Don’t you sometimes wish you had a remote control to stop your child’s behavior with the click of a button before things start to spiral out of control?
I remember thumbing through the Parents Magazine a while back and reading about a kid who told his pesky little sister — “I wish you were a toy that required batteries so I can take them out.“
I sometimes wish my kids had removable batteries in them too!
Then again, forget about a remote control or batteries… I’ll settle for a simple pause, just one tiny moment, to collect my wits and figure out the best way to deal with a situation without blowing my top off.
Since none of these fantasies have a chance of coming true any time soon, I’d like to propose a modification to a strategy Sumitha suggested some time back to keep ourselves from yelling at kids even when we are hopping mad –
Assuming you are not angry at the moment, now is the time to decide how you will respond at a later time when you are indeed angry. Making a list of possible responses and then reaching out to your pre-committed choices when you are angry, substantially increases your chances of success [at not yelling at kids]. There is a whole body of research to support this.
Here’s my suggestion. Let’s make a list of all the positive discipline techniques that we know of, and spend a few minutes looking at some example scenarios where they work well. This way, when the time comes for us to react (and sooner or later, it will), hopefully we’ll come up with an appropriate gentle response without having to think too hard. Or blowing our fuse. Sort of. Maybe.
Anyway, I’ll start out with 8 of the positive discipline techniques that I’m familiar with. How about you help grow this list by sharing your favorite techniques in the comments?
#1 Offer Choices
When you give your kids choices instead of commands where they can use a ‘no’ response, you are less likely to end up in the typical power struggle situation. This tends to avoid no for an answer as well as complete defiance. The choice empowers the kids.
Of course, make sure that you are okay with both choices. Do not give your kids a choice you cannot abide by, since this will only make you unreliable in their eyes.
The choices don’t have to be too complicated — just asking them how they want to do something can be quite effective. Instead of commanding “Move it, we’re getting late” a gentle “Do you want to wear your shoes first or the jacket?” will get them moving with a lot less fuss.
I’ll never forget my experience working in the classroom of a very experienced preschool teacher. One child refused to cooperate at circle time. He ignored the teacher’s directions, disciplining, and did his own little thing. One day, a few weeks into the year, the teacher decided to try a “newfangled” idea of choices. She called over little Mr. Independent and gave him a choice of seats to sit at circle time. He proudly picked his seat, and cooperated beautifully for the rest of the year. The look of shock on the teachers face was priceless. “I guess everyone can learn something new,” she muttered.
The nice thing about this most-often recommended positive discipline technique is that you foster independence, yet still hold the reins. Children love the autonomy, and you’ll love that it works — win-win!
As the authors Faber and Mazlish explain in How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk
It might seem inconsequential to ask a child whether he wants a half glass of milk or a whole, his toast light or dark; but to the child each small choice represents one more opportunity to exert some control over his own life. There is so much a child must do that it’s not hard to understand why he becomes resentful and balky.
“You must take your medicine.”
“Stop drumming on the table.”
“Go to bed now.”
If we can offer him a choice about how something is to be done, very often that choice is enough to reduce his resentment.
#2 Create a YES Environment
Children are born with a healthy curiosity, and they need the freedom to safely explore their surroundings to discover what their world is all about. It’s important not to inhibit this natural curiosity by constantly reprimanding your child for touching things around the house.
As kids get older their natural instinct is to express their individuality and push limits. At this stage it becomes essential that you give them the freedom they seek, but within well-defined limits.
With younger kids, childproofing — ex. placing all dangerous or breakable items out of reach — reduces stress for both parents and children. Your child won’t have to hear “no” all the time, and you will have more peace of mind knowing that he’s not getting into things he shouldn’t.
With older kids, providing clarity in what is and isn’t acceptable is key. For example – “YES, you can start driving. We’ll have to agree on a driving agreement first however, and each time you violate it, you lose the driving privilege for a full month” is much more likely to motivate your teen to drive safely than trying to keep him from driving (in which case they may be tempted to “borrow” their friends car and drive it without insurance!) or constant lecturing/haranguing.
