Tag Archives: rewards

When/Then and If/Then

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].”

Some examples:

  • “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?

Learn about lots of other tools for your Discipline Toolbox, including: the Attention Principle,  Substitution and Re-direction, and Natural Consequences.

 

[cartoon images from white-garden.blogspot.com, marked free to share and use]

Your Discipline Toolbox

There are lots of different discipline techniques for to guiding children toward good behavior. Learning about them is like stocking your toolbox for home maintenance. If you have a good solid foundation, and you perform routine maintenance, you may not need to pull out your toolbox very often. But we all have  little repair jobs from time to time that require a basic, all-purpose tool, and some days we have really big issues that need specialized power tools to address, and sometimes we call in a professional to help. This post will orient you to all the tools in your toolbox, and help you figure out how to use the right tool for the right job, in the right way.

[Note: This post is intended as an overview… there are LOTS of links in this post that will take you to other articles I’ve written with more details on these techniques.]

What is Discipline?

Discipline means guidance. It means being a good example, setting clear expectations for how we want our children to behave, not assuming that they know how, and setting clear limits on things they cannot do. And, it means that when they misbehave, we let them know that the behavior was not OK, but we do still love them, and we will tell them how to be better in the future. This style of discipline not only guides behavior, it also builds trust and respect between parent and child.

Building a Strong Foundation

All discipline is grounded in a positive relationship. Here’s some ways to build that foundation:

  • Play together—often!
  • Have snuggle time and special time and let them know you love them.
  • Listen to them—build a “Love Map” of what’s important to them.
  • Validate their emotions—their feelings are always OK. (Some behaviors are not.)
  • Be consistent and trustworthy.
  • Ask for respect from them and treat them with respect.
  • Teach how to be good: talk about values; model, coach, and praise good behavior.

Do Routine Maintenance

  • Take care of yourself. Get the support you need in order to have enough energy to be a calm, thoughtful parent.
  • Whenever possible, ensure your child is well fed and well rested.
  • Avoid overstimulation (it leads to meltdowns).
  • Spend time each day in kid-friendly environments where it’s easy for them to succeed.
  • Set expectations: warn of transitions, and explain what the plans are.
  • Create predictable routines & clear rules so they know what’s expected of them. Set appropriate limits on behavior. (Be sure that your expectations are developmentally appropriate.)

To Improve Behavior

Sometimes there are situations where your child is not necessarily mis-behaving but they could be behaving better.  Here’s how  to move things in a positive direction:

  • Use the Attention Principle: pay attention to positive behavior you want to see more of.
  • Use When / Then. “When you do [positive behavior], then you get [something positive.]”
  • Create a Reward System. (Read more about praise and reward here.)
  • Create a Routine to address any chronic challenge in daily family life.
  • Clarify rules—your child may do something that they didn’t realize was wrong. You can explain what the problem is and how to avoid it in the future.

For example, if you are often running late to school in the morning because your child is reading or playing instead of getting dressed, you could set up a routine by writing down what the steps are that they need to do, saying when you do these steps on time, then you can read your book, giving positive attention when they do well and giving them a reward at the end of the week if they’re on time every day.

To Correct Minor Misbehavior

(Note: If your child is hurting someone or something, skip these ideas and escalate to the next level.)

As parents, a big part of our job is to help our children learn to be good people, as this helps them succeed in school, work, and in all of life. To do that, we need to set clear limits on what’s OK and what’s not OK. (Learn here about the authoritative parenting style, which balances high expectations for our children with high responsiveness to them as individuals.)

  • If the behavior doesn’t really break rules, but is just annoying, Ignore it.
  • Tell your child what they SHOULD do: Model, Substitute, Re-direct, Offer Choices
    • Here’s a free printable set of discipline tool postcards to remind you of these.
    • Note: If your child is in the midst of a meltdown, this is not a time to try to reason with them or offer logical choices… they’re in their “downstairs brain” and won’t be able to hear you. (Learn more here.)
  • Give clear Commands. Make sure you have their attention first—connect to correct. Use eye contact. Don’t yell or whine: Speak with a calm, cool voice of authority.
  • Let them suffer the Natural Consequences of their choices, and learn from their mistakes.
  • Warn them, using If / Then statements. “If you continue [bad behavior], then you’ll get [a timeout or a logical consequence.]”

For example, if you’re trying to get dinner ready and your toddler is banging their sippy cup to get your attention, you might just ignore that. Or you substitute by trading the cup for a drum. If their milk spills, then you can let them experience the natural consequences by having them wipe up the milk, then giving them a cup of water to replace it. Or you could say “if you keep banging your milk, then I will take it away, and you can just have water.”

To Correct Major Misbehavior

These are your power tools. You’re not going to pull them out of the toolbox every day, but they’re there when you need them.

You might use them any time your child is hurting someone or something or is at risk of being hurt. You might also use them for non-compliance – if you used the tools in the category above (telling your child what TO DO, given clear commands, etc.) and they continue to disobey, then these tools kick in.

You may notice that I haven’t talked about one discipline tool: Physical Discipline, such as spanking. Many parents have discovered that, in the short term, spanking can be an effective way to get a child to stop doing something bad. In the long term, in the context of an otherwise loving relationship, it can turn out OK. However, it’s also possible that in the long-term, spanking can damage the relationship, or cause fear and anxiety in the child, or teach the child that anger and violence are the ways to get things done.

Spanking doesn’t teach a child much about why the behavior is bad and how they could do better. They may learn to avoid doing it when you’re around so they won’t get hit, but there’s no reason for them to avoid it when you’re not there, so they don’t gain self discipline skills. Read more on physical punishment and spanking here.

If the power tools aren’t working, seek peer advice, parent education, or professional support as needed.

Sometimes handling our child’s misbehavior can make us really angry. Look here for tips on “What if you’re angry at your child?“.

Move On

When misbehavior stops, or after a time out or a consequence is complete, then re-engage with your child, providing positive attention and praise for good behavior.

It’s especially important to do this if you lost your cool and got angry at your child. Read more about Resolution.

Self Discipline

Our goal for discipline, in the long-run, is to make ourselves obsolete. Our children need to learn to discipline themselves. We want to raise adults who are capable of controlling their impulsive behavior, capable of working hard for a delayed reward (or even no reward other than their satisfaction with a job well done), and who have such a strong internal sense of right and wrong that it guides their every action, and who do what’s right simply because they can’t imagine behaving differently. Read more on self-discipline and how to begin to teach it.

Handout

If you’d like a free, printable handout that summarizes all this information, just click here for the Discipline Toolbox in color or Discipline Toolbox,  Black and White.