Guidelines for Using the Steps of Discipline

In my Positive Discipline workshop series, we spend three hours on the steps of positive discipline. This language provides a framework for effectively working through a discipline exchange from managing emotions with I messages and empathy to using choices and consequences. I have written about the steps and given examples of each in several previous blog posts which you can read: https://parentingbydrrene.com/?s=steps+of+positive+discipline

Once you’ve learned the steps of positive discipline, there are a few guidelines for using each.

I messages are for when you are expressing negative emotions and laying blame. Be sure you lay blame on the behavior or situation, not the child. Sometimes there isn’t an emotion, if you are laying blame it is fine to use just the second part of the sentence. If there’s emotion, this might sound like, “I am upset, this is a mess.” and no emotion, “wow, this is a mess.”

Empathy is for when the children are expressing negative emotions. The empathy, as needed, comes before the discipline or the fix of the situation.

The general idea for emotions is to consider on the way into a discipline exchange if either of these techniques are needed.

Positive intent is helpful in every exchange. While you don’t have to always say it out loud, the rule is at least think it every time.

Choices come before consequences for all behaviors except aggression. Aggression may work backwards. If choices aren’t working, you can substitute challenges or jobs here.

Natural consequences become fair game at three-and-a-half or four years old.  Remember you aren’t stopping behavior, you are allowing the child to think through this and make a decision about the behavior. Occasionally, it may be that you state a natural and then follow up with a logical consequence.

Logical consequences are meant as an endpoint in discipline. Positive logicals work more like choices, often with a more agreeable outcome. Negative logicals may be met with upset, but that likely means your consequence is meaningful (provided you didn’t go too big with intensity).

In real life, you wouldn’t use all of these steps at one time. Most often, parents use a few of the steps in combination to work through an exchange. The best plan is to spend time focused on using each step, get comfortable with it and figure out which steps are most comfortable for you and work well with your child.

These steps are meant to be used in conjunction with proactive techniques and coaching good behaviors.

The “No” Phase

Dear Dr. Rene,

My daughter -who is three years old- has displayed a strong character since her first months. Now we are in the ‘no’ phase, anything whatsoever gets the ‘no’ response even if a few minutes later she decides to do/say what I’ve asked of her. How do I get her to become more cooperative, without threatening the independence of her character?

Sincerely, Jessica

Dear Jessica,

Believe it or not, this is a typical and healthy phase. Two and young three year olds often go through a phase of saying “no” all day long. I remember Claire saying “no” to ice cream because I picked the flavor, and a minute later she reached happily for the bowl. Often around this time they are also driven to do the opposite, you say “up” so they say “down,” and often test your commitment to it being up. The “no” and the push for the opposite are a part of her developing a sense of self. She is realizing self is separate from others, that she can form and share her own opinion, and that there is a bit of power in testing limits. This is also a good thing, I want children to find their voice and learn to speak their opinion.

Only ask yes/no questions if “no” is an acceptable response. Avoid saying, “are you ready for dinner?” when you really mean, “it is dinnertime, come to the table now please.” If you ask a yes/no question, be ready to live with either answer. If “no” is unacceptable, rephrase your question.

If “no” is an acceptable answer, let her know this. If you ask, “would you like to sit here?” and she says “no.” I would say “okay, where would you like to sit.” If “no” is unacceptable, you might rephrase this as a choice, “would you like to sit here or here for lunch,” or you might offer a contribution, “I need someone to put a napkin on each plate,” as you hand them or offer a challenge, “let’s race to the table,” or just a distraction, “I am an elephant stomping to the table, are you a big elephant too?” Sounds silly, I know but remember you are talking to a three-year-old.

Let’s take a harder one, say you are making a request but not asking. You say, “it’s time to clean up now, come help me,” and you get a, “no.” I would start by hearing her, “I know you don’t want to right now, it’s time to clean.” or, “you really are having fun playing, it’s hard to put it away and it’s time.” Then you might offer a choice, a challenge or a contribution.

There is also great benefit in not repeating yourself when you ask her to do something.  Here is a link to our blog post on not repeating yourself: https://parentingbydrrene.wordpress.com/2012/03/01/want-kids-to-listen-stop-repeating-yourself/

Here is a link to our blog post on choices: https://parentingbydrrene.wordpress.com/2012/10/01/how-choices-work-in-positive-discipline/

And a link to our blog post on contribution: https://parentingbydrrene.wordpress.com/2012/10/12/contribution-getting-kids-to-help/

Ownership in Potty Training

Dear Dr. Rene,

My almost two-and-a-half-year-old decided she wanted underwear 11 days ago. So, we are 11 days into potty training. She goes to daycare, and is now fully potty trained at
daycare (at least barring any regression that could happen.) At home, I still
have to take her to the potty every hour, or she’ll have an accident. She rarely
initiates on her own, and often tells me she doesn’t want to go on the potty. We
had her choose her brand new potty seat, and we offer her “potty treats” after
she goes. We tell her she is a big girl, and we’re proud of her. Any other tips
to help my very head strong little girl with potty training at home? Or is this
just normal for a young girl, and I just need to be patient? (FYI – my older
daughter did the three day method when she was close to three years old, so this is all
new to me.)

