Positive Discipline Language: It’s Easier Than You Think

Kids playing with toy trains

Many parents assume that learning the language of positive discipline is a difficult task. When really, it’s not that hard. Good preschool and elementary school teachers are in and out of this language all day long. It’s like learning any new set of language rules; take a new job and you are likely learning new language. It just takes your attention and practice.

For this introduction to the language we’ll use the example, “Your child wants a toy that another child is playing with. Your child grabs the toy and runs away screaming.”

Proactive techniques – These are ways to encourage the wanted behaviors to happen more often.

  • Descriptive praise – When it goes well, this is describing the behavior and giving it a label. “You waited for a turn. That was so patient.”
  • Positive directions – This is avoiding directions that start with “no,” “don’t” and “stop.” It means telling children what to do rather than what not to do. For this example, it’s avoiding “no grabbing,” and “don’t grab.” It would be saying “ask for a turn,” or, “wait for a turn.”

Foundation steps – These are techniques to use on the way into a discipline exchange. They are not meant to change behavior, rather to allow emotions, keep communication open and lessen the defensiveness of the listener.

  • I messages – I messages give parents a productive way to share their emotion and lay blame. This would be, I’m frustrated, people are grabbing, or, “he’s upset, he wants that back.” I messages are your emotion or the victim child’s emotion and then either global, “people are grabbing” or passive, “he wants that back” blame.
  • Empathy – This is acknowledging your child’s emotion. Even when it is big for the situation or seems unreasonable. This might be, “I know you are frustrated, it can be hard to wait.”
  • Positive intent – This is the good or just valid reason behind the behavior. For grabbing a toy, it’s as simple as, “I know you really wanted that.” This is not to excuse the behavior away, it’s more a starting point for dealing with the behavior. It’s a way better starting point than the negative intent, “you are such a rude, mean kid.”

Active steps – These are techniques to change or start behavior. They are often a distraction from the behavior.

  • Choices – In general, you give a child two choices about how, when or where they can do the behavior you want them to do. In this case, it might be, “do you want to give that back, or would you like me to give that back?” or, “would you like to play with this or this while you wait?” If they didn’t take it yet, “do you want to ask for a turn, or do you want my help?”
  • Challenges – This is making it a race or a game in some way, “can you give it back before I count to 3?” For this example, it’s not so attractive, but for others this is often helpful.
  • Contribution – A contribution means giving them a related job title or a responsibility. It might be offering the child to be the time keeper or list maker (if there are others waiting for a turn).

End Steps – These techniques are meant to curb behavior. There are a lot of variables to consider between each of these including the age of the child, the level and history of the behavior and fit of each consequence.

  • Natural consequences – This is what just might happen in life. In this case, “if you are grabbing toys, he might not want to play with you.”
  • Logical positive consequences – This is the good related outcome for the wanted behavior. It is best if this is matched in time, intensity and topic. “If you can give the toy back, I will help you to get the next turn.”
  • Logical negative consequences – This is the bad related outcome for the unwanted behavior. It is best if this is matched in time, intensity and topic. “If you grab the toy again, you may not play with it today.”

The foundation, active and end steps combine to make what are called the Steps of Positive Discipline. This gives parents a framework for moving through any discipline exchange. It starts with techniques to calm emotions and open communication, moves to ways to guide behaviors and ends with ways to curb. The steps are a flexible process meant to address everything from running in the house to hitting a friend.

This language came out of the work of Alfred Adler in the early 1900s, Rudolf Dreikurs in the 1930s and Haim Ginott in the 1960s. STEP classes (Systematic Training for Effective Parenting) became popular in the 1970s and 1980s and continue to be attended today. Jane Nelsen’s Positive Discipline books have been popular and revised since the 1980s.

Join me for workshops in Northern Virginia. I also have online workshops, and I answer questions on facebook (Tuesdays at 10:00pm). I also post related videos on youtube.

Advertisements

Calm Parenting: Mantras

frustrated african american businesswoman with baby in office

Mantras are often cited as a good way to calm down in general. When I am stressed about anything, I repeatedly remind myself to, “just breathe, breathe, breathe.”

Targeted mantras can help in parenting. A mom, who had been working on potty training for weeks with her three-year-old son, reminded herself often, “no one goes to college not potty trained.” This helped her put the momentary frustrations in check.

