The “how to” of the discipline process
Remember our mantra: “Attention is attention to a child whether it is negative or positive, attention to a behavior reinforces it!” And “Consistency is the key.”
A few pointers to start:
1. Set realistic guidelines. Know your child’s developmental stage. As a parent, you may want your child to share his toys with friends, sit still during church and say “please” and “thank you”, but you have to consider what’s age appropriate when it comes to behavior — and gauge your expectations accordingly. Do not discipline when the child is not able to comply because of age or development.
2. Be patient. Patience is the key. Often parents will complain that they have tried a discipline strategy and it didn’t work. Timeout was tried over and over again, but the behavior continued. Remember, it takes a while for your child to test to see if you really mean it, and then it takes a while for a child to gain control of the behavior. Children’s temperaments also play a role. Consistency is the key, say what you will do and then do what you say every single time.
3. Acknowledge your child’s feelings. When it comes to discipline, parents need to be warm but firm. Give your child the words to describe a feeling. “I know you are frustrated, but we don’t hit.” “I know you are angry with mommy” “I know you are sad.” Helping your child describe what he is feeling with words will eventually decrease the acting out. This also helps your child begin to develop empathy, he or she will know how others feel because they have felt it too.
4. Listen. As your child gets older, parents will need to listen to a child’s reasoning. It is fine to give an older child a chance to explain, and even accept the child’s explanation, but there should not be engagement in an argument. Arguing will not convince a child that as a parent you are right. You simply will say, “I know that you don’t understand now and are upset, but this is my decision.” Parents should never engage in an argument with young children; toddlers and preschool age children will never look at you and say “I understand Mom, I will go to time out!” 🙂
5. Model good behavior. To teach manners and socially acceptable behavior, most children will learn by modeling. When a child is prompted “Say thank you.” “Say I am sorry.” and the child sees the parent model the behavior, they will eventually incorporate those manners and behaviors. Do not force but help your child become socially acceptable. If your child will not say please, thank you or sorry, say it for the child. “Connor says “Please.” Modeling poor language, yelling, name calling etc. will result in a child behaving like you!
6. Give your child choices. Many times you can head off a conflict with choices. Giving choices often increases cooperation. When a child feels more control, they often will not act out as much. Choices about which outfit to wear, choices between two healthy foods, even give choices for non negotiable things like brushing teeth. “I know that you don’t like brushing teeth, but it is important, so would you like to brush your teeth now or after you put on your pjs?” Find every day choices for your child.
7. Know when to walk away. Temper tantrums are a child’s way of blowing off steam and communicating their frustration. They are a part of almost every child’s normal growth and development during the toddler years. Some children have more than others. If you respond to them then you validate that behavior; but if you ignore them you will see them gradually subside. If a child is totally out of control with a tantrum, sit next to your child, speak soothingly and place your hand on him gently. Touch will often calm. Do not pick up and comfort, this will again encourage the behavior. Tantrums often will occur when a child is hungry, tired, or has figured out that they work! Don’t engage with an older child if you feel like he is “pushing your buttons”. If you feel frustrated walk away until you can respond calmly. This won’t reinforce the behavior and teaches them appropriate behaviors to model.
8. Be creative and fun. Many times a child will be more cooperative and need less discipline if a parent “plays to gain cooperation”. For example, pretending to feed an animal the toys when you pick them up, racing the kitchen timer to get dressed, singing a brush your teeth song, …get silly, have fun, and watch your child cooperate!
- Remember effective discipline must remove the most valued thing from a child, your attention. Removing attention is much more effective than spanking or hand slapping which is a temporary fix.
The discipline technique I like is basically the “1, 2, 3 Magic” program developed by Dr. Thomas W. Phelan PhD. www.parentmagic.com This program has been used by countless schools and parents for many years. It is simple and effective, and can be used with a little modification clear until the teen years. Even during the teen years, the basic principles are effective. I teach this program with a few small changes, but this discipline process when used consistently will help with almost every discipline issue.
