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Divisions between behaviour management and therapy: Towards new directions of authority in Child and Youth Care

Jim Vanderwoerd

I would suggest that a key element in assessing our behavior management techniques is the degree to which we treat children with respect. Diana Baumrind (1966) seemed to touch on the idea of respect in her investigation into different parenting styles. She identified three types of parents: permissive, authoritative, and authoritarian. Permissive parents tended to give up their authority over their children. They provided few or no controls, and very little predictability or security. While they may have attempted to respect their children’s autonomy, they did not recognize their children’s need for guidance and direction. Authoritative parents recognized their children’s autonomy, and allowed them the opportunity to explore and test their environment under the safe, predictable structures which the parents provided. When disciplining their children, authoritative parents provided logical and meaningful explanations to their children, and related consequences to their children’s behavior. Finally, authoritarian parents tended to offer no explanation when punishment was dealt out.

Eleanor Maccoby (1980) found that children of authoritarian parents tended to have low self-esteem, lacked empathy, were unable to internalize moral standards, lacked independence, and were weak in establishing positive peer relationships (p. 384). Assuming that most of these children were ‘normal,’ we can imagine the even greater difficulties for emotionally disturbed children. They experience adults as scary, unpredictable, and harsh, and they expect all adults to be this way. Our job as child care workers is to rebuild their concept of adults – and of the world – as secure, predictable, and controllable. We do this not by demanding compliance, but by showing respect for their ‘personhood.’ However, we also need to provide firm and fair boundaries, to provide safety and security, and to communicate respect.

If we truly respect children, then our authority will not be such that it maintains a permanent dominant relationship. Jean Baker Miller (1976) described dominance occurring in two forms. The first is permanent dominance, in which authority maintains the inequality in the relationship, and encourages continual patterns of dominance and submission in other relationships. In other words, if our authority encourages permanent dominance over children, then we not only harm them in our specific relationship, but also cement in place a long-lasting characteristic of submission which children will carry with them beyond their time with us. Children may grow to resent authority, and see themselves as hopelessly confined to unchanging patterns of dominance by others.

A second way to look at dominance is to consider it as a temporary state. Here, our authority is legitimized by a variety of factors, such as age, position, greater experience, greater knowledge, or whatever. This in no way assumes that our authority makes us superior over another. Rather, it gives us a responsibility to those over whom we have authority. Our task is to use our authority to encourage the growth and development of another toward the goal of their eventually acquiring equality. We must seek through our authority to eliminate dominance, and thereby teach children how to operate from a position of equality with others.

When we arbitrarily control children, we do not allow them the opportunity to grow and change. Our behavior management techniques must allow children to experience our external controls and limits as fair and respectful. It is sometimes said that our job is ‘to work ourselves out of a job.’ Using our authority to encourage eventual equality is one way of doing this.

Baumrind, D. (1966). Effects of authoritative parental control on child behavior. Child Development, 37, 887—907.

Maccoby, E. (1980). Social development: Psychological growth and the parent-child relationship. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanvich.

Miller, J. B. (1986). Towards a new psychology of women (2nd ed.) Boston: Beacon Press

Vanderwoerd, J. (1991) Divisions between behaviour management and therapy: Towards new directions of authority in Child and Youth Care. Journal of Child and Youth Care. Vol. 5 No.1 pp. 39-40

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