discipline styles

Ways to Avoid Discipline with Your Children

In my workshops, I teach the steps of positive discipline. This language includes the flexible use of I messages, empathy, positive intent, choices and consequences to best manage behaviors. This framework is meant to guide parents through addressing emotions while curbing behaviors. If you want to learn more about these steps, you can search “steps” or “discipline” on our blog. As much as this is an effective approach, there are several things parents can do to avoid the discipline process. This is especially true for repeat behaviors as parents should be better able to see these coming.

  • Distraction – Two children start to argue over a shovel in the sandbox. If you can say, “hey, look! A puppy!” and it’s over, I think that’s fine. There will be so may times when this doesn’t work, and you’ll need the discipline, but when it does that’s fine.
  • Humor – Say something funny, and it’s over? Okay.
  • Logistics – A mom in one of my workshops said, “it is so difficult every morning to get the kids to stop playing and go down to the foyer to get their shoes on. They can go right back and play, I just need their shoes on.” Solving this with logistics would be moving the shoes to where the kids are playing. If a well placed baby gate solves your situation, there’s no need to work through the steps repeatedly.
  • Schedules – Often, a discipline exchange is sparked by a transition or by having to little time to complete too much activity. For transitions, be sure to give consistent warnings and give children choices and jobs while moving through. For schedules, be sure to plan for the time and build in a little extra for children.
  • Routines – If your discipline happens during specific times of the day like getting kids ready and out of the house in the morning or getting them in pajamas and ready for bed, routines can be a big part of the answer. Decide the time you need to be done, make a list of everything that needs to be done and work backwards. It can be helpful to make a chart with your children by taking pictures of them moving through the routine or drawing pictures of each step. The more consistently you follow the routine the more helpful it tends to be.

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.

Natural vs. Logical Consequences

Natural and logical consequences are meant to be the end of a discipline exchange. In the moment and over time, they are meant to curb behaviors.

It is important to note consequences are very rarely meant to be a starting point in the discipline process. There are so many other better places to start. You might think first of being proactive with positive directions and descriptive praise. You might address behaviors with empathy, positive intent, choices, contribution or challenges prior to using consequences. That said, sometimes consequences are a necessary piece.

Natural Consequences

Natural consequences are what just might happen if the child continues the behavior.  This sounds like, “if you don’t finish your homework, you might get a bad grade,” and, “if you don’t wear a coat, you might be cold.” These are things that naturally happen in life and without our intervention. While you can state natural consequences to younger children, these start to make sense and work better to curb behaviors somewhere between three-and-a-half to four years old for many children.

The first part of using natural consequences is to state this to your child. The next is to allow them to make a decision and avoid rescuing them if they continue the behavior. Let’s say you are arguing with your five-year-old about wearing their coat outside, and it is cold. You say, “if you go outside like that, you might be really cold.” Child says, “fine,” and opens the door. If you throw their coat on them the second the cold air hits, you will have this battle again tomorrow. Yes, take the coat with you but let the child feel a bit of the consequence. The natural consequence of feeling cold will help to curb the next debate. I am not saying be stubborn and leave the coat home, take it with you, but let the child feel the cold before giving it to them.

Logical Consequences

Logical consequences can be stated in the negative or the positive. A logical negative consequence is stated if there is bad behavior then there’s a bad related consequence such as, “if you leave the toys all over the floor, we are closing the playroom for the afternoon.” A logical positive consequence is stated if there’s good behavior then there’s good related consequence, such as “if you get the toys cleaned up we can have 5 more minutes to play.”

To be fair, your consequence should match your child’s behavior in time, intensity and content. Matching in time means as immediate as possible. For children three-and-a-half years old and younger, it means immediate. Matching in intensity means the level of consequence matches the level of their behavior (not bigger, you are just being punitive). Matching in content means it is on topic with the behavior. If a child is saying mean things to their sibling, a matched-content consequence would be having to play in separate rooms or finding five nice things to say about their sibling. A non-matched consequence would be taking away a TV time or no dessert. The idea is to keep them thinking on topic.

