Category Archives: Discipline

Discipline Tools Posters

When discussing Discipline, I use a tool I developed called the Discipline Flow Chart. It covers 6 steps:

  1. Prevent Behavior Problems
  2. When a problem begins, decide whether intervention is needed. (Pick your battles.)
  3. Instead of telling your child “Don’t Do X” or “Stop Y”, tell them what TO DO. A young child is often not able to think of alternatives, so tell them a positive action to take, and that’s often all you need do.
  4. If the problem is escalating, or is already at the point where more direct intervention is needed, let your child know a) what the problem is, and b) what the consequences will be if the problem continues.
  5. If the problem is at the point where immediate intervention is needed (especially if there’s imminent risk of harm to someone or something), then immediately enforce consequences: either remove the child from the situation, or remove the problematic item from the child.
  6. Move on. Let your child know that you still love them, but that their behavior was not OK, and you won’t let them do it now or in the future. Give a hug, and let it go.

Students asked for a poster to summarize this, so here’s the Discipline Flow Chart Mini Poster. I also have posters I hang in class, and students asked for a mini version of the discipline tools posters

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What’s Behind Their Anger?

Some psychologists argue that anger is a secondary emotion – a behavioral expression that is rooted in a core emotion of fear or grief. The idea is that when overwhelmed by one of those vulnerable emotions, it’s easier to express that as anger than get lost in those feelings.

Next time your child is angry, it may be helpful for you to remember this and to ask yourself: what’s behind the anger – is the child afraid of something or sad about something? Addressing the underlying emotion can sometimes be the key to resolving the angry behavior. Let me share a story:

Recently, our four year old was angry. The angriest he’s ever been. Shaking with anger. Yelling so loud I’m sure all the neighbors heard, and hitting and scratching. It was only for a couple minutes, but it sure felt longer than that!

It could have been tempting in the moment to scold him or punish him for his bad behavior. It would have been easy to be angry right back. That would have just escalated the situation. Understanding and acknowledging the context of his anger helped us to resolve it and move forward in a positive way. Here’s the full story:

It was a Friday night at the end of a very busy week for both my husband and I. We’d been swamped with work, and not paying as much attention to our son as usual. It was an hour past his bedtime. Why was he still up? Because I was so busy trying to get a project done for the next day that I hadn’t really been thinking about his schedule. I let him watch videos, which we usually don’t do at night, because it makes bedtime harder. He was tired and hungry. We were tired and stressed. He had just watched a video of Cat in the Hat, singing Calculatus Eliminatus, which shows the Cat recommending that when you lose something, you walk around the house and write numbers on all the places that it is not located. Our son was talking about going around the house and writing on furniture and walls and such. We were, distractedly, telling him that wasn’t a good idea, and no, he wasn’t allowed to do that.

Then suddenly he ran into the kitchen where I was working, and scribbled on the cherry-wood kitchen cabinets with a black permanent magic marker.

I yelled. My husband yelled.

My son yelled back. He was angry! He was a seething mass of four year old fury.

We told him he could not draw on the house and it was not OK. He got angrier. He was hitting and trying to hurt.

I held his wrists, telling him that hurting me is not OK. He got angrier.

Instead of getting angry back, I took a breath and thought, and then said to him “You are really really mad because you were really really scared, is that right?”

Immediately, the fists went down, the tears welled up. I said “It was really really scary to you when Daddy and I yelled at you, wasn’t it?” He sank down to the floor and started crying. I sat on the floor and held him, and we talked about being scared and we apologized for scaring him. We also apologized that we had been so busy and stressed all week, and acknowledged that was hard for him.

But we didn’t change any rules. We still stuck to and reiterated the limits that it’s not OK to draw on the house and it’s not OK to hit people. We talked about the idea of permanent markers and only using them on things like paper, not on permanent things like furniture. We said we understood that the Cat in the Hat game looked fun, and suggested that we could do it by writing numbers on post-it notes and putting those on the doors and the furniture, but that we never write on furniture.

When he was calmed down, I took him to bed, and read I Love You Forever, a sweet book about how even when kids drive parents crazy in the moment, they still love them forever.

He was asleep five minutes later.

It was about 15 minutes after the blow-up. My husband had managed to get the marker off the cabinet. But more importantly, the emotional explosion was also resolved, and the relationship restored.

