In today’s world one of the hardest parts of parenting is trying to figure out how to discipline your child/children. There are so many conflicting beliefs. It seems everyone’s discipline style is different, so how are you supposed to choose which “style” is right for your family and what is really best for your child?
This article will be mostly about our discipline style (with some general ideas thrown in), which is called Positive Discipline. What exactly IS positive discipline you ask? Well, let’s start with what successful discipline IS! Successful discipline requires many things. However the most important of these is, respect of both parent and child. The initial objective is to end the behavior in question, but the goal for the long run should be, not only to stop this behavior but also give your child guidance that reaffirms his value and self-worth. Thus, enabling him to develop a way of thinking that will ultimately make him want to avoid the behavior in the future. The goal of Positive Discipline is not to “punish” but more to guide.
Often I hear parents say that they spank or yell at their kids. This is not because these parents do not care for their children but because they really don’t know any different. If you look at the world today, what do you see as socially more “acceptable”; yelling at a child doing something “bad”, or creating a “yes” environment for that same child? The first of course, it’s the way it’s “always” been done, right?
Parents today are just beginning to really search out the “whys” of the way parenting works. Deciding, “just because it’s the way everyone else is parenting” doesn’t cut it anymore.
One of the primary things to remember when thinking in terms of discipline is that changing a child’s behavior is much like trying to change them into adults. Usually the behaviors tend to typically get worse before they get better. One of the main reasons for this is because they need to test the limits that you set up to not only see how far these limits go but also to see how consistent you will be with enforcing them as well.
So before you have a child that needs discipline it’s a good time to get your “ducks in a row” so to speak. Think about what you want to do BEFORE the incidents occur. This is one of the hardest things, to do but we all know that there are going to be issues that do arise, how will you handle them? (Easier said than done with a toddler who pushes buttons and tests, I know- toddler wrestling should be an Olympic Sport)
The second thing to remember is that consistency really does work. So, when you and your family decide what the best method is for you, no matter what that method is. Whether you decide time outs, redirects, or another method, then you need to implement them in all or at least most circumstances.
This can get sticky when you're with people (especially the grandparents) who may not subscribe to your methods of discipline or ‘behavioral response’. Doesn't matter- you need to be consistent for a variety of reasons. Consistency in everything you do you will find will be the best for your child, much like a dependable schedule your child will come to expect and even count on the limits you set.
The third thing to remember is that approximately 90% of the time the issue is communication. Your child maybe bored, angry, upset, tired, hungry etc. and for whatever reason can't communicate that. The other 10% well that’s pure scientific experimentation.
Examples would be:
Ok, if I throw my bread onto the floor, what sound will it make, what reaction will my mommy give?
If I throw my juice on the table, what will happen?
Your child has to act out certain behaviors to see how you react, because they don’t know yet!
Positive discipline is basically using positive tools to correct a child’s behavior. Negative and/or aggressive actions such a spanking, yelling, threatening, name-calling, and intimidation are not productive discipline measures. Some may argue that without spanking they are left with no other tools to deter a child’s behavior. However with positive discipline it is more about giving “yes” answers as apposed to “no’s”. Positive discipline in the long-term will contribute to a healthier relationship with your child.
Child: “Mommy can I have a cookie?”
Mother: “Hunny, it is almost dinner time. So how about you help mommy. There are two things you could do, you could help me stir the corn in this bowl, or you could help me finish setting the table by putting out the napkins. ” Now if it’s not dinner time, then instead of redirecting to a “task” you could just as easily say. “Cookies are not something I would like you to have right now. How would you like an apple or some yogurt instead? We will have cookies later. ” In this situation, first you’re letting your child know that you heard the question. Secondly, you’re validating that he is hungry and will be able to eat soon, since dinner is coming or letting him know that he can have something to eat. Third you’re redirecting and helping him to help you. Then last you’re giving your child the CHOICE as to which thing he would rather do. Children as adults like to be given choices!
When a parent is frustrated or fearful the seemingly quickest way to end a behavior is through hitting or yelling, when actually these actions can take the focus off of the child’s behavior, confusing the child and stopping him from learning what’s really wrong with the actions he is taking. Aggressive, negative discipline tends to create a sense of distrust with the parent-child relationship. It can, and usually does, cause parents to feel out of control and ashamed. It also tends to alienate us from our children. A baby, toddler, or older child who sees that his parent is angry with him does not understand that this anger is out of worry or concern for his safety or well being. They only see the anger. The younger your child, the even more less likely it is that he will connect a spanking or being yelled at with the unwanted behavior he was doing. He will also be more likely to internalize your negative reaction to him personally, which can then lead to much bigger problems, as he grows older.
Prevention or creating a “yes” environment is a great tool for the positive disciplinarian. If you can anticipate a behavior, then circumvent it before it becomes a problem this is your best line of defense.
A great place to start is baby – toddler proof your home. Meaning, make your whole house baby proof or at least 1-2 rooms. Removing any and ALL “non” baby and toddler items. For instance, removing books and breakables; placing covers over outlets; removing cords or tacking them down; putting locks on any and all cabinets that are not child safe; removing any and all things you see as prize objects that you would not want destroyed by little hands. If you want to keep prized items, place them high up on shelves. Another great way to help child proof, is by getting down on all fours. What do you see, think from your child’s point of view, what looks interesting? Then leave “open” the safe things, like pots and pans, toys, items to “climb over” like pillows etc. within the room for “yes” exploration. This creates in a sense, a purely “yes” environment.
