Academic journal article International Journal of Psychology and Psychological Therapy

The Role of Cognitive Fusion in Impaired Parenting: An RFT Analysis

Academic journal article International Journal of Psychology and Psychological Therapy

The Role of Cognitive Fusion in Impaired Parenting: An RFT Analysis

Article excerpt

Question 1: What is the sound of one hand clapping?

Answer: The sound of one hand clapping is the sound of one hand clapping.

Question 2: What is the sound of one child misbehaving?

Answer: The sound of one child misbehaving is the sound of one child misbehaving.

Question 3: What is the sound of my child misbehaving?

Answer: The sound of "I can't control this child"; the sound of "I should be able to"; the sound of "I am a bad parent"; the sound of "I don't know what to do"; the sound of "I hate this child!"; the sound of "I shouldn't feel that way!"; the sound of my failure.

An Adapted Zen Koan for Parents

Social learning theorists posit that family interactions play an enormous role in developing and maintaining children's' behavioral competencies as well as difficulties. Behavioral parent-training interventions, in general, assume that parents' direct manipulation of environmental contingencies significantly impacts child outcomes. Most behavioral and cognitive-behavioral therapies for children incorporate explicitly defined roles for their parents. Some require that parents alter disciplinary practices purported to maintain problematic behaviors. Others cast them as members of a team that encourages and supports a child progressing through sometimes challenging treatments (e.g., March & Mulle, 1998). Treatment efforts aimed at changing parenting behaviors, such as those developed by Sheila Eyberg (PCIT; Foote, Eyberg, & Schuhmann, 1998), Carolyn Webster-Stratton (The Incredible Years; 1996) and Rex Forehand (Helping the Noncompliant Child; McMahon & Forehand, 2003) have demonstrated efficacy in improving young children's behavior problems, such as non-compliance, tantrumming, and aggression. Such behavioral parent training programs are often hailed as crowning achievements in the field.

Contemporary behavioral parenting interventions are based on a sizeable body of empirical study concerned with interactions between parents and their children. Micro-social behavioral models have focused on discrete, sequenced links of operant behavioral chains occurring between parent-child dyads. For example, the classic work of Patterson (1982) has defined maladaptive behavioral interactions as a coercive process. In this process, children and parents behave in an aversive, escalating, and circular exchange dictated by the probability of negative reinforcement. Such behavior also elicits similar rates and types of responding in other family members.

Recent studies suggest the importance of the family context in which such behaviors occur, for example, the relative reinforcement for other behaviors in addition to those perceived as aversive. Consistent with Herrnstein's matching law (1974), social learning data suggest that the rate of reinforcement a child receives for aggressive behavior in the context of reinforcement garnered by non-aggressive behavior predicts the frequency of aggressive acts. In other words, the relative functional value of a given response within an array of responses determines the frequency at which an individual engages in that response (Snyder & Patterson, 1995; Snyder & Stoolmiller, 2002). The methodology utilized in investigations of this sort, while innovative, may fail to fully describe the process by which parents may generate or impact antisocial behavior. This line of research, while illustrating apparently lawful relationships between parental reinforcement contingencies and child behavior, has been criticized for occurring "in a vacuum," without regard for broader or more varied contextual factors (Dumas, 1989). Although a skills-deficit may lie at the core of impaired parenting, one might also consider why it is that such deficits exist, in what contexts they tend to occur, and how those contexts might be manipulated to effect meaningful and pervasive changes.

TOWARDS A FUNCTIONAL CONTEXTUALIST MODEL OF PARENTING

What exactly is "context"? …

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