Examples

Your child grabs a toy from a friend.

Natural: If you grab toys, he might not want to play with you.

Logical Negative: If you grab a toy, you may not have a turn with it.

Logical Positive: If you can give it back nicely, I will be sure you have the next turn.

Your child is fighting getting into the car seat in the morning.

Natural: If this takes too long, we might be late, and you might miss centers.

Logical Negative: If you are out of your seat, we aren’t going (only use this one if not going would be a negative to your child, AND you mean it). Smaller ones would be no music or toys in the car if you usually have them.

Logical Positive: If you get in your seat quickly, you can pick the music.

Got a behavior of concern, and you’d like answers? Post them here.

What to Do When a Child is Aggressive

Four-year-old Johnny and Eric are building together. Eric moves one of Johnny’s blocks when Johny had it in the perfect place, and Johnney gets mad. Johnny yells, “no!” and hits Eric.

This is a common scenario that plays out on playdates, between siblings and in preschools every day. As a parent or teacher, it can be hard to know the best ways to follow up in the moment and encourage better behaviors moving forward.

Part One: Discipline In the Moment
I tend to start with a little attention to the victim first. In this case, I would turn to Eric and say something along the lines of, “I am so sorry. Are you okay?” I am not saying gush and comfort in a big way. You don’t want to encourage the victim role. Just give momentary attention to check in, and be sure they are okay. The point is to avoid giving intial attention to the child being aggressive.

As a teacher entering into the discipline process, you might start with brief empathy to Johnny, “I know you are angry, you were building that,” or positive intent, “you really wanted the blocks the way you had them.” When it seems appropriate, and in this case it would, you can help the child find better words to express himself. Again briefly, you might say, “Johnny, next time you can say, ‘Eric, don’t move that,’ or you can ask me for help.” The next step is a logical consequence for the aggressive behavior. This might be having Johnny leave the block area for the morning for hitting his friend. A logical consequence is meant to curb the behavior moving forward.

As a parent, I tend to think the discipline process works in the reverse when there is a aggressive behavior. When a child hits their sibling or a friend on a playdate, I would start the discipline with that logical negative consequence. Once served, I’d work my way back through the empathy or positive intent, and back through a conversation about choices. The reason is, I want this to register differently to the child than discipline for other behaviors. If in response to other behaviors, you work in order from I messages and empathy to ending with consequence language, it may help to limit the aggressive behavior by starting with the consequence.

Here is a link to previous blog posts that goes into more detail about the Steps of Positive Discipline: https://parentingbydrrene.com/?s=steps.

In addition to the steps, it can also be helpful to include other-oriented consequences. This would be saying things like, “look how sad your friend is. He doesn’t like getting hit.” This is meant to help your child realize the impact their behavior has on other people.

Part Two: Coaching Out of the Moment
When you have to discipline a behavior often, part of the answer is in coaching the wanted behavior. This can be done a bit in the moment, but is more effective to coach when all is well. Coaching includes:

  • Reading Children’s Storybooks – This includes No More Hitting for Little Hamster by and Hands are Not for Hitting by Agassi.
  • Telling Your Own Stories – If you’re creative, make up your own stories about how to be gentle and why.
  • Asking Hypotheticals – This is asking your child “what if” questions related to the behavior of concern. In this case, that might be asking, “what if you and a friend were playing cars, and your friend took a car you were playing with, what would you do?” Follow that with a conversation about their answers and best ways to react.
  • Role Playing – When things go poorly, go back and role play the situation with your child striving for better outcomes.
  • Puppet Shows – This is a lot like role playing, but it may capture the child’s attention in a bigger way. Again, focus on positive behaviors and outcomes.
  • Drawing Pictures of It Going Well – If your child likes art, this may be another way to coach behaviors. Draw pictures of it going well or make cartoons of their scenarios.

Yes, all of this takes time and effort, and this tends to be more helpful than discipline alone.