The name of this blog is More Good Days. It ties into my philosophy of “we’re going to have good days as parents and we’re going to have bad days when we really screw it up…. in the end, we hope for more good days than bad.” This episode was a few minutes of really bad parenting following a week of mediocre parenting. But, in the end, it was a positive resolution, based on understanding and acknowledging his feelings. In the end, it was a good day.

——————–

To learn more about children’s emotions and our own, check out these posts:

Emotion Coaching and Emotional Literacy: helping your child learn to recognize, understand, and mange his or her emotions.

Is It OK to get Angry? Focuses on understanding a child’s anger and accepting their feelings, but placing appropriate limits on behavior.

Parental Anger: a multi-post series on preventing parental meltdowns, coping with them when they happen, fighting with your partner in front of your child, and resolving these issues and moving on.

What if you’re angry at your child?

screamThis is part of a week-long series on Parental Anger.

People often tell me that when they get angry at their kids, they feel like bad parents.

It’s important for parents to realize: It’s normal and OK for you to sometimes get mad at almost anyone – and especially at people who you spend many hours a week with and who often make unreasonable demands of you!

Here are some things to think about when you find yourself angry at your child:

  • Are your expectations appropriate? If you find yourself saying “Kids your age are supposed to do X. Why don’t you?” or “no matter how hard I try, I can’t make my kid do Y…” that shows you have an assumption about what they’re developmentally capable of. Check resources on child development to make sure you’re right and not holding them to an impossible standard.
    • For example, the leading trigger for child abuse is potty training accidents. Parents often think their child should be potty trained much younger than they are really developmentally capable. The average child doesn’t potty train till around 30 months, yet every year there are many reports of toileting related abuse at 20 – 24 months. It’s unfair to expect more out of a child than they’re capable of!
    • Also know that children’s developmental capabilities regress when they’re upset. Although your three year old might normally understand language quite well and might normally be capable of making a choice between 3 options, you may find that when they’re in the middle of an emotional meltdown, they can’t understand words and they can’t make choices.
  • Is this a phase? There are predictable periods in children’s lives where they are going through lots of developmental changes – called “periods of disequilibrium”. They tend to be pretty hard to live with at these times. Seek extra support to help you through this rough patch.
  • Are they testing you? It’s normal for all kids, especially toddlers and teenagers, to test their limits. It’s how they learn the rules. But it can be exhausting and infuriating when they do the same thing over and over even when “they know it’s wrong”. Over-reacting to this testing and getting angry may make the testing worse, as they discover they have power over you and can make you lose your cool. Instead, calmly and consistently reinforce limits. Describe the consequences they will face if the behavior repeats, and then follow through.
  • What’s your attitude toward discipline? If you think it’s about making the child do whatever you tell them to do, you’re setting yourself up for some battles of will. If you think of it as guiding your child to behave as well as possible, and having high expectations, but also knowing that some days they won’t meet them, you may be more successful.
  • Is your child just trying to get your attention? How does your child feel right now? Are they angry themselves? Scared? Lonely? Try to empathize with what the need.
  • Are you really angry at your child or are you angry at someone / something else? We sometimes have “spill over” anger. We’re mad at our partners, or mad about something at work, or mad that we’re late due to a traffic jam. And our child does something minor that makes us explode and take out our anger on them. Try to catch this when it’s happening, and if you can’t, go back to your child later and apologize to them.

If you have let your anger out and yelled at your child, there’s some healing and resolution to do. Check out this post.

Learn more about handling anger at a child: http://www.ahaparenting.com/parenting-tools/positive-discipline/handling-anger

Photo: http://www.freeimages.com/photo/579286

Motivation, Punishment and Reward

starsOur kids are always learning from us. They learn by observing as we role model a variety of skills, they learn by interacting with us as we play, and they learn when we actively “teach” them. There are many things we teach casually, and aren’t too worried about the exact timeline when our child picks up the idea. Things like covering your mouth when you sneeze, saying please, or putting their dish in the sink. There are other things though that we may have a sense are REALLY IMPORTANT, or that we believe MUST BE DONE BY A CERTAIN AGE and those are the things we tend to stress about our child learning. Potty training and reading both fit in this category for many parents. What happens when there is something we really want our kids to learn?

The first thing I’d ask you to consider: Is this skill developmentally appropriate? Can we typically expect a child of this age to learn this thing? Once you’ve learned it is appropriate, then you can consider teaching it.