1. The parent calmly gives a warning with words and by holding up 1 finger. “No touching the dog food. That’s one.”
2. If the behavior stops great, if not the parent gives a 2nd warning by holding up 2 fingers and saying… “That’s two.”
3. If the behavior stops, great if not the parent holds up a third finger and calmly says, “That is 3, time out.” or “That is 3, take a break.” Your child then takes a time out. This time out should be in a specific place away from activity and toys. If your child is a toddler, it will need to be in a place where the child can still see you. If the child is older, the spot can be on a bottom step, in a chair in the other room, or when the child is about 4 or older, the bedroom is a good choice. The “break” should be about a minute a year. When the “break” is over, you act as if nothing had happened. There are no lectures, or lots of hugs and kisses. This must be done without emotion or many words! The more emotion and words that are used, the more attention has been given to the behavior. There should be one short explanation given to the child. There is no yelling, and no response to the continued complaining or a fit from the child. This is so important!! When a parent does not give a long explanation, does not get emotionally upset, and then follows through with an appropriate time out, the parental authority is unquestionable. If this is done consistently, the child will know exactly what to expect from a parent. Remember, consistency is the key!
- How long between counts?
Just long enough to give your child a chance to gain control of their behavior and respond. This does not meant “That is 1…1 1/2…Listen to Mommy!… 2…. Stop touching it! You don’t want to go to time out! 2 1/2 …please stop….2 3/4….I really mean it…..!! There is only a few seconds between counts and no extra words or warnings.
- What if there are several problem behaviors one right after the other?
You do not need to start a new count for each behavior. For example.. “No cookies now.” The child screams at you. “That’s 1.” The child runs and throws a toy. “That’s 2.” The child tries to take a cookie off the pantry shelf. “That is 3, time out.”
- What if the behavior is serious, like hitting?
There are several behaviors that you will determine are an automatic 3. In our house that was hitting, biting, shoving and name calling. Automatic time outs should occur for any behavior that is physical or aggressive.
- What if your child counts with you?
I promise if you use this system your child will at some point count with you or give you a 1, 2 or 3 time out! Try not to laugh. It is up to you on your response. You can ignore the counting completely. No words, no emotions. If you are able to do that, the behavior will stop. I could not, it was like nails on a chalk board when one of my children counted with me…so it was an automatic time out in our house. You decide!
- What do you do in public?
This is a very common time for children to push the limits, especially if you do not follow through when you are not at home. Always set your behavior expectations before getting out of the car. “I want you to hold Mommy’s hand when we are in the store.” If your child does act out in public, if you are consistent with the 1, 2, 3 Magic at home, often you can control your child’s behavior with just a 1 and a 2. If you get to 3, then you must find an appropriate time out place where you are. This could be leaving and going to the car, turning the shopping cart around in the grocery store away from you and ignoring, sitting your child on a chair in the center of the mall…or for a school aged child a delayed time out at home away from TV etc. Do not go back to lots of talking and emotion when you are out trying to avoid the time out when in public. If you are embarrassed and back down, then your child will quickly learn you will not follow through when you are out and about!
- What if the child will not stay in time out?
You must continue to bring the child back to the time out place with no emotion or talking. Your child will get it! The first couple of days may result in many trips back to the time out spot, but you must be consistent! For a young toddler you also may choose to remove the tray off the high chair, strap your child in, and turn the child away from you. This is a great way to teach time out in the beginning.
- What if your child will not come out of time out when it is over?
Do not try to persuade—just say “you can come out when you are ready!” If you give a lot of attention to this behavior “Come on now, it is all over. Come on out and play. Give Mommy a hug…..” This will result in this behavior again, and may even reinforce the behavior that led to the time out!
- What if my child yells at me and calls me a “mean mommy or daddy” or “I hate you!”?
I know that this will hurt…no parent likes to hear those words, but you must ignore the behavior! Your child doesn’t really know what the impact of these words are, he is just angry. You know that your child loves you and you love him, which is why you are disciplining! Remember if you respond with emotion and a lot of words, the behavior will happen again!
So those are the simple rules for this discipline approach. It does work…if the rules are followed. Soon your child will know what to expect if a behavior is inappropriate and your home will not be filled with spanking, yelling, and lots of arguing and emotional responses. It takes practice and it takes consistency. Be patient with yourself!
Take a breath, enjoy the joyful moments of each day, and remember you don’t have to be perfect to be the perfect parent.
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