Another mom reported she had a mantra only when her mother-in-law was in town. This mom said she would print out and tape on her refrigerator, “gnaw off their own arm.” I had to ask. She explained that no matter what her mother in law was doing that added frustration, her mantra would bring calm. It reminded her that, aside from her and her husband, grandparents are the only people in the world that would consider gnawing off their own arm to save her child’s life. She said this put the extra cookies and missed naps into perspective.

Your mantra might be general like, “I can do this,” or more specific, “tantrums will end.”

Steps of Positive Discipline : A Grocery Store Example

Mother and daughter shopping in supermarket

Before the discipline, here’s a link to a previous post about ways to enjoy grocery shopping with your kids by age: https://parentingbydrrene.com/2013/06/02/successful-grocery-shopping-with-children/

Discipline Scenario: Your three-year-old wants to walk at the grocery store, but repeatedly pulls things off the shelf onto the floor.

Proactive discipline techniques:

  • Positive directions – This is a reminder to tell your children what you want them to do rather than telling them what you want them to stop doing. In other words, avoid giving directions that start with “no,” “don’t,” and “stop.” Instead of saying, “don’t take that off the shelf,” or, “stop taking food off the shelves,” you should say, “leave that on the shelf,” or, “the food stays on the shelf.” Even, “keep your hands down by your sides,” would work better than, “don’t do that.”
  • Descriptive praise – When the child follows your directions even down the length of one aisle, say something like, “you left everything on the shelf, that was helpful,” or, “you are really listening to directions, that can be tough to do.”

Steps of positive discipline

  • I messages – I messages are for sharing your emotions as needed, and then lay blame on the situation or the behavior, not the child. In this case it might sound like, “I am upset, this is a mess,” or, “I am worried something, might break,” or, “I am frustrated, this is taking too long.”
  • Empathy – Empathy is validating the child’s emotions in the moment, even if you disagree with the emotion itself. This might sound like, “I know you’re bored being at the store,” or, “I know you’re excited to be at the store!”
  • Positive Intent – Positive Intent is recognizing the good reason behind the behavior. For the grocery store, this could be, “I know you want to help with the shopping.”
  • Choices – Choices offer the child two positive ways to do the thing you want them to do. If you want your child to leave things on the shelf at the grocery store, this might sound like, “do you want to ride on the cart or help push the cart?” or, “do you want to carry the cereal or the crackers while we walk?”  **Choices, challenges and contribution are interchangeable at this step of the discipline process.
  • Challenges – Challenges attempt to change behaviors by making it a game, a race or  just by making it fun. On one aisle this might be, “can you walk heel-toe, heel-toe all the ways to the end?” and on the next aisle, “can you find three cereals that start with the letter C?”
  • Contribution – Contribution is giving children jobs to engage them in a positive way. In the grocery store this might be, “I need a cart pusher,” or, “would you be in charge of crossing things off the list?”
  • Natural Consequence – Natural consequences are what might happen if the child continues the behavior. In this case, “if you are pulling things off the shelf, something might break,” or, “you might get hurt.”
  • Logical Positive Consequence – Logical positive consequences are the good related outcome for finding the good behavior. In the grocery store, “if you can leave things on the shelf while we walk, you can pick the cereal,” or, “you can help with the scanner.”
  • Logical Negative Consequence – Logical negative consequences are the bad related outcome for continuing the bad behavior. In the grocery store, “if you pull things off the shelf, you will have to hold my hand,” or, “you will have to ride in the cart.”

For more examples of the steps of positive discipline, here’s a link to similar previous posts: https://parentingbydrrene.com/?s=steps

 

When a Child Prefers One Parent

Question:

Dear Dr. Rene,

I have a two years and eight months old girl. I nursed her for 18 months. After that point, I slowly have faded into the background. If daddy is around, I am out. I can’t give her a bath and put her to bed without dealing with tantrums about why daddy isn’t doing it. She regularly pronounces her love for daddy. Sometimes, she goes out of her way to say that she does not love mommy. I try to be cheerful in spite of this, but it is really, really hard. I feel like the third wheel in my own family. She also refuses to be comforted by me if he is around; sometimes even if he is not. My husband tries to make room for me, but it doesn’t seem to be enough. He says it is “just a phase,” but, for the most part, it has been like this for almost a year.

