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Posts Tagged ‘Discipline and children’

Positive Solutions for Discipline

Guest Post
by Patricia Zauflik, M.Ed

Knowing your child’s abilities and limitations is extremely important. Expecting too much or too little can be frustrating for you and your child, so try to keep your expectations realistic! Use logical consequences when disciplining your children. Logical consequences are an alternative to punishment, and they need to be practical and consistently enforced. These consequences help children learn how they are expected to behave. For example, you might remove an item a child throws at a sibling, or if two siblings are fighting, you could send them to separate rooms to play. The children lose the privilege of playing with an item or with each other!

Try to plan ahead and anticipate what your children may do or need in various situations. Plan to set your children up for a successful experience. Hope for the best, but always have a backup plan. Boy

Most children are not born with a built-in ability to make decisions and accept the consequences. Learning to take responsibility for their actions requires lots of support and practice. A good way to help your children develop these skills is to offer limited, reasonable choices throughout the day, such as when your children are dressing, having a bath, eating snacks, watching TV, cleaning up and getting ready for bedtime. For example, you could ask, “Do you want to wear the red shirt or blue shirt to school tomorrow?” or “Do you want one minute or two minutes to finish playing before getting ready for your bath?”

Another strategy is to use first-then statements. A first-then statement tells your children what they need to do before doing something that they want to do. For example, you might say, “First put on your shoes, and then you can go outside,” or “First clean up your toys, and then you can have a snack.”

Redirection can also provide guidance to children and prevent them from misbehaving. By interrupting a challenging behavior and physically or verbally redirecting your child to another activity, you can engage your child in a more appropriate practice. For example, if your child is playing in the sink and splashing water all over the bathroom, you may choose to gently move the child away from the sink and toward the toys in your child’s room, or you could verbally distract the child and provide an alternate activity. For example, you might say, “Let’s go upstairs and read one of your new library books.”

Remember to give your child specific, positive attention for the behaviors you want to see and teach your child what to do!

Sometimes Limits Are Hard to Maintain

Dr. Kyle Pruett ADespite that importance of limits, parents sometimes have trouble setting and maintaining them.  Part of the problem stems, no doubt, from the changes in today’s family structures and lifestyles.  Some common issues:

  • I don’t want to be the ogre:  Parents who are unable to spend much time with their children (because of work, separation, or divorce, for example) may be concerned about how they are view by their children in the limited time they have together.  Anxious not to be the “Wicked Witch of the West,” they cave more easily and often.  But children are relentless in their search for limits since, at this age, they can’t set their own.  The result of the caving is more testing, rather than less.  Better an occasional stand-your-ground action than a non-stop war of attrition.  With limits, children – and the limited time parents have with them – will be much happier.  The bonds between parent and child also will be stronger.
  • I’m too tired:  This is a common problem of working parents.  They come home after a long day, looking forward to some pleasant time with the family, and, boom, they get hit with whines and cries.  Caving again may seem the quickest route to peace.  And, in the short term, it might be.  But it only increases the frequency of testing.  Once again, standing firm for important limits will make those pleasant evenings the norm, not the exception.
  • Giving in is a treat for the child:  It isn’t.  Freedom in life is a treat for us grownups because we have, in general, mastered the self-control needed to use it properly.  A toddler hasn’t.  Limits are the controls that make his life safe, secure, and happy.  Don’t deny him these essentials.

Ask the Expert: When Should Parents Start ‘Teaching’ Discipline?

A recent ‘Ask the Expert’ question to The Goddard School Blog reads, ‘Everyone at our house knows that ‘discipline by distraction’ works well for very young children. At what point should we start  actively teaching boundaries and appropriate behavior? Is 20 months too late to start the process? At what age can that kind of gentle discipline start to become effective?’

All children–and parents–are unique, so I have no clue what age would be best for any particular child-parent pair to start a system of discipline. All I can discuss are ranges when developmental agendas are unfolding and try to give you some heads-ups.

