Welcome back to Discipline 101, today’s segment, Making Your Children Mind without Losing Yours – Discipline without Yelling. I hope that for those of you returning, the segment and information provided last week proved beneficial and perhaps enlightening. The fact that you’ve returned leads me to believe that you found the tips and suggestions beneficial and have returned to determine more tools of the trade.
Prior to moving forward, however, let me review briefly effective discipline. An effective discipline plan is one that:
- Blends well with your overall disciplinary strategy and child-rearing philosophy.
- Stresses fairness and is reasonable.
- Is suited to your child’s developmental stage and individual temperament.
- Focuses on teaching your child to make better decisions and does not focus entirely on punishing the incident of misbehavior.
- Models and promotes respect.
- Is not humiliating, embarrassing or degrading to your child.
- Is designed to reduce the undesirable behavior.
- Focuses on encouraging the desired behavior.
- Leaves you child, and you, feeling good about yourselves.
- Promotes the bond between you and your child.
- Suits both you and your partner’s parenting style(s) providing comfort to you both.
Today, we are going to focus on techniques that will encourage your children to listen to and follow your directions and/or rules without the need for you to raise your voice in order to get them to do so. There is nothing more unsettling to a child (or teenager) than a parent that frequently raises his/her voice when parenting. This, in adult terms, would be like your boss or employer raising his/her voice every time you make a mistake, arrive a minute late to work or a meeting, or simply don’t do as they demand. Not a good situation for anyone. And one that leaves everyone feeling bad about themselves or the situation.
Parents, we should remind ourselves daily, if necessary, that it is our job to set limits for our children and their job to test those limits and trust me they will. This is one “sale” that your child will hold up his/her end of the bargain, guaranteed. Therefore, we must also hold up our end by establishing realistic age- appropriate limits and rules consistently enforcing them and, if necessary, discourage or reduce the frequency of specific inappropriate behaviors from occurring again.
Remember, parenting is not an easy job and one that sometimes results in our losing control. When we lose control, lots of things can happen. We might say something that we really don’t mean, yell, rant or rave getting off-track, and more importantly lose credibility as a parent. When this happens, we lose our parenting effectiveness. As parents, teachers and caregivers, we don’t want to make a job that is already difficult ineffective. So, in an effort to eliminate the possibility, let’s get started on some “Tools of the Trade of Effective Parenting”.
Keep Cool When Parenting
Children know exactly how to push our buttons. They know what to say or do, how to do it, and when it is the best possible time to rattle our cage to their benefit. It’s almost like there is a course available to kids via cartoons that teach them the skills to get under our skin. This is when WE must exercise good judgment, self-discipline and self-control with our children. For children, discipline can be like a fishing excursion. They will dangle the bait and wait for us to react and “take it”. It’s the oldest trick in the book and children are masters at it. What is it? It’s an invitation to a power struggle, something that will occur throughout their lives and into the teenage years. It is something that we must effectively control in order to avoid the fall-out that will occur if we accept the invitation.
Okay parents repeat after me, “Say No to a Power Struggle”. There are NO winners in a power struggle, unless you consider your child the winner by virtue of the fact that he/she managed to make you lose control. Avoiding power struggles can be simple IF you follow the steps below:
- Remain Calm and Avoid becoming Defiant. The most important thing that you can do is take a deep breath, take a step back remaining calm, composed and in control of the situation. Over-reacting to a situation or incident can result in your loss of credibility in an instant. Although it isn’t always easy, parents must ALWAYS model appropriate behaviors. We will slip-up from time to time, that’s human nature, and when we do an immediate apology will go a long way in restoring your parental effectiveness and child’s faith. But, losing control repeatedly will destroy your ability to come-back through the eyes of your children. Power struggles require two people – you know the saying, “It takes two to tango”. Keeping this in mind, explain to the child that you would like to help resolve the conflict but that it will have to be done in appropriate manner so as to avoid hurting either his/her feelings and your own. Temporarily remove yourself from the situation by explaining that you will be in the kitchen, bedroom, etc….when they have calmed down and invite them to join you. Do not engage in further conversation at this point. This will only lead to the escalation of your child’s inappropriate behavior.