Answer:

It is normal for a child to go through phases of preferring one parent over the other. I have heard from many parents in this position, including my husband, that it feels really bad.

My older daughter was always equally happy if it was me or her dad giving her a bath or reading to her. My younger daughter took about three years to warm up to the idea of her dad participating. In the first year, she strongly preferred that I hold her. By two years old, she only wanted me to read to her and tuck her in. On nights when it was his turn, she complained and cried. While I know it hurt his feelings, he always seemed to take it in stride occasionally saying things like, “I’ll just keep loving her and eventually she’ll come around.” She did. By the time she was about three years old, he was among her best playmates.

In the moment, the first answer is to not react in a big way. If you over react and get upset or angry, the situation often escalates to a power struggle. Raise your voice and you may spark a tantrum. If you under react and give in to it being the preferred parent’s turn, you give your child’s push power. Your child is more likely to push for the other parent the next go around because it worked.

The second answer is to give your child empathy, validate their feelings and let them know you understand. My husband would say something like, “I know you’re sad, you love when mommy reads to you, she’s great at it.” This dampens their need to argue.

And third, move forward through the process. As you can, continue to read the story, tuck-in and give love. This means my husband would finish the bedtime routine through her upset. If I took over or if he gave up, it encourages the push to be bigger the next go around.

If bath or bedtime are particularly difficult, it may be helpful for the preferred parent to “be away” during that particular time for several days in a row, and the non-preferred parent should strive to make the time enjoyable. If it’s bath, bring extra toys, make it a bubble bath, give extra playtime. If it’s bedtime, read and snuggle a bit longer each night. When the preferred parent re-enters the schedule, continue to alternate nights often and work through the difficult times.

It may also be helpful for each parent to spend some fun alone time with each child in the house every month. This is being sure that individual pairs in the family get regular time to connect individually.

Sincerely, Dr. Rene

Successful Grocery Shopping with Children

Grocery shopping with children can be quite a task. It takes a while to get through the store, there are lots of temptations and distractions at their level and most times, not a lot of fun. There are several ways to increase the likelihood of a successful shopping trip.

The first line of defense is getting organized. Shop at the same store each time and build your list around the store layout. You might bring a snack along for your child or open a box of cereal or crackers that you plan to buy. An available snack might curb repeatedly asking for other foods.

The second is to have a way to contain them as needed. Of course this is for the little ones and includes a baby seat, a seat belt, space in the big cart or a drivers seat in the car carts.

The third way is to engage your children. Give them jobs and include them in the shopping process. Here is a list of several ways they can help by age:

One and Two Year Olds

  • Okay, this age is probably too young to really be helpful, but for sure the grocery store provides a wealth of conversation starters and chances to encourage early speech. You can label the fruits and vegetables, discuss colors, and talk about cold vs. hot in various areas.

Three and Four Years Olds

  • Children this age can start to make choices about which cereal or ice cream to pick.  At this little age, it’s best to give them a choice of two per decision.
  • They can count (with you and then independently) the number of apples into the bag or soup cans into the cart.
  • They can find rhymes such as a fruit that rhymes with “bapples.”
  • They can find flavors of yogurt based on the pictures.

Five, Six and Seven Year Olds

  • As they are learning to read and write, children may be excited to help write, find and cross off the items on the list.
  • They can weigh fruits and vegetables.
  • They can help load and unload the cart.
  • They can play Eye Spy to find foods on the list. You might describe, “I spy a fruit that is round and crispy, red, shiny and has a stem,” for apples or, “I spy a blue box with a happy tiger on the front,” for Frosted Flakes.

Eight, Nine and Ten Year Olds

  • As they are a bit older, children might be interested in learning about nutrition labels.
  • As math skills increase, they may be able to calculate the cost of fruits and vegetables by weight.
  • They can manage the hand-held scanner if it’s available.
  • They can push the cart.
  • They can manage the coupons.

Older Kids

  • To practice additional math skills, children can learn to comparison shop by comparing price per weight of different sizes. They can keep a tally of the total and calculate coupons and taxes.
  • As you are comfortable, they can find items scattered across the store and bring them one at a time to the cart, OR take half the list and a second cart and meet you in the middle.
  • Older kids might bring recipes they’d like to make and shop for them along side you.