Between 18-36 months, so much happens developmentally that it’s easy to lose sight of the objective. The long-term goal here is cultivating self-control in the child, not parental control of the child. Through your words and your own behavior during this period, you are teaching the basics of judgment and control that will work not only when you are present, but hopefully when you are not, as in those teen years.

Before shame and guilt show up, discipline by distraction is your best hope.  Shame and guilt are critical partners in disciplining children and they develop late in the second year for most kids.  Shame arises when a toddler gets an unexpected, negative reaction to something he/she has done from someone he/she loves. He/she feels instantly deflated and may or may not blush, but he/she clearly registers a negative physical reaction to this interaction. This reaction doesn’t exist earlier because the brain has only just now developed the complex connections between words, behavior and emotions.

What you do next will help the child learn over time that his negative behavior violates your important standards for his well-being, and that there are ways to avoid guilt, which is the primary consequence of shame and hurts just as much. Therefore, once that shame reaction starts, it’s worth adding a firm but simple “No, we don’t jump on the coffee table.” The toddler’s increasing memory skills are sometimes  helping him to remember that even when the coffee table leap looks like fun, the grown-ups don’t like that behavior.

Your consistent, firm,  low-key and brief repetition of the same words and actions in response to his dangerous or uncooperative behavior enable your child to begin to feel emotional distress (shame and guilt) when he breaks those rules. His desire to please you is something to rely on, but not to manipulate. After about18 months of this kind of interaction, your child will show the beginning of a sense of right and wrong. Voila! A conscience starts to emerge just in the nick of time (about pre-K).

Our kids aren’t the only ones feeling shame and guilt. How we manage those emotions in ourselves is related to our own personal character and temperament. Periodically reassess the fit between you and your child’s temperamental styles enough to stay in sync so that you don’t feel you are ‘constantly battling.’ Laid-back kids are often confused by feisty caretakers, just as shy parents are flustered by feisty kids. One solution is to do more tag-teaming with the parent or grandparent that seems to be less ‘undone’ by the challenging behavior during this stage. Now you know why there are quotes around ‘teaching’ in the title.  Remember, it DOES get better.

Additional guidance is from Chapter 8 of Dr. Pruett’s Me, Myself and I: How Children Build Their Sense of Self: 18-36 Months, Goddard Press.

Temper Tantrums: The Parental Armageddon

It’s a universally recognizable scenario which qualifies as the Armageddon of parenthood. A red face; ear piercing, soul scratching, vocal cord hemorrhaging screams and body thrashing – all characteristics of the temper tantrum. As a father of four, and grandfather, I’ve seen hundreds of temper tantrums. Each and every one has left me feeling more or less spent, not to mention saddened as a parent. Where do they come from and what can be done about them? During the holiday season, when they tend to peak, it seems timely to review what might be helpful.

The most common age for this behavior is between 3 ½ and 4 ½ years – the twelve to eighteen months before they start kindergarten. Tantrums seem to cluster around those moments when your children – and often you – are hungry, tired, scurrying about, running late and/or stressed out. It’s important to remember that they don’t usually ‘come out of nowhere’ – they tend to be a last straw for your child. Developmentally, they occur when children are struggling to manage their bodies (often having just finished toilet training) and their emotions (aggression, frustration).

My colleagues at Yale’s Parenting Center have been looking at temper tantrum management for years and are on the right track from my view point. They have highlighted the single most critical component of the parent/child temper tantrum interaction – the parental tendency to equal the child’s emotional intensity. This is not helpful. Your child is almost completely unaware of the storm he/she’s making, so when you leap in emotionally and physically charged ‘to get your child’s attention and stop this,’ your child ‘reacts’ to your intensity and escalation is the name of the game.