Sincerely, June (mom of two)

First, I would ask for what they typically do and say at daycare. If this is going smoothly there, maybe replicate what they are doing. Also, take her to the potty there yourself at drop-off and pick-up. It may be helpful for you to be associated with that success. If available, maybe purchase a similar potty seat or ring for home.

At home, I would do all the small things to encourage interest including reading potty training picture books, watching the potty videos, letting her observe while others potty and playing potty with doll babies or a dollhouse set.

Bigger things to encourage her to more fully participate include offering her choices, descriptive praise and language of ownership. Choices include, “would you like to use the upstairs or the downstairs potty?” or, “do you want to sit on the little potty or the big potty?” Here is a link to a previous post on choices: https://parentingbydrrene.wordpress.com/2012/10/01/how-choices-work-in-positive-discipline/.

Descriptive praise is being behavior specific when you catch good behaviors. This sounds like, “you knew you had to go. You got to the potty quick!” or, “you were taking care of your body. You put all your poop in the potty!”  Here is a link to a youtube video on descriptive praise: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_LH6Y-qPnAo&feature=relmfu and the differences between descriptive and evaluative praise: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rn2Ddh16xIY.

The language of ownership is saying something along the line of, “do you know you are the only one in the whole world who really knows when you need to pee? I don’t really know that from out here. That’s your job.” or, “you are in charge of when you go potty. When you feel that pressure on your bottom that you need to poop, it’s your job to go potty.” The idea is to encourage them to take ownership without adding pressure. Use this langauge maybe every other day and not around the time of an accident, it shouldn’t sound like discipline.

Sincerely, Dr. Rene

The Steps of Positive Discipline

The steps of Positive Discipline are not something I’ve created, these steps have been around for years. Originally written in 1965, Dr. Haim Ginott introduced a version of these steps in Between Parent and Child. Systematic Training for Effective Parenting, or STEP classes, desiged by Dinkmeyer and McKay have been in session since 1976. These steps are covered in some variation in most all Positive Discipline parenting books. We cover the steps of positive discipline in my one-day and eight hour evening series workshops. My full audio workshops are also available at www.askdrrene.com. Here are the basics to get you started:

  • I messages – This is labeling your own or others emotions and blaming the behavior not the child. When labeling your own emotions, it sounds like, “I am frustrated, no one is listening,” or, “I am upset, this is a huge mess.” Labeling others’ emotions sounds like, “she is upset, she wasn’t finished with her turn,” or, “she is angry, that hurt her.” This shares emotions and avoids You messages which blame the child such as, “I am frustrated, you never listen,” or, “she is angry, you hurt her.”
  • Empathy – This is validating the child’s emotions as you enter into a discipline exchange, even when you disagree with the emotion at hand. It is saying, “wow, you are mad, you didn’t like that game,” or, “I see you are sad, it’s hard to be left out.”  It’s remembering to validate emotions and help find a calm before you address the situation or discipline.
  • Positive Intent – This refers to how we view the child’s behavior. What we think and assume about their behavior, shapes our tone and our reply. This is thinking of those you love as tired or overwhelmed rather than lazy. For the child having trouble waiting for a turn, it is seeing them as excited, young and needing to learn patience rather than annoying or rude.
  • Choices – The idea is to offer the child two positive choices about how, when or where they can do the behavior you want them to do. If you are wanting them to get homework done, this might be, “do you want to start with reading or math,” or, “do you want to work before or after snack,” or, “do you want to work at the kitchen table or your bedroom desk?” These often work because they give the child some power.
  • Natural Consequences – This is what just might happen in life if the child continues the behavior. These warn and encourage the child to think about the possible outcomes. This sounds like, “if you don’t wear a coat, you might be cold,” and, “if you do that, she might not want to play with you.” These consequences start to make sense around three-and-a-half years old.
  • Logical Negative Consequences – This is, if the bad behavior; then the bad related outcome. “If you keep yelling, you will have to play in separate rooms,” or, “if you grab a toy, you may not play with it for 5 minutes.”
  • Logical Positive Consequences – This is, if the good behavior; then the good related outcome. “If you can speak nicely, you can stay together,” or, “if you can share the coloring books, I’ll get out the other markers.”
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