- Use Friendly Action. It is important to remember that no matter how frustrated, angry or disappointed you may be with your child you must model calmness in an effort to reduce the level(s) of anxiety of you both. After all, your ultimate goal is to calm the child. If you and the child are in the presence of others, you need to politely remove yourselves and discuss the matter in private. It is important to maintain your personal space as children can become agitated if they feel you’re “bullying” or “intimidating” them by touching them in any way. Maintain eye-contact and speak in a soft voice using a calm tone. It is important to validate the child’s need by paraphrasing what the child has described or by what you have derived from his/her attempts at verbalizing his/her feelings. An example of this would be, “I can see that you are angry about ______and I understand why you might be angry”. This lets the child know that you can communicate calmly and that you’re listening to what they are telling you without the need for “grand-stand” or disrespectful behaviors.
- Win-Win Negotiation. This is a very effective method in resolving conflict. It should occur after you have calmed the child and paraphrased to the child his/her issue. This is best done by avoiding any form of personal attack that could negatively impact your child’s self-worth. Remember, his/her behavior does not mean that your child is “bad”. It simply means that he/she made a bad choice or behaved inappropriately. I have found both in the classroom and with my own children that once children are calm, they are much better able to communicate without anger or fear. Sometimes it will require that you provide the child with “chillax time”. What this means is that the child will have an opportunity to “pull him/herself together BEFORE engaging in conversation. You can let the child know that when he/she feels calm enough to discuss the matter you’ll be waiting in the living room, kitchen, etc…Or, you can let the child know that you’d like him/her to take a few minutes to calm down and that you’ll join them as you want to resolve the conflict. Once everyone has regained their composure, you can address the situation by stating to your child, “I want you to win. How can I win too?” When children understand that BOTH of you can win, they are more willing to work together with you toward a common goal. I always include a hug, kiss and words of praise and kindness after resolving conflict. It allows everyone to feel good about the outcome and themselves.
- Positive Attention. Remember that providing positive attention in any relationship is more conducive to eliciting respect and compliance. Children need to know that no matter what you love them and respect their feelings. By providing your child your full attention regularly just spending quality time together in which they can share with you what’s on their mind, without any advice from you, or free from your trying to teach them something, your child will recognize that you’re on their side and feel more comfortable sharing and discussing things with you.
Your enjoyment of parenting is paramount to your success as a parent. Avoid falling into the “power struggle” trap which will ultimately result in feelings of inadequacy on your part.
Verbal Discipline as a Tool for Teaching and Handling Misbehavior(s):
There are many methods of discipline from which parents and teachers can pull their techniques. And depending on the situation, some forms may be more effective than others at eliciting the desired behavior or outcome. Verbal discipline tends to be the one with which adults have the most difficulty often because they don’t take everything into consideration as it applies to the situation at hand. Verbal discipline in and of itself is the act of a) stating your behavioral expectations; b) reminding your child of those expectations in an effort to refocus his/her attention; c) following through with appropriate consequences should the child elect to disregard your instructions. As simple as this may sound if handled incorrectly it may not lead to the attainment of your desired objective.
Here are a few suggestions when utilizing verbal forms of discipline to attain the desired behavior or goal:
- First and foremost, remember that words can hurt so make certain that you choose words that are positive in nature. This means avoid using phrases that might insult the child or embarrass him/her. The message that you are trying to send should avoid any form of name-calling for as innocent as it may seem, i.e. “lazy pants”, “knuckle head”, etc…it can lead to feelings of inadequacy or shame. For example the statement, “Okay knuckle head, have you finished your homework?” may lead a child to feel as though you don’t think he/she is very smart.
- Use a soft and pleasant voice when asking or telling your child to do something. By raising your voice you’ve automatically reduced the level of attentiveness your child will provide you. This goes along with “selective listening”. Children will listen as long as the spoken word is kind and non-threatening.
- Be specific about your expectations. This is something that few parents get right off the bat. For example, telling a child to “go clean their room” is no more effective than trying to get money from an ATM when there are no funds available. Your interpretation of a clean room and that of your child is likely to be worlds apart UNLESS you’ve actually taught your child what “clean” means to you. He/she may pick everything up off the floor and toss it into the toy chest or perhaps they’ll shove everything under the bed as to them, out of site = clean. By explaining clearly what you expect you are eliminating the potential for an escalation of verbal discipline. A more realistic and effective statement of expectations would be, “Please clean your room. Remember to place your toys on the shelves where they belong, put your dirty clothes in the hamper and your shoes in the closet. I will be back in 20 minutes to see that it is done correctly.” This explanation clearly defines your expectation so that your child will not “fall short” in meeting it. (NOTE: If you give them a specific time frame, you’ll want to set a timer so that you will remember to follow up and they will understand that they don’t have all afternoon to complete the task). When providing instruction(s) to your child, at any age, you’ll want to establish eye-contact so that you have their undivided attention. Telling him/her what you want them to do from across the room, while they are watching television or engaged in some activity will prove ineffective most ALL of the time.
