Coercive. Definition: Using force or threats to make someone do something.
This is the first in a series of blog posts to help parents change the number one parent-child interactional pattern that interferes with getting better compliance from your child.
Gerald Patterson a famous researcher on parent-child interaction popularized coercion theory to explain situations where parents were using verbal threats, physical intimidation, intense emotions, name-calling, putdowns, or other negative interactions with their child to get the child to comply to requests made of them.
These times of coercive parenting tend to occur often when a child is not complying with requests made of them by the parent. His research found that parents who resort to these types of behaviors actually increase the probability that their child will not comply with requests made of them in the future. In addition, coercive parenting is strongly linked with increased aggression, more mental health issues in the child, poor quality parent child relationship, and altered brain development.
Unfortunately, this pattern of interaction occurs frequently in many families. It is usually born of parental frustration, child noncompliance, and not knowing how to respond when a child does not do what is asked.
The pattern can be described in this way:
Step 1: Parent makes request of the child
Step 2: Child refuses the request (either actively or passively)
Step 3: Parent resorts to yelling, threatening, punishing, or physical interaction to force compliance.
Step 4: Child counter attacks (yells, tantrums, throws things, etc.)
Step 5: Parent escalates further or gives in
The steps in this sequence may repeat many times before they end.
Most parents often feel badly they lapse into this type of behavior with their child but are not sure what they could do instead. It will take time and a willingness to learn a new way of interacting with your child when they are noncompliant to help break this cycle.
Remember as the parents you are responsible for creating the emotional climate in your home. Allowing your child to dictate that climate gives the child way too much power for situations they do not have adequate skills for.
Here is an example of the coercive exchange.
Parent: "Billy, I need you to clean up your room"
Child: "I'm playing a game right now. I will do it later."
Parent: (slightly louder) "I am not going to tell you again. Get upstairs and clean up your room!"
Child: (now louder) "I'll do it when I'm done with my game!"
Parent: (even louder) "If you don't do it now I'm taking away your video games for the rest of the night."
Child: (exasperated) "Why are you being such a jerk? I said I will do it when I'm done!"
Parent: (now extremely upset, yelling) "That's it. I have had enough. Now you’ve lost your video games for the whole weekend."
Child: "I hate you!" (Throws game controller to the floor and storms out)
You can see in this example how when the parent escalated emotionally, their child tended to escalate emotionally as well. As a parent and child became more emotional, their critical thinking ability go out the window and they became reactive to one another.
In this example, it would not be unusual that the parent doesn't make the child clean the room, particularly if they feel guilty about how they responded to their child. In the end, the child avoids the unwanted task, which tends to reinforce the probability that this behavior will occur again in the future. This is why changing this pattern is so crucial for better parent-child interaction.
To stop this cycle of behavior a parent needs focus on reinforcing the behavior they want to see FIRST and then look at consequences for non compliance. Most parents do this in reverse order. They want to punish non-compliance FIRST and then reinforce positive behavior.
With the presence of often negative interaction patterns between child and parent, it is first necessary to rebuild positive emotions back into that relationship before focusing on compliance. This will be the focus in the next post.