athletics and amateur college teams, toddlers in preschool, and the elderly. Each of these populations have profited from the use and variations of the interventions. Although the focus of the course is on parenting, we joke in the course that the techniques can even be used to change something in your spouse or partner.
If you have one message to convey about the course, what would that be?
The course is designed to provide tools for parents. If one’s parenting is going well and parents are satisfied with how and what the child is doing, there may be no need to go to the toolkit to use the techniques we describe. On the other hand, if some of the strategies are not working such as appeals to reason, the usual punishments that we as parents often do, and the goals you wish are just not evident such as having your child get ready for school, completing homework, interacting more positively with siblings and peers, the tools can be very useful and at the same time make childrearing easier.1