Motivation

There will be many times in your child’s life where you want them to do something they don’t want to do, or there’s a skill you want them to learn because it will be valuable in the long run, but they aren’t particularly interested in learning at this moment in time. How can you help them find their own internal motivation? Potty training is one of our first chances to explore this challenge, so we’ll use it as our example.

First, consider your motivations. Why do you want your child to learn this new skill? Here are some common reasons and some examples from the potty training process.

  • Outside demands: Is it pressure from a pre-school or daycare that requires it by a certain age?
  • Peer pressure: Is it because other families are doing it, and you’re feeling peer pressure to keep up? The media and social media can also create this pressure of what our child “should” do.
  • What you do or don’t want to do yourself: Are you just tired of changing diapers? Or tired of paying for diapers? Or washing them?
  • What you want for your child: You want to encourage your child toward independence in all areas?

The clearer your motivation, and the stronger your motivation, the more time and energy you’re likely to be willing to commit to the process. Some parents actually find that they’re not actually motivated to teach a skill. For example, the diaper routine might be working for their family’s schedule and commitments. This is fine for a while, but at some point (maybe three years old for potty training?) it’s time to help your child move forward.

Then ask yourself: What are your child’s motivations? Try to view things from your child’s perspective and understand why they might not be as interested in learning a new skill as you are in teaching it.

In our potty training example: Why might a child prefer to continue to use diapers? Some ideas: they’re used to eliminating in their diaper – it’s comfortable and familiar. They may be in a state of regressing a bit, and not feeling bold enough to be ‘a big kid’. They may not like interrupting play time with trips to the potty. They might be frightened of the potty. They might be rebellious toddlers, defying their parents ‘just because.’ They might have a desire to be completely in control of their bodies. They might also have been constipated at one point, and found that it hurt to have a bowel movement, and be afraid of repeating that experience.

Then ask: What might motivate your child to use the potty? Some options are punishment or rewards…

Punishment?

It’s best not to use punishment. Punishment can definitely work in the short term, in that a child who is punished for doing something (e.g. eliminating in a diaper) may well try hard to avoid that punishment in the future (e.g. by using the potty). But it could also shame them and damage their self-esteem. And it also means that they’re doing something only to avoid punishment – not for any positive reason.

On the other hand, logical consequences are appropriate, as long as they are done without shaming. For example, having them help with clean-up after an potty-training accident allows them to see the consequences. Or taking back the big kid underwear, saying ‘it looks like you’re not ready for this yet… let’s go back to diapers for a while’, helps them to see what the goal is and what the reward is of accomplishing it.

Rewards

Many people use a sticker chart, or other reward system when they want to shape behavior. The general idea is: talk with your child about what you want them to do, tell them that when they do it they’ll get a reward. Then involve them in setting up the system: pick out the reward, or make the chart, etc. For rewards, it’s best to choose something cheap and easy to obtain, like a sticker. (Not candy.) For a toddler, the reward needs to be immediate for them to understand “when I do this action, I get this reward.” Older kids can work toward a bigger reward over time – “if I do all my chores this week, we’ll watch a movie together on Friday night.”

Make sure they are clear about what the behavior is you are working on, and be consistent about the response. For example: “if you sit on the potty, you get a sticker whether or not you pee there” may be a good first level. Later on, when they’ve mastered that step, you ask more of them: they need to actually pee or poop to get the sticker. You may choose to also have a cumulative goal to work toward, like “once you’ve pooped in the potty 10 times, you will have filled the chart, then you get a new toy.” It’s important to think of these rewards as short-term reinforcement, not an on-going system! Over time you will phase out stickers completely. Rewards can be a very effective tool for toddlers. However, you don’t want to over-use rewards! And you want to make sure the focus is on accomplishing the goal for its own sake, not on just doing something so they get a reward.

Expectations

If you regularly say “If you do this [bad thing], then I will punish you by [negative consequence]”, your child might come to feel that you expect him to do bad things and you look forward to punishing him. Instead, try “When you do this good thing then you get this [positive consequence].” Make sure your tone of voice implies that you have confidence that they will do the good thing because that’s what you expect of them.