If you use the word “no” sparingly, your kids will be more likely to pay attention when you do say it. So, whenever possible make a conscious effort to use positive wording to stop challenging behavior.
In my own case, my daughter, like most toddlers, would wreck the kitchen as I cooked supper. She would unpack cabinets, crash pots, and then whine for me to pick her up. First, I locked two cabinets with breakables and electronics so I don’t have to worry for her safety. I created a special toy cabinet, and got her a set of toy metal pots, so she wouldn’t dent mine. I also added metal spoons from the 99 cents store. Additionally, I give her my containers as I’m cooking-cheese, egg and cereal carton or whatever other recyclable I have goes on the floor. Now, I can actually cook supper calmly!
#3 Teach Emotions
It’s never too early to start teaching your kids to express their emotions. Not being able to comprehend what’s going on is a very common reason for kids acting out. As Dr. Dan Siegel, an eminent neuropsychiatrist, and New York Times bestselling author explains in this wonderful video, they need to be able to name it, so they can tame it!
For younger children, a simple emotions chart can be great. You can even create your own by taking pictures of your child’s emotion faces.
For older children, teach them words from this feeling vocabulary list to enrich their emotions vocabulary, so they can appropriately express themselves.
In the book Flip It, Rachel Wagner Sperry states “Feelings are the root of all behavior.” And later on, “Children must become aware of what they feel, before we ask them to control it.”
I remember reading about a young mom who taught her three year old to communicate his emotions and was happy to see that it really helped. He told his mom, “When the bus brought me home today, and nobody waited outside for me, I was very scared.” Isn’t that better than a child stomping in looking like a storm cloud and none of you know why?
#4 Ignore Bad Behavior
You’ve got to pick and choose you battles. As a high school teacher who deals with teenagers, my mother says she often pretends not to hear or see certain behaviors. While this is not one of the positive discipline techniques to use too often, it works amazingly well for minor problems.
When my daughter plays with something she’s not supposed to (such as mommy’s magazines), I’ll sometimes turn a blind eye. If she’s safe and happy, and I’m not concerned about the object, I’ll move the object out of reach at a later time.
Here’s the thing — we’re not a policeman and acting like one can be draining. So, let’s give ourselves and our kids a break. Kids will be kids, and honestly, don’t we also need some breathing time? As long as we use this judiciously, we can create and enjoy a more relaxed atmosphere in our homes.
Sometimes, children seek negative attention. By ignoring the bad behavior, we take away the fun of it and reduce the incentive to engage in such behavior in the future.
#5 Use Fictional Third-Party Mediators
With little kids, use a puppet to model positive behavior, or mediate fights. A third party can help cool things down and diffuse tension. Pick a quiet time for a quick puppet show modeling positive behavior. It doesn’t have to be a fancy puppet — easy homemade spoon puppets , popsicle puppets, or paper plate puppets work just fine.
My friend uses supper time to model positive eating habits through a puppet. Her children love the creative shows, and as a bonus, they behave through the show and supper!
With older kids, use the news stories or current events as mediators that facilitate difficult conversations. For instance, talk to your teens about the riots in Ferguson, Missouri. It is a great way to bring up racism, diversity, rioting and other difficult topics. Discuss it by reviewing a variety of perspectives – from your family’s point of view and the values you hold dear, from a broader perspective of what this means to a community, the balance between power and responsibility etc.
No one likes to be lectured all the time. A third-party, especially a fictional character or someone on media, can get a message across a lot more effectively and with a lot less resistance.
#6 Play Detective
Why is your child acting out? Are there times of the day or specific activities when challenging behavior is most likely to occur? Could other children or adults in close proximity be a trigger? Are there environmental conditions that may be a factor? (e.g., too warm, too cold, too crowded, too much noise, too chaotic, weather conditions). Or can any of these circumstances be a factor: illness, allergies, change in diet, medication change, hunger, parties or crowds, change in caregiver, fatigue, change in routine?
See if you can find the source of the tantrum before jumping to conclusions. Circumstances can influence behavior, so when you examine outside issues you can avoid future outbursts.
Another good idea may be recording what time of the day the behavior occurs. You can use the ABC log (antecedent, behavior, consequence) to see if a pattern emerges.