- Be prepared to follow through. As stated above, in order for verbal instruction and/or discipline to be effective you must follow through. In stating your behavioral expectation and time frame to your child you have indicated that the task requested must be completed and that you intend to “check” for yourself that it has been. (Remember standards should be realistic and age-appropriate). If you become side-tracked and fail to follow through, your child will learn that they have a fifty-fifty chance of getting away with NOT following directions. This will ultimately lead to your child learning that he/she really doesn’t have to do what you have requested.
- Provide reminders as necessary. Obviously, the younger the child the more necessary it will be to redirect their focus as the attention span of a four year old is much less than that of a 14 year old. Children will become distracted just like adults do from time to time. It isn’t unrealistic to provide a gentle reminder when you notice your child has wandered off the path. Sometimes it is even necessary to repeat the same instructions that you provided earlier in an effort for the task at hand to be completed. (NOTE: Teaching young children to follow directions may require that you repeat simple instructions hundreds of times before they are able to internalize and apply them. This is especially true in the classroom when teaching classroom procedures for turning in homework, preparing their papers and/or backpacks for departure. Never expect that your child will remember instructions that you presented last week or even yesterday. Learning is a lifelong process and will take time.
- Verbal prompting. If you have reminded a child and still he/she has not completed the task that they have been requested, required and/or told to complete, you may have to issue a verbal prompt. This might include a warning that he/she will lose a privilege, be required to go to bed early or even assume another responsibility related to the task at hand should he/she fail to complete the task in the next twenty minutes. Again, make certain that the task is age-appropriate and the time provided realistic.
- Follow through immediately. If your child fails to complete what is expected of him/her, you must follow through with the consequence that you determine is relevant and appropriate. Avoid falling into the trap of allowing your child another “chance” so as to avoid discipline. This will only exacerbate the situation and potentially lead to similar scenarios in the days to come where you may be less likely to be able to control your frustration. Remember, we’re either training them or their training us. Which do you prefer?
- Avoid making promises. If you make “false” or “empty” promises, or threaten consequences that you don’t intend to follow through upon, you will be setting you and your children up for failure. “Say what you mean & mean what you say!” Telling your child that he will have to go to bed at 9:30 p.m. due to his ill-manner that morning and then NOT following through will teach your child that you don’t really mean what you say so why should he/she listen in the first place. Promising that you’ll take your child to the ice-cream shop if he/she makes an “A” on his/her spelling test should mean that the day that your receive the paper reflecting the grade you required, you take the child to get ice-cream. Nothing loses its effectiveness more quickly than failure to follow through.
You will note that by making your expectations clear and presenting them in a pleasant tone while making eye contact, you’ve avoided the need to elevate your voice. Even if the task(s) required have not been completed, following the steps above will prevent the need for raising your voice. Demeanor is everything when teaching, modeling, training, and “disciplining” your child. If you maintain control, chances are your child will follow your lead. However, that is not to say that you won’t have children who will challenge your authority.
If you’ll remember from Part I of this series, discipline was described as an opportunity to teach your child the difference between right and wrong, appropriate and inappropriate and acceptable and unacceptable words, behaviors and actions. Being able to recognize and handle behavioral situations as they occur and choosing the best method of doing so is also a learned skill. Parents, teachers and caregivers don’t always have to handle situations needing correcting verbally. In fact, sometimes non-verbal discipline is just as effective.
Non-Verbal Discipline Techniques:
Obviously when utilizing non-verbal discipline as your method of correcting inappropriate or unacceptable behaviors, you aren’t using your “voice” at all thereby eliminating the possibility of raising your voice or yelling at your children. We’ve all heard the saying, “Actions speak louder than words” and although it has been applied to other areas of self-discipline, it is also relevant when attempting to discourage inappropriate behaviors in children. For example, if your child is mishandling a book and you have taught your child the proper way to handle the pages, etc…as well as having provided gentle reminders in an effort to attain the desired behavior, walking over and gently taking the book away from the child placing it on the shelf may be all it takes to make the point. There are other effective methods of non-verbal discipline. Here are just a few:
- Selective Ignoring. Sounds funny I know but it is effective most of the time in attaining the desired goal. It’s kind of like selective listening in that you’re actually deciding to handle certain bothersome but non-life-threatening behaviors like rude noises, silly faces and gestures and basic goofiness as long as the behavior(s) aren’t getting out of control. Basically all you are doing is pretending NOT to notice the annoying behavior. Obviously you’ll want to exercise this option when the behavior(s) isn’t disturbing others such as slurping from a glass in a restaurant or burping out loud in the library. Exercise good judgment. However, by ignoring the behavior that your child is “dishing up” in an effort to receive your attention, you are making a silent statement to your child which results in having saved your discipline energy for battles that really matter such as biting, pinching, hitting, etc…. Typically when he/she hasn’t been told to stop or been verbally challenged/disciplined by you, he/she has failed at the attention-seeking behavior and will become bored and stop the behavior moving onto another more appropriate behavior or activity. You are not ignoring the problem but simply ignoring the attention-seeking behavior. If, however, your child continues with the bothersome behaviors, you may have to intervene. This can still be handled without addressing the behavior at hand. Perhaps re-focusing your child’s behavior would be justified. For example, bringing up a question related to a trip, class assignment, game that they enjoy, etc…may be all it takes to stop the annoying behavior and generate a conversation which ultimately provides the attention your child is seeking just not in the manner he/she is attempting to gain your attention.