Praise

When your child accomplishes something for the first time, definitely praise them. If it’s a HUGE accomplishment, make the praise really big. But honestly, if it’s small accomplishment, the praise can be just a quiet observation that they accomplished it. As they start repeating a skill again and again, on the way to mastery, we can fade out our praise. It feels silly and a little embarrassing to get praised for something you’ve mastered (as you know if your child has told you something like “You peed in the potty! Good job mama!”) Praise them for what they have done, and the work it took to do it.

Read more about praise here.

The Downsides to Rewards & Praise

Critics of rewards say they are a short-term solution to gain compliance with parental requests, not a long-term path to instilling the behaviors, qualities, and values you want your child to attain. And, research has found that kids who are raised on a series of rewards can become more self-centered, materialistic, reward junkies looking for their next fix from parents who can become exhausted by coming up with new rewards.

Research has also shown praise can backfire. If we continually praise our child for being “smart”, “beautiful” or “strong”, then they may be afraid to take risks – not wanting to do anything that they might not succeed at… fearing that then we will realize they’re not so smart or strong or beautiful after all – and thus not lovable. Also, when a child is vigorously praised for every little thing she does, she may not know whether praise is genuine.

Experts recommend that when you want your child to learn a new skill, think about what it is you are really trying to teach and stay focused on that. Work with your child to find their motivation for learning this new skill. As they make attempts along the way, give specific praise for their efforts and their commitment, and specific recommendations for how they might improve. The emphasis is more on the process than the product, more on the work they do than on the “talent” they have. When they accomplish a goal that they set, then it is totally appropriate to celebrate that with something (Stickers? M&M’s? A special toy?) as long as the emphasis is on the value of the accomplishment itself, not on having done whatever they needed to do just to earn the reward.

Sources on Internal Motivation, Rewards and Praise

photo credit: Pewari via photopin cc

What do we know about spanking?

We know it works. We know spanking can increase compliance in the moment.

Parents who use physical punishment often discover that. Their child misbehaves, then they spank, then the child stops misbehaving. It’s very effective in the short term, so the parents continue to use it. And they discover that a small swat on the butt is not always effective, but hitting hard enough to inflict pain is really good at eradicating behavior over the long run.

But, it also has a lot of other unintended effects in the long-run.

People who were spanked are more likely to be aggressive (they’ve learned that big people can hurt smaller people), more likely to be delinquent, less verbal, more likely to abuse substances, more likely to experience anxiety, depression, and other mental illnesses, more likely to be obese and have cardiovascular disease, and more likely to abuse their spouse and children. They have lower I.Q. and less gray matter development in their brains.

Read this excellent infographic / article on the Psychology of Spanking to learn more.

spankFrom studying brain development, we know: When children are happy and feel safe, they learn, grow, explore and their brains develop. When they are stressed or frightened, their brain goes into survival mode. They can learn what not to do to create this situation again (i.e. when I do this behavior, my parent hurts me, so I shouldn’t do that behavior again.) But they’re not learning much else. Like what TO DO. (Or how to read, how to throw a ball, how to eat neatly… whatever it is the parent hopes they will learn soon.) Daniel Siegel has written about this neurological effect in The Whole Brain Child and No-Drama Discipline. Watch a video about it here.

85% of parents say they would rather not spank if they had a discipline alternative they believe would work. You can read my take on positive discipline here, or advice from the CDC here, or follow the recommendations in the Psychology of Spanking article [excerpts below…]

1) Develop a positive, supportive, loving relationship between parent and child:

  • Maintain a positive emotional tone in the home.
  • Pay attention to the child to increase positive behavior…
  • Be consistent in daily activities to reduce resistance and make negative experiences less stressful…
  • Be flexible by listening, negotiation, and involving the child in decision-making. This has been associated with long- term enhancement in moral judgment.

2) Use positive reinforcement strategies to increase desired behaviors…

  • Listen carefully and help them learn to use words to express their feelings.
  • Provide children with opportunities to make choices and to understand the consequences of their choice.
  • Reinforce desirable behaviors with frequent praise and ignore trivial misdeeds…

3) Remove reinforcements or apply punishment to reduce or eliminate undesired behaviors.

