Training parents to turn naughty kids into angels can be the difference between offspring getting a job or going to jail, says a visiting professor who specialises in antisocial behaviour in children.
"Sadly for the pharmaceutical companies, there is no medication for antisocial behaviour," Professor Stephen Scott said.
Instead, giving parents the right tools to deal with challenging children was the best way to overcome bad behaviour.
Prof Scott, from the institute of psychiatry at King's College London, is in Wellington this week for the annual Chad Buckle Fellowship lectures.
The lectures and workshops are held in commemoration of Chad Buckle, who suffered from paranoid schizophrenia and was found dead, aged 26, after leaving Wellington Hospital's acute inpatient unit unnoticed in 2003.
His family successfully sued Capital & Coast District Health Board for negligence and the fellowship was a condition of the settlement. The first was held in 2008 and gives local mental health workers the chance to learn from the best in the field.
Prof Scott said he was generally impressed with New Zealand's child and adolescent mental health services, but it could do more to arm parents with skills to combat antisocial behaviour in children.
"They're not fashionable, they're not liked, they're rather shameful if you're a parent of a kid who's lying, stealing or fighting. They often get rather poor services because they're often seen as naughty or bad as a character fault."
But putting such children in a corner and ignoring the problem was not helpful to society. It was also expensive.
A New Zealand study found children with antisocial behaviour were between five and 10 times more at risk of being violent, having a criminal record, misusing drugs, teen pregnancy, leaving school without a qualification and living on a benefit, he said.
"By 20, these kids cost something like $500,000 more than well-behaved kids. The greatest part of that is justice but also education - psychologists, school exclusions..."
Universal parent training was unnecessary, but targeting parents who needed help would make a difference, he said.
Instead of grounding a child for a month, or banning them from watching television for a week, parents should make punishment immediate and short, Prof Scott says.
So if they're playing with the peas on their plate, ask them to eat nicely. If they do, make sure you acknowledge that. If they don't, send them from the room for five minutes.
Children want attention from their parents. This desire will see them behave in a way to catch their eye, even if it means getting growled at.
So parents should engage with their child more - such as playing with them for 10 minutes a day - and praise them.
Asking children to do something, rather than just yelling at them to stop, and then rewarding them for good behaviour is also useful in curbing bad behaviour.
- © Fairfax NZ News