The ABCs of discipline
By Emily Troper
Give limited choices. "You can have soup or a sandwich for lunch."
"When we cross the street, you can hold my hand or I can carry you."
Use natural consequences: these happen without your needing to do
anything--he refuses to put on a coat, so let him go outside without a
coat and find out for himself why you have this rule (don't make him
suffer, though...bring his coat outside with you, put it on when he
asks, and avoid the temptation to say "I told you so.").
Withdraw from conflict. If your anger is getting the best of you,
take a time-out for yourself. This can model the best of what time-out
has to offer, which is that it is a voluntary cooling-off period. Don't
storm off, but calmly let him know that you need a break and will be in
the next room.
Forewarning. Let him know what to expect so he can prepare. "We'll
leave in 5 minutes," followed up 5 minutes later with, "One more time
down the slide and off we go!" (And follow through). It also helps us a
lot to get our kids' minds focused on the next step--on what we will do
when we get home, for example. It helps them get their minds out of
"park mode" and into "home mode." Caveat: Too many warnings can cause
some children to get very tense; it may take experimenting to figure
out the optimal number for your child.
Two yeses for every no. Whatever it is he isn't supposed to do, give
him two alternatives. The choice of TWO other things is key, because it
really takes their attention off the "no-no" and onto making a totally
new choice. "I see you want to throw something! Would you like to throw
a paper airplane or a balloon?"
Instead of saying "no," or "don't," tell children what you DO want
them to do. "Feet stay on the floor." "Chairs are for sitting." "Gentle
Emotions are always OK, although some behaviors are not.
Make the difference clear to your child. It's
okay to be angry, but it's not okay to hit people. Encourage a child to
express his strong emotions through tears and words, so that they don't
have to resort to hitting, biting, screaming, and other unacceptable
Rephrase: When a child is disrespectful, help them rephrase what
they are saying in an acceptable way. "I hate you!" becomes, "I'm so
angry with you!" Another example: "Gimme that!" or "I want that now!"
becomes "May I have that?" or "I am having a hard time waiting
patiently for that."
Communicate your feelings. This helps everyone. "I feel so angry
when I see dirt all over my floor!" Be careful to express your feelings
without blaming or shaming your child--your feelings are your
responsibility, not your child's. At the same time, it helps children
to know how their actions effect other people, and to see what
anger/sadness/resentment/frustation look like. Model your anger in ways
you would want your child to act when *he* is angry.
Focus on solutions instead of blame. When your child spills milk,
don't say, "ugh! you spilled milk!" say, "There is spilled milk. Here is a
sponge to wipe it up," and let the child wipe it up. What I've seen is
that kids are more than happy to make reparations if we allow them to,
if we don't force them into defensiveness by blaming or shaming them.
Examine your expectations. Is it reasonable for your child to
behave the way you're expecting him to? Children can only work with the
tools they have, which are limited by age and maturity.
Confident statements: Show your child you are confident he can
overcome a problem. "You are getting less and less afraid of bugs every
day," or "You've forgotten your violin three times. Since you are a
resourceful person, I know you can figure out a way to remember your
violin in the future."
Hand signal. If a child interrupts, for example, come up
with a signal he can use to let you know he wants a turn, and a signal
you can give him back to let him know his turn is next.
Modeling: Show your child how you expect him to behave. If you want
him to use please and thank you, make sure you use those words
yourself. If you want him to handle his anger appropriately, make sure
you are handling yours appropriately as well.
Writing a note: Instead of constantly nagging kids to do something,
post a reminder note in large letters in an obvious place, like putting
"Take Off Shoes" next to the front door. Even better, have the child
help make or decorate the note. This can also work for preliterate
kids, who want to know what the note says.
Make an observation. When you see two kids fighting over toys,
instead of rushing into solve the problem, just describe what you see.
"I see two kids who want the same toy." Another example: "I see a coat
on the floor that needs to be picked up."
Using one word: Instead of a long lecture on neatness, just say
"TOWEL!" when your child leaves his towel on the floor.
Give the child responsibility in solving the problem. Example: "You
want me to play with you, and I need to get dinner done. Is there a way
we can fix this problem that will leave both of us happy?"
Rewind/do-over: "Oops, you forgot to take off your shoes! Let's
step back outside and try again." Or, "Oops, you forgot to tell me the
truth! Let's hear what happened again."
Wishful thinking: Let the child know you respect his wishes, and
let him go ahead and fantasize about having his wish granted. Good way
to avoid power struggles. "You really want more chocolate. I want more
chocolate, too. I wish we had a whole room full of chocolate!"
Some more ideas:
Twenty alternatives to punishment: