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.

Contribution and Chores by Age

African girl with folded laundry

Contribution is giving children small ways to be helpful throughout the day. If you are folding laundry, they can match socks, carry stacks of washcloths or put underwear in drawers. If you are getting dinner ready, they can color placemats, butter rolls, serve greenbeans, fold napkins or take drink orders. You might also ask children to water plants, pour dog food in the dog’s bowl or help get things ready for bathtime. These jobs are typically smaller than chores but are still helpful. It’s good to start contribution as early as two or three years old and continue through childhood.

Chores children do because they are part of the family can easily start by four or five years old. Chores at this age are daily and should be things the child can do independently. Family chores are not paid but are expected. It’s helpful to have a chore chart so children can track their efforts. This is also laying foundation for tracking chores for allowance later on. Chores as part of the family for younger children might include; simple pet care, putting clothes in the hamper, putting towels on hooks or carrying plates to the sink. For older children, family chores might include making their bed, walking the dog or picking up their play space.

Keeping contribution and family chores, you might add chores for allowance by six or seven years old. In the beginning, these chores should also be daily. As children get to be nine or ten years old, the schedule of chores can be more flexible. There might be a chore on the chart that happens once or twice a week. Paid chores for younger children might include setting the table, dusting a room or washing windows and mirrors. For older children paid chores might include loading and unloading the dishwasher, vacuuming a room or level of the house or cleaning a bathroom. As they are older, you might also offer a list of bigger, one time chores like cleaning out the garage or raking the yard to earn extra money.

For motivation’s sake, it may be helpful to keep school work and any musical instrument practice off chore charts. It’s also good to keep pet care on the contribution or family chore list and not be paid.

Introducing Chores

If you are thinking about introducing chores to your children, it is best to start with the idea of contribution. Contribution is giving kids jobs throughout the day and expecting them to help just because they are part of the family. For two year olds, this may be helping find socks when you do laundry. For five year olds, this may be folding napkins and buttering rolls when you are making dinner. For a full description of contribution, please visit https://parentingbydrrene.com/2012/10/12/contribution-getting-kids-to-help/.

Once contribution is well established, you can introduce chores children do because they are part of the family. These are daily chores, and things they are capable of doing. For a three year old, this might be getting their clothes in the hamper. For a five year old, this might be carrying plates to the sink after dinner. When you start daily chores, it is helpful to introduce a chart for them to track their progress. Be sure you also occasionally give descriptive praise, saying things like, “you cleared the table, that was helpful!”

Once the family chores are being consistently taken care of, you can introduce chores for allowance. If and when you do this, be sure to continue with contribution and chores they do because they are part of the family. If you only have them doing chores for allowance, you won’t be able to get their help in other ways unless you pay them. In the beginning, these should also be things they can do independently, and things that are done daily. It’s good to continue the chart that has a chore or two because they are family, and add the chore or two they do to earn allowance. In the beginning, help them to get through and be sure they earn their allowance.

From the beginning, it is good to help them divide their money into spending, saving and charity money. The spending is money they can carry with them to the store and spend on little things, or they can put it towards the bigger things they are saving for. In the beginning, saving money is for something big they’d like to buy. As they are older this money can be towards a car or towards college expenses. The charity money is to set aside for the penny drive at school or for the Sunday school offering plate.

As they get older, you can introduce optional chores or a list of ways they can earn additional money. They can also start to do small jobs for trusted neighbors such as walking their dogs or carrying in their mail.

You might also read: https://parentingbydrrene.com/2011/12/05/chores-by-age/ or https://parentingbydrrene.com/2011/12/04/chores-for-earning-allowance/

Other ideas? Please suggest them below!

Tips to Enjoy Eating Out with Children

Family eating together in a restaurant

I have always loved eating out with the kids. Yes, there have been stressful times as Alicen threw up a LOT when she was two and three years old. And yes, occasionally we’ve had to cut things short over behavior or exhaustion. That said, eating out can be a very pleasant experience with children at any age.

There are several basic things to consider when choosing a restaurant with young children.

  • Kid friendly – Some children need more practice than others at learning to speak quietly and sit at a table. The idea is to start at very kid friendly restaurants. With little ones, we go to restaurants like Chili’s where it is okay if they are occasionally loud.
  • Kids’ menu – It may be helpful to check out menus online or to call ahead and ask about menu options. The best kid’s menus we’ve seen are at Legal Seafood and Firefly. Other times we just order them extra plates, and then split off our own.
  • Things to do – It can be so helpful when a restaurant offers some activities. Bertucci’s offers kids dough to play with, Macaroni Grill lets them draw on the paper table cloth and Cracker Barrel has the peg game and five page coloring book menus.
  • Things to look at –  In our area, Mango Mikes has a huge fish tank that children can see from the dining room or up close if their parents walk them near the bar. The National Gallery of Art Cascade Café has a waterfall outside a picture window to look at and moving walkway for something to do. The Rainforest Café has an amazing amount to look at.
  • Kids’ area –  Some restaurants go as far as having a kids’ area. This can be a play area like at IKEA or Generous George’s, or a seating area like at Paradiso. Paradiso has a kids’ room where children sit at small picnic table and eat while watching Disney movies on a big screen TV while parents have a nice meal in the next room. While this defeats the social piece and learning to sit with parents, it’s another fun option.
  • Kids’ trinkets – Mango Mikes has a wall full of party favor type toys for children to pick from. Stardust gave little plastic figures on their drinks. We grew a collection of their mermaids and elephants.
  • Plan to walk around – Sitting through the meal itself can be a long stretch for little ones. If you go in planning to walk around the restaurant or even outside with them once before and once after the meal, it may help them to sit longer and make the experience less frustrating.

Activity bag – It can be helpful to carry a “restaurant bag” in your car at all times. This is a bag that has small notebooks and pencils, stickers, small Playdoh and a few party-favor toys. This bag only comes out once menu items have been chosen, goes away when the food comes and can be available again once they eat. The trick is to not have it available at other times like when you are stuck in traffic. If they get to play with it other times, it likely won’t hold their attention in the restaurant.

Conversation WITH them – This is probably the most important point, spend your time speaking with your children. At any age, include them in the conversation. Ask them questions and share your time. Teach them that meals are a pleasant and social time.

Contribution during – Contribution in general is giving children jobs related to a transition or other daily function. At home, this includes them matching cups to lids or taking drink orders when you are making dinner. At a restaurant, this might include them folding and refolding napkins, buttering rolls, passing food or putting food on a fork for you.

Sit at a booth – If your kids are often up and down from the table, a booth might be helpful so you can box them in.

Sit outside – If it’s available, sitting outside tends to give kids lots to look at and others may be more forgiving of noise.

Plan dinner on the early side – Eating late, children are more likely to be tired and hungry which is a recipe for disaster. It’s better to go early when everyone is fresh.

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/

Contribution – Getting Kids to Help

Contribution is getting children involved in the process of daily living. It is giving them jobs, so they can be productively engaged. When children are participating in family function, there is less need for discipline. This is very much in line with the Montessori philosophy. In a Montessori classroom, children are preparing snack, serving snack and cleaning up the snack area, even at two years old. There is little misbehavior around snacktime because it is their job, they take pride in it. The are fully engaged in positive behavior, so there is less time for the negative.

Starting at two years old, I think children should be contributing at home throughout the day. If you are folding laundry, they can be matching socks. If you are preparing a meal, they can be matching cups to lids or taking drink orders. Older children, who are buttering rolls or serving green beans, bypass the time for arguing, video games and to complain about what’s for dinner. You avoid the need for discipline by making them part of the process.

In the classroom, if my teachers are getting art supplies ready for the next day, there should be children helping them. They might be helping pour paint or matching papers. Yes, this takes longer and can be more of a mess, but the next day those helper children are a little more excited to be there.

Go wide with how they help. Setting the table every night for dinner sounds like more of a chore (I like chores and chores for allowance, but this is something different). Contribution includes drawing placemats, writing menus, folding napkins and serving food. Shake it up by suggesting different ways to contribute each day.

When they do contribute, take the help however it comes. Resist the urge to correct their helpfulness. Let’s say you have been working for a week with your six-year-old on how to make their bed. One morning they come to you excitedly and say, “mommy, I made my bed without you!” When you go to see it, find something nice to say about that bed. Even if it’s not what you’d hoped for, say something like, “this corner is so straight!” and leave the bed. If you take this moment to correct, or you wait til they go to school to remake the bed, you are squashing their contribution. It’s better to wait until the next morning and catch them before they make it to reteach.

Contribution teaches life skills, builds intrinsic motivation, and creates a sense of belonging and community.

For more on chores and allowance please read: https://parentingbydrrene.wordpress.com/2011/12/05/chores-by-age/ and https://parentingbydrrene.wordpress.com/2011/12/04/chores-for-earning-allowance/.

Two-Year-Old Running in Parking Lot

Hi Dr. Rene,
My two-year-old runs away from me in the parking lot. I have a four-month-old so when she does this it is especially challenging since I’m holding the carrier. I have been talking to her prior to leaving about what we need to do – hold hands, stay with mommy, etc. And lately, I have been giving her a reward when she stays with me and holds hands. This works most of the time but she still runs away now and then. Do you have any insight on why she does this? It makes me reluctant to take her places!

Sincerely,

Katie

Dear Katie,

At two years old, she likely does this because it’s fun or because it gets a big reaction. I would save the conversation about what she can do until just before you are getting out of the car. After you’ve gotten the carrier with the baby, and you are just about to let her out, I would say, “in the parking lot I need you to hold my hand the whole time.” Then I would give her a choice to help her buy in, something like, “do you want to jump or walk while you hold my hand,” or, “do you want to sing or whisper while you hold my hand?” If she is not yet able to make a choice, just give her these things as a challenge, “let’s whisper the whole time we hold hands, ready?”

If this doesn’t work, be prepared to follow through with a consequence related to keeping her safe. If she is pulling away or trying to run, “if you run, you will have to be in the stroller,” or, “you will have to wear the backpack (leash).” I am not a terribly big fan of the leashes, but I get it. If your young child is a runner, and my first one was, I get the leash in parking lots or crowded places. I think they are fine while the child is learning to stay with you or be a listener.

You might also practice a key word. In our house, we playe the Freeze Game. I took Alicen to Springfield Mall, an empty place on weekday afternoons, and said, “okay, today when you run off I am going to say, ‘Freeze!’ When you hear me say, ‘Freeze!’ your job is to stop your feet as fast as you can. Got it?” For the next while, you are playing the Freeze Game and teaching that ‘freeze’ is a magic word. Every time she listens, gush a little by saying something like, “look how fast you stopped. You are a listener!” You can then use the Freeze Game in parking lots and on bigger outings.

I hope this helps!

Sincerely,

Dr. Rene

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