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Finding a Balance in Offering Children Choices

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I am a firm believer in the steps of positive discipline as a framework for effectively managing most discipline exchanges. An active step is offering your child choices about how, when or where they can do the behavior you want them to do. If you want them to put on a coat you might offer, “the red or the blue.” If you want them to start homework you might offer, “start with reading or math,” or, “work at the kitchen table or your bedroom desk.” The goal is to gain the behavior by offering your child decision making power. The child buys into the behavior by making a choice.

Choices offer a more flexible step than consequences, and should be used in rotation with challenges and contribution first for most behaviors. It’s also good practice to offer choices occasionally outside of discipline moments. It’s nice to give even young children choices about what to eat for breakfast, what to wear or how to spend their time on a Saturday afternoon. Here’s a full post on the use of choices in discipline.

I’ve met parents who fall at either far end of the continuum on their use of choices. There are parents who feel children shouldn’t be given choices. That all things go easier when children are told what to do, and discipline provides the follow up. That offering choices gives too much power and creates a struggle where there wasn’t one previously. There are also parents who give their children too many choices, choices for everything all day. When these parents offer a choice and the child says, “no,” the parent may offer another choice and then another until the child agrees. There is a good balance between these two extremes. Choices tend to gain compliance, too many choices and behavior runs amok.

Choices too often – When children have choices for absolutely everything, it may be a struggle for them when choices aren’t available. The idea is to use choices, challenges or contribution before consequence language for most discipline exchanges. It’s also great to give choices at other times during the day. It becomes too much when the child is frustrated if there aren’t choices available. The goal is for children to be flexible to this and equally follow requests or directions when there aren’t choices available.

Too many choices – Giving a three-year-old a choice of eight things is likely overwhelming and can lead to frustration. The idea is to start with a choice of two and go wider as they ask for a third choice.

Giving choice, after choice because the child doesn’t like the options – You offer a choice of two things and the child says, “no,” so you offer a choice of two other things and then another. This can quickly become a pattern that repeats often and adds frustration to the system. The answer is to stick with the first offered choices and help children to choose.

If you end up choosing – If the child doesn’t choose, you can choose for them, but you have to let them know that’s coming. You might say, “this is taking too long, you can choose, or I will choose for you.” If you then end up choosing, it is good to stick with the choice you made. Sticking with it encourages children to choose when you say, “you can choose, or I will choose for you,” moving forward.

Continually changing their choices – Let’s say you offer the choice of a red or blue coat, and the child chooses red. The coat is on, you are leaving the house, and the child yells for blue. Once the follow through has happened, as best you can, it is good to stick with the first choice. This helps children to choose well the first time, rather than going back and forth as a game.

Choices are meant to make a discipline exchange easier. If choices are adding to the difficulty, it’s good to step back and think about how the choices are off track. I am happy to answer questions about this or any other discipline questions in the comments below.

 

 

 

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.

Tips to Encourage Sibling Relationships

Sweet Little Boy Kisses His Baby Sister in a Rustic Ranch Setting at the Pumpkin Patch.

So often when I write about siblings, it’s about how to best manage the bickering and the fighting or how to get them to stop grabbing toys from each other. Happily, this post is about ways to encourage their relationships!