Steps of Positive Discipline Defined

The steps of positive discipline are designed to give parents a framework for moving through a discipline exchange. The idea is to learn each and be flexible in the moment.

I messages label your or another person’s emotions and explains why you are feeling this way. This avoids you messages which blame the child. Rather, blame the behavior or the situation. This blame can be global (“no one is listening”) or passive (“this is a mess”).  Rule: When you are the angriest person in the room or laying blame.

Empathy labels your child’s emotions and validates why they feel that way. This can also be given through wants or wishes (“you wanted to win the game”) or storytelling (“I remember when I was little and that happened to me…”). Rule: When your kids are bent out of shape and need a bit of help to calm.

Positive intent is giving those you love the benefit of the doubt. This means thinking of them as tired not lazy and needing to learn social skills not rude. This is more a shift in thinking than it is a shift in language. Rule: At least think it every time.

Choices are two positives for the child that meet your goal as a parent. Rule: Choices (challenges or contribution) before consequences as best you can.

  • Challenges are making it a game or a race, making it fun.
  • Contribution means giving the child a job to gain the behavior or keep them on track.

Natural consequences are what just might happen in life if the child chooses or continues a given behavior. These start to make more sense around three-and-a-half or four years old. Rule: State and allow the child to experience. Avoid rescuing.

Logical consequences should match the child’s behavior in time (as soon as possible and immediate under three years old), intensity (at the same level) and content (on topic with the behavior).

  • Logical positive consequences are the good related outcome to the positive behavior. Rule: Works a lot like choices.
  • Logical negative consequences are the bad related outcome to the negative behavior. Rule: Meant as an endpoint, and only allowed for starters with aggressive behavior.

*You have asked your child to clean up his toys, he just stands there looking at you.

  • I messages: “I’m frustrated, no one is listening.”
  • Empathy: “I know you don’t like cleaning.”
  • Positive intent: “It is so much fun to play.”
  • Choices: “Do you want to start with blocks or balls?”
  • Challenges: Can he clean up the blocks before you clean up the cars?
  • Contribution: Make him the Clean-up Supervisor with a check list for jobs.
  • Natural: “If you leave your toys out, they might get lost or broken.”
  • Logical positive: “If you clean them up now, we can have five more minutes to play.”
  • Logical negative: “If you leave them out, I will put them on the shelf for two days.”

*One child is yelling at another over taking turns with a toy.

  • I messages: “He is upset, he doesn’t like being yelled at.”
  • Empathy: “I know you are angry, it is hard to wait.”
  • Positive intent: “You really want a turn.”
  • Choices: “Do you want to try again with a whisper or your regular voice?”
  • Challenges: Can he list three other things he can do while waiting for his turn?
  • Contribution: Show the child 10 minutes on the clock, and put them in charge of letting you know when the time is up (but not a second earlier).
  • Natural: “If you are yelling, she might not play with you.”
  • Logical positive: “If you can speak nicely, you can stay together.”
  • Logical negative: “If you are yelling, you will have to play in another room.”

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/

In Discipline: Whoever Starts It Gets to Finish

There is a golden rule in discipline when you are parenting as a couple. It is simple, whoever starts it gets to finish. This means if the first parent is into a discipline exchange, as long as it’s not abusive, the second parent avoids intervening, correcting the first, rescuing the child, taking over or undermining in any way. If the second parent must say something, they should err on the side of supporting the first or offer to help. If the offer to help is declined, it’s declined.

When I have seen a discipline exchange going south fast for my husband, I have offered to help. Sometimes he says, “no thanks, I got it.” Other times he says, “yes, take them. It’s your turn.” If the former, I say, “listen to your father.” I reserve the right to make a note of the situation and discuss it with him after and away from the children. If the latter, I move forward in discipline.

If you don’t offer and just move in, or if you offer and move in even though you were declined, you are making your partner’s job harder the next go around. It can be very hard, but there is a need to let them build an individual parent-child relationship. Both parents should be able to feel confident in their interactions and discipline exchanges.

