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Well Behaved Children? It’s a SNAP!

A life filled with friends, family and prosperity are gifts every parent wants for their child. One of the many roles parents take on is to teach their children how to assume responsibility as functioning adults: to take disappointment calmly, care about others and demonstrate self-control. ‘Relationships’ could be the fourth ‘R’ after Reading, ‘Riting, and ‘Rithmetic. One tried and true method that helps your child grow into a caring, responsible adult focuses on developing good behaviors and relationship skills: SNAP.

I teach this method in a skills-building workshop where parents of difficult children learn to apply the principles defined by Dr. Jacob Azerrad, the author of the accessible From Difficult to Delightful in Just 30 Days. These tools help parents reframe how they view their children’s behaviors. Consequently, parents react to these problematic behaviors in a more productive manner.

For instance, parents are taught SNAP, which involves:

S - Seeing their children’s behaviors with new eyes and logging them.

N - Noting those behaviors briefly to the child, and then

A - Acknowledging those behaviors with the appropriate

P - Praise and reward.

For example, a mother observes (Seeing) her older child sharing a toy with his younger sister and realizes this is a behavior she wishes to encourage. It is an excellent example of ‘caring for others.’ She briefly comments to the child (Noting) that it is very grown up to share his toys. Later in the day, in a one-on-one setting, the mother reminds the child of the incident (Acknowledging) by describing it to him as she saw it. She might say, “Earlier today, I noticed that you shared your toy with your sister; that is very grown up. You are a big boy.” Then immediately following that comment, the mother spends some ‘special time’ (Praise/Reward) with the boy doing something that she knows he especially enjoys such as reading his favorite story or assembling a puzzle.

This positive reinforcement at the time of the behavior and then the reminder followed by praise and reward helps develop the desired behaviors in our children. Since all children want to grow up to be ‘big boys’ and ‘big girls,’ linking their behaviors to being grown up helps to ensure that the behaviors will continue.

One set of parents commented that it was “so much more rewarding to see them (the children) strive to be good and feel proud of themselves rather than having constant negative discipline and having them feel badly.”

As parents, our job is to redefine ‘grown up,’ which means managing difficult feelings and handling disappointment calmly. Other child-rearing authors talk about the parent as nurturer and/or therapist. Nurturing children after a tantrum, biting or other unacceptable behavior will guarantee that the child will do it again to get a parent’s attention.

What about when the child exhibits behavior that must be stopped immediately? For those situations, we pay special attention to the correct use of ‘time out’ since it is an often misused and misunderstood concept. It is not a time for calming the child; it is not a time for the child to be reflective. A real time-out is total nothingness for three to four minutes, regardless of age. The child cannot have anything to look at, play with and, most importantly, the child cannot have any parental involvement. Remember a child craves your attention, so even yelling is preferable to no interaction at all.

Parents need to be taught that their primary job is to communicate that caring, thoughtfulness and handling disappointment calmly are basic elements of maturity. In other words, they must help the child grow up.

Joan is an independent Human Resources consultant with a specialty in legal compliance who for many years, while she was raising her own children, was approved for foster care for adolescents in crisis. She can be reached at 1-781-273-0248 or by visiting


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