  • Teach social skills in general – If your children have difficulty taking turns or grabbing toys from each other, avoid putting pressure on their individual relationship by saying things like, “you need to take turns with your brother.” Rather teach them about turn taking in general and let the skill trickle down to their relationship. Keep your language on the behavior, “when you want a turn, you need to ask first.” For creative ways to teach social skill, read https://parentingbydrrene.com/2014/08/15/12-ways-to-coach-good-behaviors/.
  • Encourage listening to others – If your children have difficulty listening to each other, it can be helpful to reinforce their words to each other. This would be saying “did you hear her?  She said, ‘stop that!’ What does that mean to you.” or, “I heard him say that he doesn’t like being poked. That means you should stop.” For creative ways to teach listening, read https://parentingbydrrene.com/2012/02/18/teach-them-to-listen/.
  • Coach positive ways to handle conflicts – When there is a conflict, help children to brainstorm solutions and weigh their options.  Teach them to empathize with the other.
  • Find low pressure activities they can share – If they enjoy working on puzzles together, doings arts and crafts or kicking a ball back and forth, encourage it often.
  • Plan for time together and time apart – It’s fine to give them breaks from each other as well.  It can be helpful for kids to have time during the day that they can play alone in their rooms, or have an activity that doesn’t have to be shared.
  • Allow sleepovers – We allow sleepovers as often as they’d like.  When the girls moved from toddler beds to big kids beds, we got them each a trundle so they could easily have sleepovers with each other.
  • Encourage them to help each other and highlight when they do – In my family, we talk often about helping each other. It became a given that when someone asks for help, you help as much as you can. We highlight and appreciate when family members are helpful.
  • Avoid pitting them in competition – I am a firm believer in teaching kids to manage competition, and am fine with siblings playing board games and backyard sports.  Bigger sports competition should be with peers. Also avoid daily doses of competition such as, “let’s see who can get dressed first. Ready, go!” Rather, pit them in a cooperative effort, “let’s see if you can help each other get dressed before me.”
  • Offer cooperative efforts – This can be cooking together or building pillow forts. There are cooperative effort board games like Snails Pace Race or Colorama. There are a few good idea books titled Everybody Wins by MacGregor and Cooperative Games and Sports by Orlick.
  • Have at least one joint chore – Cooperative efforts carry over to chores as well. Across ages, it can be helpful to for children to share responsibilities. For young children, this can be helping with pet care. For older children, this can be cleaning a shared bathroom weekly.
  • Avoid comparisions – Avoid direct comparisons, “why can’t you be more like your sister?” and indirect, “your sister is always on time!” Comparisons are a seed of sibling rivalry. For other hints about rivalry, read https://parentingbydrrene.com/2014/05/15/a-few-hints-to-avoid-sibling-rivalry/. There’s also a great parenting book titled Siblings Without Rivalry by Faber and Mazlish.
  • Discipline individually – As best you can, avoid discipline for one child spilling over onto siblings. If one child is throwing sand at the playground say, “if you throw sand, you will have to come out of the sandbox,” rather than, “if you throw sand, we are all going home.”
  • Praise individually – Avoid praising one child to curb their sibling’s behavior. Don’t say, “look how neatly your brother keeps his room!” rather say, “your room is a mess. Go clean it please.”
  • Make a sibling photo album – It’s nice for kids to have their own photo albums as well as a shared sibling album. This one is tough as it’s hard enough to keep family photos organized, but it’s worth the effort.
  • Tell stories about their good times – It can be helpful to remind them of their good times often. We tell a lot of stories about how Alicen welcomed Claire home from the hospital, and funny stories from when they were in preschool and early grade school.
  • Model and speak positively about your own sibling relationships – When you speak about your own siblings, either growing up together or getting along now, you are modeling how to speak and feel about siblings. Yes, some conflict is normal in life, and it’s fine to share but avoid being negative, name calling and complaining.
  • Use positive discipline – Positive discipline models giving empathy and positive intent to others. It gives children examples of how to best work through conflicts. To read more about positive discipline, read https://parentingbydrrene.com/?s=steps. You can also listen to our online audio workshops at http://parentingplaygroups.com/MemberResources/index.php/welcome/.
Join me for an in-depth discussion of Birth Order and Sibling Rivalry on Sept. 9 from 7:00-9:00pm. For more information and to register, please visit http://www.eventbrite.com/o/parenting-by-dr-rene-parenting-playgroups-283710166?s=1328924.

My Parenting Book List

So this is a work in progress, but I thought I’d share my first draft of my Parenting Book List. Please let me know your thoughts. Are there categories or books that I’ve left off?  Thanks!