  • Be consistent with… removal of privileges (increases compliance from 25% to 80%)
  • Be clear about what the bad behavior is and what the consequences will be.
  • Deliver instruction and correction calmly and with empathy.
  • Provide a strong and immediate consequence when the bad behavior first occurs…
  • Give a reason for the consequence. This helps children learn appropriate behavior

Speaking with the Voice of Authority

In class last week, a mom told me how overwhelmed she was by her kids. She felt like they didn’t listen to her. Not only did they not follow her rules, they would sometimes hit or bite when she tried to enforce those rules. She was feeling out of control and powerless. She asked: “How do you get that voice that puts ‘the fear of God’ in your kids?” In other words, that tone of command that says “That’s it. I mean business! You will now do what I am telling you to do.” It’s the “Stop – do NOT run out in traffic” tone or the “It’s not OK to hit” tone.

I said “It’s all in the voice” and demonstrated my sternest tone.

But really, it’s more than the voice. It’s the body language and the facial expressions too. Gone is the soft and gentle mama (or papa) who will let them get away with anything just because they’re so darn cute. Gone is the tired looking mama they know will let them get away with it because she’s too tired to do anything about it. (Believe me, I know you may FEEL this way, just try not to let it show.) This is the serious mama who Needs Them to Listen to Her Now. (Note: you don’t need to be a mean mama, or an angry mama… you can still be loving and respectful and in calm control of your own emotions when you are being authoritative.)

But really, it’s about much more than how you talk, stand, or look in the moment. It’s about your whole relationship with your kids. Are you generally respectful, loving, playful, and encouraging them to adventure and explore? Have you built a relationship of mutual trust? If so, then when you put on your serious tone, they trust that there’s a reason for it.

It’s also about your discipline style in general. The Voice only has power if they know there will be Actions that follow it up.

Do your children know that you set limits and stick to them? Do you tell them what’s expected of them and what the consequences will be if you disobey? Do you follow through on those consequences? Do you follow through every time? Even when you’re in public? Even when you’re tired? Even when you’re busy? Don’t set consequences unless you can follow through on them in that moment! Find a consequence you’re willing to enforce and enforce it.

This is where the discipline flow chart comes in: step 3 – tell child what to do; step 4 – alert child to the problem by putting on your command voice; step 5 – calmly enforce consequences, and step 6 – move on.

You might say: “When we are in the parking lot, you need to hold my hand. If you let go, I will pick you up.” Then, if she lets go, calmly pick her up and carry her. Even if she’s kicking and screaming. When she’s buckled into her car seat and calmed down, explain that your job is to keep her safe, and one thing you need her to do is hold your hand in a parking lot so the cars know she is there.

You might say: “I want you to use a gentle voice and nice touch with your sister. If you hit her, I will pick you up and carry you out of the room.” Then if he hits, calmly pick him up and carry him out of the room. Then help him take a few deep breaths and calm back down. Even if you have other things you need to do in that moment (like work on dinner), the consequences need to be there and need to be immediate.

You might say: “I want you to share the toys nicely. If you two fight over something, I will need to take it away and put it on the time-out shelf.” When they fight over something, calmly take it away. Then help them re-settle into playing with new toys. You do this even if you’re tired, and really just want them to play by themselves for a moment while you rest. You don’t give up and just toss the toy back down to them when they fuss about you taking it away. And if they bite or hit you, you should clearly say “It is not OK to hurt me. It’s never OK to hurt other people. I’m going to leave you here in your room by yourself for a while, and I’m going to go somewhere else.”

How do your kids know you mean business when you say something? They know because you consistently follow through with actions and consequences if they don’t listen to you when you say it. You “say it like you mean it” because you do mean it.

I promise I didn’t put the photo of Professor McGonagall from Harry Potter at the top of this post because I think you’re being a witch when you enforce limits. I put it there because I think this character (in both the books and the movies) exemplifies the gentle authority. There is no doubt that she loves the children. There’s also no doubt that she means business when she tells them what they need to do. You can find your own loving voice of authority with your kids. Your life will feel more in your control when you do this, and your child will also be reassured – although they may act like they want to be in charge, it’s actually a little scary for them to feel like they are. Kids prefer it when they have a strong loving authority in the house.

 

Link

I will be talking about positive discipline in my class this week. Many people mistakenly believe that positive parenting means permissive parenting – always saying yes, and never saying no. I absolutely believe in setting clear limits with children.

Positive Parenting Blog has a great post on how positive parenting is not authoritarian but neither is it permissive. Check it out: www.positive-parents.org/2011/06/positive-parenting-is-not-permissive.html

If you have a hard time saying no, check out: Saying No to Your Child and No Means No.