With older children, you can include them in the process of figuring out what’s bothering them.
My big concern a while back was my toddler’s grating bedtime cry. Then I learnt to take a minute and think-why is my daughter crying? One time, I returned to her room and smelled a dirty diaper. Another time, after a full day of refusing most food, she threw up. On a different occasion, I realized she was plain hungry. I never regret double checking and thinking- What can be causing this behavior?
Behavior serves as a function. If you can figure out what causes the behavior, you can figure out how to try to stop it.
#7 Be Consistent
Make sure you are consistent in your discipline. Your child needs to know what is and isn’t acceptable. And they judge that by what was and wasn’t okay yesterday and the day before.
If they’re not getting a consistent message, they do not know how to behave. That can leave your child feeling confused and insecure.
Try to keep to the same schedule every day. That means having regular nap times, mealtimes, and bedtimes, as well as times when your child is free to have fun.
When you do have to make a change, it helps to warn your child in advance. This can prepare her for a slightly different routine, and hopefully prevent a scene.
For a major change, such as a move, new sibling or death, a simple homemade book that the child can reread can be immensely helpful. If you are moving, put a picture of the old house, neighborhood, and new house. Write down what will occur. This will give the child an understanding of what’s occurring, and prevent myriad discipline issues.
My friend’s six year old daughter told her mother she would not attend aunt’s wedding. Baffled at her refusal, she thought about it and realized that her daughter had no clear picture of what the day would be like. She sat down with her and explained the entire wedding day. Her daughter calmed down and they happily attended the event.
Children thrive on routine. If they know what’s coming, they are less likely to act out. Hey, you also behave better if you know why your spouse had a hard day!
#8 Divert and Channel
Diversion is a great tool to use with younger children. Little ones have a short attention span and you can use this to your advantage. You may be able to distract them from whatever they are fussing about. Instead of giving in, find something new to do or talk about that might interest your child.
During the witching hour, if my daughter’s behavior starts getting to me, I try taking her to a different room, or going out for a walk. Some fresh air always seems to help.
For more great ideas, check out the list of 101 Fun Things To Do With Kids To Enjoy Everyday Family Life — it is chock full of suggestions to avoid the need for nagging and screaming by turning everyday situations into fun time!
With older kids, you may need to be more strategic about this. If you get constant complaints of your child being restless and distracting the class from his teacher, enrolling him in a sports team may help channel some of his energy.
Consider for example the case of Michael Phelps — his elementary school teacher complained to his mom that he couldn’t focus. By 6th grade he was diagnosed with ADHD. But by helping him channel that excess energy into swimming, his mom and coach were able to help him beat the odds and rise to unprecedented heights!
In the end, this is what it boils down to — nobody’s perfect, but we can all try to be better. It doesn’t matter that we have the perfect response to every situation. By becoming aware of more and more of these positive discipline techniques however, we can significantly improve our changes of responding appropriately. At least that’s the hope, right?
Do share what works for you in the comments below… we’re all in this together, remember?
The 2-Minute Action Plan for Fine Parents
For our quick contemplation questions today –
- What are some of the positive discipline techniques that are in your tool kit (you wrote them down in the comments below, right?) Which ones do you use often? Which ones should you be using more of?
- Did you learn of any new techniques today from this article (or the comments below)? Take a moment to think them through so they become a part of your toolkit going forward!
- Think of the last time your kids pushed your buttons. What could you have done differently? Would any of these techniques helped you handle it better? What can you do now to remind yourself to use one of these positive discipline techniques next time the same situation occurs?
The Ongoing Action Plan for Fine Parents
Remember how you were disciplined as a child.
How does that affect the way you discipline your children?
What long term changes can you plan to ensure the use of positive discipline? Think of your biggest discipline issues. Chart out a course of positive techniques-preferably prevention, and if the behavior occurs, how you will respond. And start putting it into action!
If you use old discipline techniques like spanking, shaming or name-calling that have been proven to be ineffective, try to figure out the trigger, and how you can avoid falling back to it in the future. Extra brownie points if you apologize to your child for your behavior and try some of these great relaxation exercise to help you stay calm.