Another suggestion would be if you see your toddler becoming aggravated with a playmate, sibling or you for that matter, stepping in to negotiate (if the child is old enough and will understand) or simply picking up the child and removing them to another fun “area”, may prevent a hitting, screaming or biting episode all together. This is also a great opportunity to help your child express his feelings in a non-aggressive and acceptable manner, like using his words.
Mother to a toddler: “I saw Billy take away your toy. That was not a nice thing to do, but it is also not ok for you to hit him. Why don’t we go play with your “pound –a-ball” toy”. (Redirecting a child to another toy, especially one in which he can work his anger out is a good tool. Also, it is VERY important for you to acknowledge your child’s frustration, and validate it. Why it is not always possible for a child to get their way every time, it is possible to make sure that he knows that you do understand!)
Mother to older child: “Hunny, can you please help me to understand what happened?” (this for an older child will help facilitate an open, honest, communicative dialog, which as a parent you want to create as much as possible. In talking to your child in this manner early in life, it will help them to trust you when matters and feelings get really BIG and important!)
Preventing a tantrum or breakdown by making sure your child is fed and well rested before group play is also helpful and is often overlooked.
Redirection is another great tool. In a situation that you know a melt down will quickly erupt, redirection can help avoid this implosion. Taking the child outside, or into another room. Getting up and starting to sing and dance is another great way to redirect and get the child to think about something other than what he wanted to be upset or mad about. Really, anything that is going to be interesting to a child will work, most of the time.
There will be times when safety is your primary concern and redirecting or prevention are just NOT options. Such as if your child just takes off into a busy mall or street. Your first reaction will be, most likely, to yell or spank. You’re scared, you want to teach your child that this is not an expectable way to behave. Your main motive here is to keep your child safe. The issue with this scenario is that the child will fail to appreciate the danger, which was in that busy street or mall. Instead this child will ONLY remember and center ALL his attention to your reaction and anger. The cause of that anger will be lost. Your fear is a much more powerful tool for you to use in this situation, rather than your anger.
In order to give you an example, I am going to pull from my life experience as a parent. My daughter Aubrey was a month over the age of two. I was walking with her and a friend, we were talking while Aubrey was walking and exploring behind us. I checked on her every minute or so. One time I looked back and Aubrey was nowhere to be found. Well I freaked out, there was a busy street nearby and she was so young. The first thing that happened was my friend turned to me and told me to breath, we WOULD find her. So I did, and that helped a lot. Next we started calling for her, well there was no answer. The time from beginning to when we found her was maybe a minute, though it felt like a lifetime had past. When I found Aubrey, I did not yell or spank, what I did was cry. I picked up Aubrey and gave her the biggest hug she has ever gotten from me. I was in tears. After I composed myself and let her down, I sat down with her on my eye level. I told her that it was not ok to run away from mommy and that she scared me a great deal. I also told her that there were hidden dangers in the world and that she would have to believe that mommy knew best for her. I went on to say that if she wanted to go to another place, to ask me. Now, I am not 100% sure of what she “got” from this conversation, but I can tell you she has never since this time run away again, and she is 6. She also remembers this conversation she can almost tell you the exact words I said!
The benefits of positive discipline are immense. The level of trust and respect between you as the parent and them as children are preserved and are fostered through the years. Children achieve better “self-discipline” as they grow because each instance of discipline becomes an opportunity for education. Our society as a whole will be thankful for the rewards of positive discipline, as our children learn by example to have empathy and regard for others.
I have found that attachment parenting has not only enriched my life as a parent but helped guide me in my positive parenting beliefs as well. One thing I believe as a attachment parent is that, when in doubt I listen to my heart, and with my heart and knowing my child so well, it leads me to the right answer. I have also felt that in the lines of discipline this is true as well. For instance, my son is 2 now, and still does not speak one verbal word, he has a few signs (sign language) but that’s it. So communicating with him is sometimes near impossible, so we use choices quite often. When I can’t figure out what it is that Zachary wants, I give him the choice between two things. This lets him have some control over the world and also lets me stay in control by controlling which items he has to choose from. We have also created a “play room” which consists completely of things he is allowed to play with and do. From exploring the pots and pans, to learning how open and close the doors.
Attachment parenting and positive discipline work hand in hand to promote the empathy and respect required to guide your child in a way that is beneficial to you both. Equipping yourself with resources and information, and finding a support system to give you a boost when times are tough. It will also help you become a successfully parent and them a successful and well adjusted child!
Jennifer Sprague, co-owner of High Top Baby Designs . She has several years of teaching experience, working with infants through adults and has a passion for helping children live happy, healthy and secure lives. Jennifer has been a nanny, daycare provider, teacher, and is currently studying to become a Doula and a Lactation Consultant. She enjoys spending time with her two wonderful children, Aubrey and Zachary. Jennifer is also an advocate for peaceful parenting everywhere she goes.
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