- Physical Cues or Making Eye-Contact. Correcting or redirecting inappropriate behaviors can be accomplished by using physical cues such as hand gestures to signal the culprit to discontinue whatever behavior he/she is participating. For example, a finger to the lips will just as easily indicate that you want a child to “stop talking or making sounds” as interrupting others by stating your request. Holding your hand out in front of you similar to that of a policeman directing traffic to signal a child to stop running is also effective. Sometimes all you have to do with children is establish eye-contact to get the point across to them that they are doing something that is disturbing you and that you want the behavior to stop. This works for both young and older children alike. Additionally, if a child is misbehaving, simply moving near or placing your hand gently upon their shoulder makes a simple, silent statement that most children understand. If, however, these methods are ineffective you can always direct the child to come to you by using the simple “finger curl” of the pointer finger. Universal signal for “come here!”
By utilizing these simple steps in modifying your child’s behavior, you have avoided the use of your voice and have established your authority and the need for your child to discontinue the behavior.
Not all discipline has to be negative in nature. In fact, some of the most effective forms of discipline revolve around modifying inappropriate behaviors by simply suggesting more appropriate ones. If you’ve ever thought about it, one of the first words that young toddlers learn is “NO”. How sad is this reality? Once a child has mastered it they use it for everything. “Jeremy, it’s time to put the blocks away.” “NO!” “Susan, let’s put your doll down for a nap.” “NO!” There isn’t a parent out there that hasn’t experienced this one-word of communication between themselves and their toddler.
Positive Reinforcement /Rewards for Good Behavior:
Being creative in modifying your child’s behavior, both positive and negative behaviors, can be challenging, however it doesn’t have to be. By phrasing your expectations differently, children will typically respond in the manner in which you’re intending. Here are some examples of positive child behavior modification:
- Positive reinforcement can be considered the twin sister of selective ignoring. By using positive reinforcement you are recognizing praiseworthy behaviors. Some children are starved for attention and will seek any form of attention that they can from adults responsible for their care. Many times, a child that has typically behaved appropriately and not received any form of praise or attention will begin to “act out” in an effort to receive some form of attention as they are well aware of the fact that children who misbehave receive lots of attention. To them anything is better than nothing. Being aware of this type of response from well-behaved children should make parents, teachers and caregivers more understanding of the needs of children. There are two types of discipline techniques which fall under this category:
- Recognizing behaviors that are appropriate offering specific comments to reflect the desired behavior in an effort to encourage it. Parents, children are quick to recognize a “fake” when they hear it. When providing praise you always want to make certain that you keep it sincere. Within the context of your praise, identify the exact behavior that your child did correctly. Make certain that you include comments regarding how “they” feel about their accomplishment as opposed to how “you” feel. For example, “I like the way you put your toys in the toy box without having to be asked or reminded.” This identifies a specific behavior that you want to reinforce. “You are really showing that you are responsible for taking care of your toys. You must feel very proud of yourself for a job well done.” Through assisting your child in recognizing his/her success you are building his/her self-esteem. In the classroom, this tool is most effective in correcting misbehavior and reinforcing appropriate behaviors. I used it extensively and had exceptionally behaved students who only wanted to please others, in so doing, pleasing themselves. For example, in an effort to correct the behavior of a child who wasn’t focused on his/her assignment was as simple as making the statement, “I like the way Justin is working hard to complete his spelling so that he can enjoy free-time at the end of the day”. By virtue of the words of praise coming out of my mouth even though they weren’t directed to the child that was off-task, he/she immediately snapped into action in order to be able to participate in “free-time” too.