Overall

The Whole Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind by Siegel and Bryson (2012)

Between Parent and Child: The Bestselling Classic That Revolutionized Parent-Child Communication by Ginott (updated 2003)

Nurture Shock: New Thinking About Children by Bronson and Merryman (2011)

How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character by Tough (2013)

Play

Playful Parenting by Cohen (2002)

The Power of Parent-Child Play by Sargent (2003)

Early Learning

The Power of Play: Learning What Comes Naturally by Elkind (2007)

Einstein Never Used Flashcards: How Our Children Really Learn and Why They Need to Play More and Memorize Less by Golinkoff, Hirsh-Pasek and Eyer (2004)

Mind in the Making:The Seven Essential Life Skills Every Child Needs by Galinsky (2010)

You Are Your Child’s First Teacher, Third Edition: Encouraging Your Child’s Natural Development from Birth to Age Six by Dancy (updated 2012)

Positive Discipline

Positive Discipline by Nelsen (2006)

How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen so Kids Will Talk by Faber and Mazlish (updated 2012)

Parenting with Love and Logic by Cline and Fay (updated 2006)

Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline by Bailey (2001)

The Discipline Book by Sears and Sears (1995) – best discipline book for parents with children under 3 years old

Calm Parenting

Screamfree Parenting: A Revolutionary Approach to Raising Your Kids by Keeping Your Cool by Runkel (2008)

Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, More Secure Kids by Payne and Ross (2010)

Peaceful Parents, Peaceful Kids: Practical Ways to Create a Calm and Happy Home by Drew (2000)

Parenting as a Couple

Partnership Parenting: How Men and Women Parent Differently by Pruett (2009)

Screamfree Marriage by Runkel (2011)

Friendships

Focusing on Peers: The importance of Relationships in the Early Years by Wittmer (2008)

The Friendship Factor: Helping Our Children Navigate Their Social World and Why It Matters for Their Success by Rubin (2003)

The Unwritten Rules of Friendship: Simple Strategies to Help Your Child Make Friends by Elman and Kennedy-Moore (2003)

Social Skills

Raise Your Child’s Social IQ: Stepping Stones to People Skills for Kids by Cohen (2000)

Siblings

Siblings Without Rivalry by Faber and Mazlish (2012 updated)

The Birth Order Book: Why You Are the Way You Are by Leman (2009)

Screentime and Technology

Screentime: How Electronic Media from Baby Videos to Educational Software Affects Your Young Child by Guernsey (2012)

The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age by Steiner-Adair (2013)

Overindulgence

Too Much of  a Good Thing: Raising Children of Character in an Indulgent Age by Kindlon (2003)

How to Unspoil Your Child Fast by Bromfield (2010)

Raising Respectful Children in a Disrespectful World by Rigby (2013)

Self Esteem and Resiliency

The Optomistic Child by Seligman (2007)

Your Child’s Self Esteem by Briggs (1988) a classic

Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents by Carter (2011)

Boys and Girls

Boys and Girls Learn Differently: A Guide for Teachers and Parents by Gurian (updated 2010)

Why Gender Matters: What Parents and Teachers Need to Know About the Emerging Science of Sex Differences by Sax (2006)

Mealtimes and Eating

Child of Mine by Satter (updated 2000)

Dr. Paula’s Guide to Good Nutrition for Babies, Toddlers and Preschoolers by Elbirt (2001)

The Picky Eating Solution by Kennedy (2013)

Sleep

Sleepless in America: Practical Strategies to Help Your Family Get the Sleep It Deserves by Kurcinka (2007)

Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child by Weissbluth (1999) – a classic

Sleeping Thru the Night by Mindell (updated 2005)

Only Child

The Future of Your Only Child: How to Guide Your Child to a Happy and Successful Life by Pickhardt (2008)

The Seven Common Sins of Parenting an Only Child by White (2004)

Shyness

The Shyness Breakthrough by Carducci (2003)

The Shy Child: Helping Children Triumph over Shyness by Swallow (2000)

Strong Willed/Spirited

Raising Your Spirited Child by Kurcinka (2006)

Setting Limits with Your Strong Willed Child by MacKenzie (2013, 2nd edition)

Motivation

Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Dweck (2007)

Sensory Integration

The Out of Sync Child by Kranowitz (updated 2006) a classic

Sensational Kids: Hope and Help for Children with Sensory Processing Disorder by Miller (2007)

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