Your child has just thrown a tantrum in the middle of the supermarket. You’re surrounded by onlookers, and passersby shaking their heads. We know that everyone is waiting for your response to this moment in parenting when what you do matters. You turn to your child and yell at him to stop yelling and whining. Your kids call you ‘mom’,but your real name is ‘mom, mom, mom, mom, mom’. You are embarrassed, but at the same time, frustrated. You’re tired and all you wanted was a quiet, uneventful trip to the grocery store.
What you don’t want to do is engage in a shouting match with your child. Who can yell loudest. The more you yell at him, the more screaming he does. Nobody wins. Feelings are hurt, blood pressure rises, throats are sore and still who wins? Not you. Parenting shouldn’t be a battle. Positive discipline doesn’t mean that you allow your child free reign over you in every environment.
Children can behave without bribes, threats, or physical blows. I recall a time when, if you misbehaved, you’d be told to go outside and choose your weapon of ‘ass destruction’. It was called a ‘switch’-a small leafless limb from any particular shrubbery. Not a positive strategy or an effective means of deterring behaviors. All it teaches is to be smarter and don’t get caught next time.
Consider using the principles of positive discipline. Here are a few:
#1- UNDERSTAND THE MEANING BEHIND THE BEHAVIOR. That is so critically important in guiding our responses to ‘bad’ or ‘inappropriate’ behavior. Akin to intent and impact, they may be different and we must be mindfully aware of intent-the meaning. Children want to behave well, especially when their world still centers around you. At certain stages of development, physiological and emotional, what you receive is your child’s best attempt at communicating.
Recently, while on Video Chat, my daughter’s 17 month old was at the sink washing her hands with mommy delivering the soft soap. Her little one was not ready to get down from her step stool. My daughter’s patience was being tested and then she physically removed her little one from the stool, almost angrily. Nothing serious but I pointed out to my daughter that at her little girl’s age, the behaviors she exhibits are not intended to be defiant. Although punishment may seem appropriate, parents must understand that language and social-emotional skills are still being acquired and there must still be room for that growth, even in the midst of frustration.
Children communicate in the best way they know how, and it is almost never to get us upset, make us late, or to be punished. Once we are mindful of this, parenting becomes easier. That’s our job as parents-to understand the meaning behind the behaviors before we blow things out of proportion and start a tug-of-war.
Once we know the root of behavior, we can then address the cause, so the child won’t be driven to repeat that behavior anymore. Ask yourself: Is this for attention? Maybe you were busy making dinner and forgot to spend a little quality time with your child after coming home from work. If so, figure out how you may correct this to satisfy your child’s need and get dinner on the table. Remember that much of what we expect from children is really unreasonable. Consider their needs as you create rules for behavior and define your expectations.
Children are born with a naturally healthy sense of curiosity, and they need the freedom to safely explore their surroundings to discover what their world is all about. It’s important not to inhibit this natural curiosity by constantly limiting that exploration. Set up their successes and structure their environmental boundaries with built-in [and safe] opportunities to make good choices while not inhibiting their curiosity. Mutual respect-children respect their boundaries and parents respect and understand their need to explore the world.
#2- FOCUS ON CONTROLLING YOURSELF-NOT YOUR CHILD. It can be really difficult to keep our heads about us in the heat of the moment, but as parents with children, the way we mange stress and conflict will likely be emulated by them. Yelling leads to more yelling, and s forth. Thus, we don’t want to do anything in the presence of our children that we know we wouldn’t want them to do. Find strength and restraint in the heat of the moment. Count to 10, breathe in and out slowly, just give yourself time to collect yourself and maintain your composure. Keep your cool. Children are watching us even when we think they are not.
#3- BE CONSISTENT WITH YOUR EXPECTATIONS. Don’t overlook a behavior in hopes that it won’t be repeated. It will. If your child keeps pulling the dog’s tail or hitting his big sister, tell him that that behavior is unacceptable. If he continues, then remove the child from that situation. Sometimes children will try to test the limits by arguing with the rules. When this happens, remove that child, all the while telling him as often as necessary, ‘I love you too much to argue!’. That’s it! No compromises- consistency.
#4- REDIRECT AND REDIRECT AGAIN– When children hear the words ‘no’ and don’t’ all the time, they tend to tune you out. What we can try instead is to encourage something positive in its place. Give your child alternatives, positive ones. Suggest behaviors for which they will receive positive reinforcement and praise instead of that dreaded two-letter word. So, that child who is acting up at the grocery store can be enlisted to help place items in the cart or a child who is running around the pool can be encouraged to walk as if on marshmallows. A bad behavior is transformed with minimal fuss or crying and no negotiation. Be creative and find ways to turn an unwanted behavior into a positive one. We must be positive, and out-think that child. Meet his actions with a sense of calm, consistency and redirect that behavior towards positive acceptable and praiseworthy ones.
#5-FOCUS ON THE BEHAVIORS YOU LIKE, NOT THE ONES YOU DON’T. Children sometimes act up because they want your attention. It pays to ignore those actions. Back to where we started- tantrums and/or whining? Play deaf or simply walk away. Your child will quickly figure out that there’s a better way to communicate. They want to see your reaction, and test those limits again. Don’t give in-be consistent with your behavior, your rules, and most of all, your love. It is always unconditional-totally accepting. What we place conditions on and don’t accept are behaviors and choices. Parenting is a gift, a joy, and one of the greatest tests that don’t end for at least 18 years. Sometimes it even longer. So, buckle up and stay the course, and when the journey gets a little rough, use positive discipline, not punishment. There is a difference! Positive discipline for parents can make life so much easier and besides….
Punishment works short term, but has negative long-term results. Positive discipline teaches valuable social and life skills for good character, like respect, concern for others, problem-solving, accountability, contribution, cooperation. Positive discipline invites children to discover how capable they are and to use their personal power in constructive ways.
Don’t punish for unwanted or misinterpreted behaviors. Be proactive-use strategies of positive discipline!