At any age, give descriptive praise when they are successful. Say things like, “you got the apples in the bag, that was helpful!” or, “thanks for pushing the cart.” Please add your own ideas for getting through the grocery store below!

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/

Helping Siblings Get Along

Here are a few general tips to benefit sibling relationships:

  • Fair is not equal, fair is everyone has their needs met – It’s okay that the discipline for a three-year-old is different than the discipline for a seven-year-old for the same behaviors. They are different children at different stages of development, meeting their needs may happen in very different ways.
  • Avoid comparisons – This can be as mild as, “this is our big boy, and this is our baby,” or as direct as, “this is our student, and this is our athlete.” These labels and comparisons can put a lot of pressure on children and define our expectations which can be limiting.
  • Beyond three years old think of yourself more as coach than referee in helping them get along – When the youngest involved is under three years old, you are still often a referee. As they get older, avoid solving for them. Rather focus on teaching them new and better skills to problem solve themselves. Focus your efforts on helping them listen to each other, take turns and share, negotiate and problem solve together. This can take a great deal of time and creativity, but in the long run moves them towards being able to solve without you.
  • Give them lots of opportunities – Siblings need opportunities to play and work together. This might be shared challenges like cleaning up together to beat the clock, cooking together, having sleep overs or building forts together.

To learn more about each of these ideas and much more about sibling relationships, join my Birth Order and Sibling Rivalry workshop this Sunday April 14 from 7:00-9:00 p.m.  For more information and to register, please visit http://www.eventbrite.com/org/283710166?s=1328924.

Can’t make it to the workshop? There is a great parenting book titled Siblings Without Rivalry by Faber and Mazlish.

Bloom Where You Are Planted

I’ve found another family mantra, bloom where you are planted. We’ve been discussing this one with our girls all week. We’ve touched on this over the years, but this week it hit home when we went on vacation with a few other families. This vacation included a day at a low-key amusement park, a dinner show, lots of shopping and late night time at the open-24-hours hotel pool. I get “low-key” and “amusement park” are incongruent, but it is a park with swings and wooden coasters as opposed to the crazy big coasters even my kids prefer. My kids made the best of it, they rode every ride that looked remotely fun. The other kids deemed the rides “for babies” and sat out most of them just watching. While in line for a roller coaster, they complained to their mom that she “wasted her money,” and that “this place is lame.”

The much anticipated day at the amusement park was also an unseasonably cold 45 degree day with light rain starting by lunchtime. Early in the morning my girls and I decided to make the best of it, enjoy what we could. The other families bailed by 2:00 p.m. The girls and I stayed, we rode rides in the rain til 7:00 p.m. My 15 year old commented, “Yeah, it’s raining, but we are here, and this is fun.” The dinner show unfolded in a similar fashion. My girls singing and participating with the adults, the other children rolling their eyes. My girls enjoyed the pool, just the two of them.

There are several ways to teach this attitude:

  • Model it – My husband’s example was about a day we spent with my high school friends at a community garden in Richmond. He says he couldn’t think of a more dull way to spend the day, but decided to make the most of it and went for nature walks and played tag with our girls.
  • Highlight it – When your children keep an upbeat attitude, let them know you noticed.
  • Focus on solutions not problems – When it started to drizzle, my daughter said, “If it rains harder, we could stop and see a show or have lunch.”
  • Live in the moment as it is, rather than focusing on what it isn’t – One of the other children commented, “my friend Beth went somewhere good for vacation.” She couldn’t be grateful for where she was when she focused on where she wasn’t.
  • Practice gratitude – The more children practice gratitude, the more they feel it. We were blessed to have time away together as a family, that alone is reason to be grateful.
  • Smile more – It’s easy and can help improve your mood and your outlook.

I hope my girls keep this attitude as they grow. I want them to fully enjoy and make the most of wherever they are.

For our other family mantras, please visit: https://parentingbydrrene.wordpress.com/2012/07/05/mantras-in-our-family/.

Please share your family mantras here!