Their advice (with which I concur):

  • Forget punishment and yelling. It could terrify or confuse your child, often has no relevance to their distress given their immature sense of cause and effect, and only briefly satisfies your need to be in control.
  • Stay calm. Count to ten, turn away briefly, bite your lip, and above all – breathe – this way you won’t fuel the fire and it allows you and your child to recover more quickly.
  • Ignore the negative behavior. This de-escalates the tantrum faster than any other single thing a parent can do.
  • Turn your attention to praising the next ‘good thing’ your child does. Be very specific about what you appreciate and why, be sincere in your tone and behavior, and look them in the eye.

After a few weeks of these tactics, you’ll notice the tantruming is less frequent and less severe. One day you’ll look back and say, ‘Wow, it’s been months since the last meltdown.’


Managing an Infraction

Keep it short and simple.  About six to eight words is the upper limit here, and don’t repeat it endlessly, as it means less every time you say it.

Move in sooner rather than later as the excitement of the act itself starts to take over and the child can no longer hear what she might have heard a minute or two before.  Don’t give more than two warnings before you move in to resolve the situation.

Label the child’s feeling or wish:  “I know it’s so hard to wait,” or “That made you so angry.”

Follow with what you expect:  “We don’t hurt people here,” or “Screaming won’t help me know what you need,” or “I will help you calm down.”

Conclude with a solution, joint when possible:  “Is book time a good idea?”  or “Would ‘softie’ help you settle down?” or “How can we fix this?”

Always remember to count to 10.  It actually works.

If needed, punishment tactics that have proven their worth over the years are:

  • Timeouts
  • Physical Removal
  • Immobilization (for short periods – a few seconds)

When an Older Sibling Acts Out

If your older child is acting out, she may be feeling less important than a younger sibling, who may have more needs—and require more of your time. While she may be verbal or even conversational at this point, she may not be developmentally able to express complicated feelings; she doesn’t realize why she’s acting out.

Making sure that each child receives a fair share of your time can be a challenge! Squeezing in a few special moments or rewards for your older child can help to feel more important.

Here are some ideas you may want to consider:

  • If you have to run a quick errand (and someone is available to supervise the younger one), bring your older child along. A quick run to the post office can feel like a special adventure when it’s presented as special time together.
  • Allow your older child to stay up a bit later—even it’s just 15 minutes. Save a special “big kid” activity just for this time such as a pop-up book, paper dolls or a special model truck.
  • Offer to read an extra story before bedtime—just the two of you.

Toddlers and the Word “No”

With your toddler asserting a newly discovered feeling of independence, you may find yourself at your wits’ end. Tasks that were once a piece of cake—from buckling a car seat, brushing teeth and getting dressed to grocery shopping and mealtimes—can be a big production these days. Now that your child is testing the waters of freedom—getting bigger, stronger, faster, and simultaneously discovering the word “No!”—you might wonder how to regain control. Consider these tips for guiding your child toward good behavior.

Prepare your child in advance by listing each step. Instead of asking, “Are you ready to go home?” use a happy but firm tone to say, “First, we’re going to walk to the car. Remember to hold my hand. Next, I will help you climb into your seat. Then, I will need your help buckling the seat belt.”

Allow your child feel as if they have some control of their world. Instead of, “What do you want to wear to today?” try, “Would you like to wear the blue shirt or the orange shirt?” Instead of, “What do you want for breakfast? try, “Would you like oatmeal or eggs for breakfast?”

Reward good behavior. When your child has cooperated, let them know how pleased you are. “Great job! Thank you for helping me buckle you in! It’s so important to wear your seat belt. Now I will get in and buckle my seat belt just like you!” and, “Great choice! Oatmeal is really yummy and will help keep your tummy full until snack time!”

Choose your battles. While it is critical to not give in on some things (seat belt use, holding hands when crossing a street, etc.), sometimes you have to pick your battles. If your child refuses to get dressed, sometimes you just need to call it a pajama day—easy to do on a day off! If she refuses her meat and veggies at dinner time, don’t make it a big issue. She’ll eat when she is hungry. Just continue to put healthy, well-balanced choices on her plate or tray at each meal and eventually she’ll try them.

How do you guide your child toward good behavior?