- Everybody knows what a reward is as at some point in our lives we’ve received one for doing something good. It might have been a star on the behavior chart, or a trip to the ice-cream store for cleaning our room. Whatever the occasion, we were rewarded for doing something “appropriate” and “desired by others.” For some, however, rewards and bribes are often confused. Let me take a moment to clarify. A reward is something that you earn after the fact for a job well done. A bribe, on the other hand, is something you demand while a job is still ongoing. For example, a child who has been told to walk the dog as soon as he gets home from school as he is a member of the family and needs to be responsible for assuming some of the household chores. Your child “counter-offers” and states that he will take the dog for a walk if you’ll allow him three scoops of ice-cream after dinner instead of two. Whoa! Rewards don’t have to have a monetary value and if they do have a fee associated with them, set a budget for rewards. Rewards can be something as simple as playing a board game after dinner, or reading two books instead of one before bedtime. Rewards are effective as long as they are relevant to the child receiving the reward. An example of an ineffective reward would be offering to take “both” children to the football game when only one child enjoys football. Consider your rewards carefully if you intend to use them to modify or reinforce appropriate behaviors.
Finally in an effort to encourage your children to modify their behavior(s) and probably the most important skill that parents, teachers, caregivers and children are lacking, is the skill or ability to listen. Oh, we may listen to the words coming out of the mouths of those addressing us, but are we really listening for the meaning of those words? Often, we are so caught up in our own thoughts that we cannot stop thinking long enough to hear what the other person is saying. Additionally, sometimes we interrupt their words interjecting our opinions and /or suggestions thereby eliminating an entire thought from being shared by the person talking. This brings me to the following:
Learning to Listen & Getting our Children to Listen:
Nobody likes to talk to someone who isn’t listening to them and that is a universally agreed upon feeling and fact. Listening skills begin early in life. It is a learned skill typically through observation and modeling of those with whom we engage in conversation. Many factors are involved in teaching discipline and gaining the respect that is necessary for our children to follow our instructions. Having identified this “listening” as a key factor in establishing respect, let me share with you the following steps to becoming a better listener:
- The most important or first step in getting your children to listen to you is for you to become a better listener yourself. Demonstrating that you are truly listening to your child, through paraphrasing what they’ve shared or by assisting them with their words, will strengthen the bond between you and your child. These practices you’ll also establish trust which is paramount to any level of respect. Without respect, discipline will fail.
- Get on the same level as your child (unless perhaps your child is 6’-3” and you’re only 5’-4” – it might be awkward asking your child to squat). Being eye to eye with your child is especially important for effective communication. This will allow both parties undivided attention allowing each to feel as though nothing else matters at that moment.
- Never interrupt your child. Let them finish what they are trying to say. It is very difficult for some children to verbalize what they are thinking and/or feeling. By interrupting them, it is quite possible that they will lose their train of thought and never find their way back on track. Conversely, if you are talking, you should insure that your child does not interrupt you. Tackling this task can be quite a challenge. With younger children, having an object such as a spoon, beanbag, or microphone which serves to reflect “who has the floor” is a good idea. If you aren’t holding the item, you may not speak. If, however, your child becomes impatient and interjects, calmly remind them, “It’s my turn to talk now. Please let me finish.” Additionally, while listening to your child talk, you can gather your thoughts so that you respond to his/her statements appropriately, although you must actively listen to what he/she is saying. There are two words that every parent should practice when engaging in “listening skills” with their children….”I understand.” These two simple but very powerful words alone can dramatically impact both you and your child’s listening behaviors.
- Respond Calmly. When engaged in conversation and “listening” to your child, it is imperative that you speak in a soft, calm voice. This reflects the serious nature of your conversation without being indicative of feeling upset.
Positive discipline is a teaching tool in which if used properly parents can elicit the desired outcome of modifying a child’s behavior. However, in order for discipline of any kind to be effective listening must be achieved on both the parent and child’s part. Without effective listening skills, parents and children will fail to connect on the most basic levels. Establishing respect for one another is dependent upon “active listening” and the ability to demonstrate that you’ve not just listened to the other party but that you understand what they have said.
Parenting without yelling is possible. By practicing the tips and suggestions that I’ve shared today, you will be able to establish an environment that focuses on a mutual respect for each individual’s feelings. By maintaining a positive atmosphere, establishing trust between you and your child, parenting can be a magical and mutually rewarding experience…guaranteed to prevent you from losing your mind.
This concludes Part II of Positive Parenting from A to Z. Please join me next week for Part III, of my six-part series when we’ll review Accountability and Consequences.
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