Creative Ways to Encourage New Foods

So many parents of young children note their children are becoming more picky about eating by the day. They describe a child who was a pretty good eater at two years old and is now narrowing their choices and becoming more demanding. There are so many ways to encourage children to eat and try new foods without adding pressure. Here are a few ideas:

  • Encourage children to help with the shopping – Let little ones draw pictures of the foods on your shopping list, and let older ones write the list for you. At the store let them pick which type of apples or grapes to buy, maybe let them pick a cereal or flavors of yogurt. Encourage reading skills by having them keep track of items on the list. Encourage math skills by teaching them to weigh fruits and vegetables, teaching them to compare prices per weight or keep a running tally for the cost of the list.
  • Encourage children to help prepare food – At home, have children wash the vegetables or cut the fruit as they can. Have them butter rolls and serve green beans. Overall, involve them in the food process.
  • Offer new foods when your children are hungry – If they eat really well at breakfast, offer new foods then or offer new foods as a appetizer before dinner.
  • Offer foods in a wide range of colors – Adding colors is easiest done with fruits and vegetables.
  • Try fun, new, child-friendly recipes – There are so many great cookbooks for kids including Family Fun: Cooking with Kids by Cook, Kids Cooking: A Very Slightly Messy Manual by Klutz and Kitchen for Kids by Low. There are also child-friendly cookbooks (meaning meals you make that kids will love) including Cooking Light: The Ultimate Kid Approved Cookbook by Cooking Light or No Whine with Dinner by Weiss. There are also great website including  http://www.foodnetwork.com/cooking-with-kids/package/index.html and http://www.parents.com/recipes/cooking/with-kids/. This list is just for starters, there are many others in each category.
  • Make smoothies they love – Throw in a vegetable or wheat germ on the side. You might try recipes from 201 Healthy Smoothies and Juices for Kids by Roskelley.
  • Make food “art,” let them play with food then eat – This could be standing up broccoli to make trees, making small snowmen with mashed potatoes, using big cookie cutters to make shape sandwiches or letting them make ants on a log (celery with peanut butter and raisens on top) and then EATING the fun.
  • Build on foods they already like – If your child loves ketchup or ranch dressing, go really wide on all the foods they might be able to dip in. You might also look for cookbooks that build on a favorite ingredient such as The Peanut Butter & Co. Cookbook by Zalben or The Cereal Lovers Cookbook by Chattman.
  • Teach them about the food process – Visit the farm, take a tour of a grocery store, teach them about where food comes from and how food is made.
  • Teach them about nutrition – Teach them about the food pyramid, about healthy choices and portions.
  • Offer new foods in a container they can hold – When you can, offer the new foods in a bag or container they can hold.
  • Offer it in other novel ways – Try new foods on a stick, serve small foods with toothpicks for utensils or serve small portions in an ice cube tray (divided into small squares).
  • And when all that fails, I am fine with hiding ingredients – To cook and hide ingredients at home you might read The Sneaky Chef by Lapine or Deceptively Delicious by Seinfeld. You might also take them to Robeks and try a wide range of their smoothies, including the ones that have vegetables or start experiementing with your own smoothies at home.

Rewards v. Positive Logical Consequences

In general, I suggest parents steer clear of using rewards in everyday parenting. The main reason is rewards tend to introduce extrinsic motivation for behavior which decreases intrinsic motivation. In other words, you decrease the behavior you were trying to increase. Rewards tend to work against you.

If you find yourself setting up a reward or starting to bribe a child for behavior, you are on better ground offering the child a positive logical consequence. Positive logical consequences are things related to the behavior itself. Rewards tend to be unrelated.

Let’s say I am a second grade teacher, and I say to my children, “for every book you read this week, you get a sticker. The class with the most stickers gets pizza on Friday.” I am directly decreasing the interest in reading. I am increasing the interest in stickers and pizza. Books are now the obstacle in the way of stickers and pizza. I will read the shortest fastest books I can, I might even lie about the books I read because I want stickers and pizza. If I am in the class that realizes on Wednesday we aren’t getting pizza, we are done reading.

To keep intrinsic motivation for reading the idea is to offer positive logical consequences or things related to reading. This might be, “for every book you read, you can check out an extra book. The class with the most books gets double library time on Friday, or gets to watch the movie that goes with the book on Friday.” Positive logical consequences stay on topic with the behavior, reading for reading builds intrinsic motivation for reading.

If you start to pay your child to practice piano, you are directly decreasing their interest in piano playing and increasing their interest in money. To keep intrinsic motivation for piano, you might offer that for every week they practice piano, you will sit for a recital, or they can download more sheet music.

%d bloggers like this: