positive discipline

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.

How Charting Behaviors Helps: Tantrums and Aggression

Angry little boy glaring and fighting with his brother

Charting behaviors like tantrums or aggression is often done by teachers in the classroom, so they can quickly gain a better understanding of what is happening. It is something parents can easily do at home. Charting means keeping detailed and consistent notes about the behavior. If a child were tantruming often in my classroom or at home, I’d start a notebook and for every tantrum I’d jot down:

  • Where it was
  • When it was
  • Who else was around or involved
  • What seemed to set it off (trigger)
  • Any signs child was about to tantrum (cues)
  • How long it lasted
  • What they did during
  • How they calmed down
  • What happened after

Once you’ve taken notes for several tantrums, you can look across the notes for patterns. If it’s always the same time of day, maybe move snack earlier or rearrange that time of the day. If it’s the same place or happening when interacting with the same children, look at how you can change the space or separate the children. Coach the triggers directly. If turn taking triggered your child’s tantrums, make a plan to coach turn taking later in the day by reading a story about taking turns, role play taking turns or give a puppet show about taking turns. The idea is to teach them how to better manage when the trigger happens. Use the cues to better intervene before future tantrums. For some children, a cue would be their voice going up a notch or getting really whiney before the tantrum starts. If you know the cue and know the tantrum is about to start, you can intervene just before with empathy, positive intent or choices to calm and distract away from the tantrum.

Here’s a helpful post about using triggers and cues to lessen tantrums.

By charting the behavior and reviewing your notes, you are in a much better place to address the tantrums.

Likewise, if a child were being aggressive often in my classroom or at home, I’d start a notebook and for every aggressive behavior I’d jot down:

  • Where it was
  • When it was
  • Who else was around or involved
  • What seemed to set it off (trigger)
  • Any signs the child was about to be aggressive (cues)
  • What actually happened
  • What happened after
  • Any discipline given

Again, this information is meant to show patterns and give you a better chance to intervene and in the long run curb the aggression. If it’s a particular time, place or person, make changes accordingly. Triggers are what sets off the behavior, and cues are signs it’s about to happen. Children who are aggressive often tend to have fairly consistent triggers and cues. You can coach the triggers, and intervene on the cues.

A few years ago, I got a phone call from a preschool. They had a two-year-old girl who was biting people often. My first questions included, “who is she biting? Where is she biting? And, when is she biting?” and, “did you notice any triggers or cues?” The answers were all, “good question.” So they took notes for a week. When we spoke again they said, “We can see it coming. She only bites people if they approach her, and she is holding stuff.” It’s a don’t touch my stuff bite. Knowing that, the teachers can focus on teaching her to say “stop,” or “mine,” when others approach. They can have her sit down, or just stay within arms reach when they see her holding stuff. They also noticed consistent cues. They said, “she gets this wild look in her eye, her mouth flies open, and then she lunges.” Scary as that is, the wild look gives them a few second to remind her to say “mine,” or hold her or say “freeze,” or say “run,” to the other child.

Here is a helpful post about discipline for aggression.

Finding a Balance in Offering Children Choices

fitting

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.

 

 

 

Coaching: Encouraging Behavior Change a Few Minutes at a Time

A mother and daughter drawing in a book on the kitchen

I teach parenting workshops on positive discipline often. At least weekly, I am reviewing the language of I messages, empathy, positive intent, choices and natural and logical consequences. This language is meant to provide parents with a framework for managing children’s behaviors in the moment. It is a flexible and effective approach for shaping behaviors and often helps to calm the parent/child exchange.

To me, for behavior change over time, positive discipline is half the answer. The other half of the answer is coaching. Coaching is best done out of the moment and when all is well. Coaching time is focused on teaching the child better ways to behave and giving better options. A key to coaching is to avoid lecture, to make it more engaging and more of an exchange.

There are so many ways to coach wanted behaviors. When I review these ideas with parents, it can seem overwhelming. The idea is to think of having one conversation or doing one small activity each day towards coaching what you want kids to do. Even if it’s every other day, after a month you’ve focused on teaching the positive behaviors fifteen times.

  • Model behaviors – If you want to teach your children to greet people, go out of your way to greet people often and warmly when your children are with you.
  • Highlight daily happenings – When your child finally waits nicely for a turn with a toy, notice it and give descriptive praise. Descriptive praise includes describing the behavior and giving it a label. It might sound like, “you waited for a turn. That was so patient!” or, “you waited patiently for a turn. You were being a good friend.”
  • Read related story books – There are children’s books on so many common behaviors or concerns. There are books about how to make friends, sharing and turn taking, how to calm down and work through anger and so much more. On Amazon Books, you can do an advanced topic search under children’s books. On this blog you can visit our children’s book list.
  • Tell related stories – It can be fun to make up your own stories. My girls are Alicen and Claire. When they were little, I told a lot of Amy and Catie stories; Amy remarkably like Alicen, and Catie remarkably like Claire. If Alicen and Claire had a big upset on the swings, that night Amy and Catie would have a similar upset at the sandbox. It’s like a lecture without being a lecture.
  • Ask children to make up good outcome stories OR give choices in your stories – If they are old enough, you could give kids a story starter and ask them to finish it in a good way. You might also build a few social choices in to the stories you tell.
  • Role play – It can be helpful to act out scenarios with your child. The idea is to encourage everyone to make good choices about things to do and say. Talk about how to make situations work better.
  • Give puppet shows – In a puppet show, your child might be the audience while you tell a story with good choices. Even better, your child can participate.
  • Draw pictures of it going well – Before a friend comes over to play, you might draw pictures together of how to share toys and how to ask mom for help with sharing toys.
  • Make comic strips – As kids get older, you might draw comic strips together and fill in the words.
  • Brainstorm lists – You can make lists of ways to greet people, ways to ask for turns, ways to express anger and ways to calm down. You can always review lists to try new techniques or put lists in order with the best idea on top.
  • Ask hypotheticals – We call asking hypotheticals the “what if” game in our house. For a child learning to take turns, “what would you do if you were in the sand box and you wanted a shovel, but the there were only two shovels, and they were already being used? What would you do?”
  • Ask multiple choice questions – You might also ask, “let’s say I am in the sand box using a shovel, and you want a turn. Would you; A) throw sand at me? B) take the shovel and run? or, C) ask me nicely?”

There are countless ways to coach behaviors. If you have a particularly challenging behavior, you might google, “ways to teach kids to…” Get creative and engage your children. Think to coach as often, if not more than you discipline.

6 Ways to Ask Dr. Rene Your Parenting Questions

Help and support concept

There are lots of ways to connect with me and have your parenting questions answered.

  • Submit parenting questions to this blog – You are welcome to email your parenting questions to blog@parentingplaygroups.com. I often answer parents’ questions and posts them to http://www.parentingbydrrene.com.
  • Ask shorter questions on facebook – You can join a parenting chat on facebook every Tuesday from 10:00 – 11:00pm at Parenting by Dr. Rene.
  • Join me for a twitter chat – I’m still figuring out these logistics and summoning the courage to just schedule one. On twitter visit @ParentingDrRene.
  • Join our Online Membership for online Q&As –  You can join my online membership which gets you access to many hours of my popular parenting workshops. These audio classes cover the whole discipline series, potty training, sibling rivalry, managing mealtimes and more. When you are an online member, you can also participate in my Q&A sessions. Of course you can listen live but you can also listen on your schedule. It’s as easy as posting your questions in advance of the meeting time and then listening to them in the recorded library. Online membership is available at  http://parentingplaygroups.com/MemberResources/index.php/welcome/.
  • Attend a workshop – I offer local workshops on a wide range of topics. For topics, locations and to register, please visit http://www.eventbrite.com/o/parenting-by-dr-rene-parenting-playgroups-283710166?s=1328924.
  • Schedule an individual consultation – I meet with individual families often. Consultation works best if you send a detailed email including any related history, typical examples, teachers’ and others’ relevant comments and all of your questions and concerns. This ensures I am a good fit and allows everyone to focus on problem solving rather than collecting information during the meeting time. Occasionally this includes observation time at home or in your child’s classroom. If you would like to schedule a consultation time, please email drrene@parentingplaygroups.com directly.

Is It Okay to Take a Mommy Time-Out?

Kids having a quarrel and fight

Absolutely yes!

When most parents think about time-out, it’s often sending the child to their room or having the child sit out of play for a few minutes. When I discuss time-outs in the last hour of our positive discipline series, I often get a question about the use of a mommy time-out. The parent says something along the lines of, “this isn’t really a time-out for my child, but there are times when I just need a break. Is it okay to be alone myself for a few minutes, or to go into my bedroom and close the door for a few minutes?”

As long as your child is in a safe place, I think it’s completely fine to take a few minutes of a break for yourself. If this is a very young child, just putting them in the crib with a few safe toys and walking to another room is better than continuing to hold the child when you are feeling on the edge. If you are about to lose your cool with an older child, I think it’s fine to separate yourself, close a door and just breath for a few minutes before you interact again.

It can be helpful to note, as children get older, discipline doesn’t have to be immediate.  Of course, it should be as soon as possible, and under four years old it should be immediate, but as the child is four or five years old, the discipline can be a bit later. You can have time to collect your thoughts before moving forward.

In the big picture, I think it’s healthy to occasionally plan for time away from your family. In my own house, maybe once a month my husband or I would plan a night out with friends solo. Ideally parents find alone time at least once a week. This can be small like a shower with the door locked or a jog around the neighborhood. I know it’s sad that the shower counts, but it does.

If both parents are home and one is loosing their cool, it is also fine to tap-out. It’s fine to hand off your children to your partner. In our house it’s always been unspoken, a parent that is handing off supervision, is absolutely allowed to do so. For the receiving parent, it’s time to step-up!

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

 

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.

Whining? Focus on the Positive

This seems like a small tip, but it can have a big impact. So often when I hear parents correcting their child’s unpleasant tone, they say, “stop whining,” or, “no whining,” or, “I can’t hear that whiney voice!” If anything, this reminds the child to whine. The golden rule here is, ‘what you focus on, you get more of.’ Focus your language on whining and that whiney voice, and you’ll get more whining.

You’ll be more effective if you change your words and focus on the positive. It’s better to say things like, “use your nice voice,” or, “find your big voice,” or, “I can hear you when you find your regular voice.”

This is true of positive directions in general. Let’s say your child is grabbing toys a lot. If you give negative directions like, “no grabbing,” or, “stop grabbing,” you are reminding them to grab, sending the message that grabbing gets attention. Your child has to be able to turn your language around and figure out an opposite behavior. It’s better to give positive directions such as, “ask for a turn,” or, “wait for a turn,” or, “find something to trade.”

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.

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