If you disagree often over discipline, you may want to spend time working through it apart from the children. You might read Partnership Parenting: How Men and Women Parent Differently Why It Helps Your Kids and Can Strengthen Your Marriage by Pruett and Pruett. You might also take my live or audio workshop on Parenting as a Couple.

 

 

Child Says Caregiver Hit Him

Dear Dr. Rene,
My son, who is almost three and is quite verbal, just told us that his daycare provider hit him. It sounds as though she hit him during nap time when he was “moving around too much.” He said it hurt him, and he didn’t like her. The comment was unprovoked, and came as we were playing at home today (Saturday) – no discussion of daycare, no discussion or recent episodes of him hitting anyone and needing to be disciplined. In other words, I believe him (we have seen him make stories up about what other people have done a couple times, but it’s always been in the moment and for a direct gain, like getting a toy from another kid).
He’s been going to the same in-home provider since he was six months old, and he has always seemed very, very happy there. My husband and I think the world of her and are quite pleased with her and with the loving environment she provides the children. That said, we never had a conversation with her about discipline (since he started with her as a baby), and she comes from a fairly traditional background.
I suspect that she spanked him to discipline him with no intention of harming him, but we do not want him to be spanked. Do you have any suggestions for how to approach her about this? Or for how to talk about this with our son, or look for signs that things maybe aren’t as great as we thought they were? As further background, my son will be leaving her care soon to go to pre-school, but we now have our seven-month-old with her as well.
Sincerely, Karen
mom of two
Dear Karen,
I am sorry for this. It means the world to trust our children’s caregivers and feel confident as we drop them off. I want to start by saying, I believe him too. Part of the difficulty here is your child is shy of three years old, and children under six years old tend to be poor reporters, so, while I do think he was hit, getting any meaningful details beyond that is difficult at best. It may have been a light tap that startled him, or a real spank out of frustration. Asking more questions also easily leads his answers.
I think my best response would be to have a direct conversation with the caregiver. Start by letting her know what was said, ask about her discipline for small and big behaviors and let her know your guidelines. Be clear and firm in your limits of not spanking or otherwise using physical discipline. If you feel comfortable with her response and decide to stay, plan to be a good, open listener moving forward.
Honestly, I wouldn’t stay. Whatever her response, my concern is that the spanking seemed to happen over moving too much at naptime which in the big scheme of things is a relatively small behavior. My concern would be for her handling bigger behaviors such as pushing or biting. This is such a personal decision and difficult because you have a long history and otherwise high regards for her level of care. I hope this is helpful.
Sincerely, Rene

Calm Parenting – Know Your Triggers

Calm Parenting is a hot topic these days. My Calm Parenting workshops have quickly become as popular as my Positive Discipline classes. In both sessions, and in many other, unrelated classes parents report losing their cool often. They say they would like to provide a calm household, but find themselves yelling more than they’d like. This week’s posts will all focus on ways to calm.

It can be helpful to first identify your triggers for losing that sense of calm in parenting. Right now, make a list of the things that happen or the things your kids do that make you lose it. A top three list would be a good place to start.

Next, think about and jot down how you typically react to each. Be honest with yourself, what do you typically do and say? What do you look like and sound like to your kids? What is the intensity or volume of your response? This is your reaction.

Now realize, you never need to react that way again. There are so many other things, likely more productive things you could do in these moments. Brainstorm a list of better things you could do. Maybe focus on giving them choices related to the behavior, focus on creative ways to better teach them or build a list of children’s stories that would illustrate the point you are trying to make. In the long run, you could learn positive discipline and develop better things to say around I messages, empathy, positive intent, choices and consequences. You might read Playful Parenting by Cohen and make light when it seems appropriate.

The point is to recognize that your typical reaction when you lose your cool is less than helpful. It likely isn’t working to curb the behavior and doesn’t feel good to anyone involved. Part of calm parenting is planning for these times.

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.”
%d bloggers like this: