When our work began, our sole focus was of working with children with extreme problems of aggression and antisocial behavior (e.g., property destruction, fighting extensively with peers, stealing, fire setting). These children were referred for inpatient or outpatient treatment in services based on the severity of their impairment. Although most children met criteria for two or more psychiatric diagnoses, Conduct Disorder was the diagnosis leading to referral. We focused on eliminating problem behavior. developing prosocial behaviors and evaluating the extent to which our program had impact on child functioning at home, at school, and in the community.
While our work began with clinical populations, over the years demands increased to help families interested in help with the normal challenges of everyday child rearing. Consequently, we kept two tracks of work—parents of children referred clinically for treatment and parents who merely wanted help with the parenting challenges of everyday life.
Our parenting techniques draw from a broad area referred to as applied behavior analysis. That area includes decades of basic and applied research on changing behavior. Applications of the techniques we use, in various forms, have been applied extensively to a wide range of people (from toddlers to the elderly), special populations (amateur and professional athletes, the military), schools at all levels (preschool through university), business and industry (to improve safety and increase production) and in the community (to support conservation, less use of fossil fuel). The research underpinnings and applications of the techniques are described in the textbook, Behavior Modification in Applied Settings (see Books for Professionals).
Our focus has been on parenting and developing the child behaviors parents wish to develop. That has led us to work with teachers and schools because many child issues come up in that context. Yet, parents are in charge of the programs and our role is to help them be effective in address the concerns special for their children.
A key misconception about what we do is worth noting because it very much relates to the special features of the methods we use. The misconception is that our program is basically and indeed exclusively a reward program. We go so far as to say to parents (and professionals) that reward programs are likely to fail. In fact, most families who come to us have tried reward programs of various kinds and come to us because they are not working. Rewards, usually in the form of a very special form of praise, do play a role in our program. Yet, our techniques fall under the rubric of three broad categories: Antecedents, Behaviors, and Consequences. There are multiple techniques within each category. They work together and have as their goal having the child practice and engage in the desired behaviors repeatedly. In fact, if there were one key concept underlying our procedures, it would be repeated practice—both for parents and the child. The techniques foster practice and improvement and can lead to enduring changes.
The specific techniques we used are described in different levels of technicality. Two trade books (see Books for Parents) present the techniques simply to facilitate their direct application. The research in more technical detail is presented in the textbook I mentioned (see Books) and summaries of research in the articles that are available. And the techniques are covered in a treatment manual for health care professionals who want more detail about what is done in individual sessions with the parents.