Tantrum Trimming Tips

It’s almost inevitable that a child will throw a tantrum at some point. Here are some great tips for tantrum prevention:

  • Incorporate relaxation time into your child’s daily schedule – play a game, visit a park, cuddle up and read a story
  • In stressful times, do your best to remain calm – be a good example and your child may follow your lead
  • Keep negatives to a minimum – saying “no” can cause frustration, try a phrase like “maybe later.”
  • Be aware and sympathetic during transitions – starting school, potty training or a new sibling could be stressors.
  • Make sure you’re listening to your child, not just hearing them – feeling understood and respected will go a long way.
  • Reward with praise and attention – reinforce good behavior with plenty of positive parenting.
  • Avoid shouting matches and harsh punishments – these reactions can make tantrums worse.
  • Laughter is the best medicine – try humor to defuse a situation, shift their mood with a tickle, hug or silly song.
  • Redirect – if you see a tantrum coming, shift your child’s attention to something new.

As children develop their language and comprehension skills, they usually tend to outgrow tantrums. In the meantime, the way you deal with them is important. Handling your child harshly or ignoring him/her altogether may cause tantrums to worsen and linger longer.

From the Mouths of Babes: Unacceptable Language

The first time your preschooler blurted out “bad words” or other unacceptable language you were probably pretty surprised—and may have even laughed out loud. We may wonder: what happened to our eager-to-please, angelic sweethearts? As our little ones grow bigger, their curiosity to test and push boundaries grows bigger, too. As parents, we know that rude language and other maddening behavior will quickly lose its charm and humor. Instances like this provide the perfect time to lay the foundation for better behavior. Here are a few simple steps to curb the rudeness.

Establish the rules. Let your child know that “bad words” or rude behavior are unacceptable and will not be used again—and that they will have consequences if they are.

Pre-determine the consequence. Decide in advance on a consequence that you will use if this rude behavior should happen again. Choose something that has a fairly immediate effect such as, “No more playing outside right now,” or “Snack time is over,” as opposed to something you would be more likely to rescind such as, “You are not going to Grammy’s house next week.”

React with confidence. Next time your child speaks impolitely, respond with certainty. Calmly, but firmly, say, “We do not use that sort of language. For that reason, you will not be riding your bike this afternoon.”

Follow through. Do not negotiate or justify the consequences of rude behavior. It is important to set consistent limits by following through with your decision. If you cave in or offer multiple chances, your child may believe that what is acceptable and what is not is up for discussion.

Reward the good stuff. Recognize when your child uses “nice” language. Provide lots of praise, love, affection and positive feedback when they behave well.

Positive Alternatives to “No”

Children should begin to learn to respect limits from a young age. Most boundaries for children are set for health and safety reasons and are a very important and necessary developmental tool. Children are corrected every day, which can lead them to simply “tune out” any perceived negativity or become uncooperative. Regardless of their age, most people respond better to positively communicated direction. This is especially true for children. For example, “Grandma is worried about us getting stains on her couch. Let’s enjoy our snack in her kitchen instead,” will generate more cooperation than “No food or drinks in Grandma’s living room.”

Try telling your child what they can do instead of what they can’t. Practice the positive alternatives below to avoid overusing the word “no” while maintaining reasonable limits.

  • “Maybe later” can work to delay a request such as snacks or sweets before mealtime.
  • “Not today” communicates that the timing is wrong but leaves the possibility open.
  • “When we’ve done (this), then we can do (that).” This method is good for transition times and to help toddlers establish event routines. For example, “When all of your toys are put away, we can go play at the park.”
  • “I’ll think about it” replaces an automatic “no” by allowing yourself the time to think about your determination. Parents tend to make better decisions when they take the time to think about the request and their response.
  • “Sure, did you bring your allowance?” This technique allows you to communicate that they may have the requested item if they can pay for it themselves.
  • “Yes (with qualifier).” This strategy grants conditional permission. For example, “Yes, you may play the game after we eat dinner.”