Two useful discipline tools for parents are the “when / then” and the “if / then” statements.
When / Then
This statement basically says “when you do [this positive behavior], then you will get [this positive social reward].”
- “When you’ve brushed your teeth, then we get to read a bedtime story.”
- “When you finish cleaning up your Legos, then we get to play a game.”
- “When you’re ready for school, then you can work on your drawing.”
- “When you’re sitting down in your chair, then I will give you your dessert.”
- “When you’re sitting in your car seat, then I will tell you a joke.”
The statement clearly explains to your child what you want them to do. (It also implies that you are totally expecting your child to do this positive thing, now that you’ve explained to them what’s expected.) And in return for doing it, they can expect to continue to have your loving, positive attention.
If / Then
Notice how different the tone is when you say: “If you do [this negative behavior], then you will get [this consequence.]”
- “If you don’t brush your teeth right now, then no bedtime story!”
- “If you don’t put your Legos away, then you can’t play with them tomorrow.”
- “If you’re not ready for school on time, then you can’t draw.”
- “If you don’t sit down now, then no dessert tonight.”
- “If you don’t sit in your car seat by yourself, I’m going to put you in there.”
These statements assume they are likely to do something wrong, and tells them that if they do, they will experience a negative consequence.
You don’t want to start here: First, assume the best of your child! Giving a “when / then” first gives them the best chance at making a positive choice and being rewarded for that.
If the when / then didn’t work, that’s when we turn to if / then.
Think about your tone when presenting these statements. These don’t need to come off as angry threats that sound like “If you don’t cut that out, you’re going to be in big trouble with me!!” They can just be matter of fact statements about the natural or logical consequences of their actions. You may even let your tone show that you’re a little disappointed that you won’t be able to do what you had hoped – that encourages them to try harder to win back that positive social reward from you.
- “If you can’t finish getting ready for bed in the next five minutes, then we won’t be able to read a bedtime story, and that will make us both sad.”
- “If you don’t sit in your car seat by yourself, then I will have to put you there and buckle you in. Then I can’t tell you the great joke I have saved up for today.”
Test these two tools out over the next few days, and see how it goes. Does your child respond better to one than the other? Which do you feel better about using?
[cartoon images from white-garden.blogspot.com, marked free to share and use]