Ways to Avoid Discipline with Your Children

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

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

Guidelines for Using the Steps of Discipline

In my Positive Discipline workshop series, we spend three hours on the steps of positive discipline. This language provides a framework for effectively working through a discipline exchange from managing emotions with I messages and empathy to using choices and consequences. I have written about the steps and given examples of each in several previous blog posts which you can read: https://parentingbydrrene.com/?s=steps+of+positive+discipline

Once you’ve learned the steps of positive discipline, there are a few guidelines for using each.

I messages are for when you are expressing negative emotions and laying blame. Be sure you lay blame on the behavior or situation, not the child. Sometimes there isn’t an emotion, if you are laying blame it is fine to use just the second part of the sentence. If there’s emotion, this might sound like, “I am upset, this is a mess.” and no emotion, “wow, this is a mess.”

Empathy is for when the children are expressing negative emotions. The empathy, as needed, comes before the discipline or the fix of the situation.

The general idea for emotions is to consider on the way into a discipline exchange if either of these techniques are needed.

Positive intent is helpful in every exchange. While you don’t have to always say it out loud, the rule is at least think it every time.

Choices come before consequences for all behaviors except aggression. Aggression may work backwards. If choices aren’t working, you can substitute challenges or jobs here.

Natural consequences become fair game at three-and-a-half or four years old.  Remember you aren’t stopping behavior, you are allowing the child to think through this and make a decision about the behavior. Occasionally, it may be that you state a natural and then follow up with a logical consequence.

Logical consequences are meant as an endpoint in discipline. Positive logicals work more like choices, often with a more agreeable outcome. Negative logicals may be met with upset, but that likely means your consequence is meaningful (provided you didn’t go too big with intensity).

In real life, you wouldn’t use all of these steps at one time. Most often, parents use a few of the steps in combination to work through an exchange. The best plan is to spend time focused on using each step, get comfortable with it and figure out which steps are most comfortable for you and work well with your child.

These steps are meant to be used in conjunction with proactive techniques and coaching good behaviors.

Natural vs. Logical Consequences

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

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

Natural Consequences

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

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

Logical Consequences

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

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

Examples

Your child grabs a toy from a friend.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Steps of Positive Discipline Defined

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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