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How to Get Your Kids to Behave

Surprise. You might first have to change your own behavior.

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"I don't believe in punishment at all," says Nelsen. "Sometimes parents get fooled because it works, but the long-range results are rebellion, revenge, and retreat."

The root of gentle discipline, Bailey says, is to verbalize the loving thoughts that lurk behind fear-based statements. Instead of yelling, "Get over here or you'll get lost!" Bailey suggests saying, "Stay close to me in the store so I can keep you safe. If something happened to you, I would be sad. I love having you with me."

Another principle is for parents to tell their child what to do, instead of what not to do. A toddler who is told, "Don't touch the stereo!" will likely reach out and touch the stereo, says Bailey. A better statement might be, "You see the stereo. Now let's look at this truck!"

Most of all, don't forget you are dealing with joyous, curious toddlers. "It can be a lot easier," says Heineman Pieper, "if you don't feel your 2-year-old needs to act like a 22-year-old."

At my house, these new techniques have been working. At breakfast lately, there has been no toast flinging and no climbing on the table. We've made a trade: I've given up the idea that they'll sit quietly in their high chairs, and in response to my new, relaxed attitude, they seem to have softened their rebellion. Reasonably, lovingly, I place them at the table, seated in the grown-up chairs. When my daughter lifts her arm for a toast-toss, I take the toast away and give her a tennis ball to throw. For the moment, anyway, they're happy, I'm happy. We'll see what happens next.

Forget About Time-Outs?

While some discipline experts have rejected the idea of time-outs, Jane Nelsen, author of Positive Time-Out, suggests modifying time-outs to make them a comforting experience. Children under 3 years old should not be placed in any kind of time-out, she says, but older children can have what she calls "positive time-outs." This means a child, often accompanied by her parent, goes to a "feel-good" place to calm down before trying to learn from the conflict.

Have the child create the time-out place, stock it with stuffed animals and books, and call it by a name: the quiet-time spot or Hawaii. "Many people object that positive time-out is a reward for misbehavior," says Nelsen. "But a misbehaving child is a discouraged child. The most effective way to deal with misbehavior is to help children feel encouraged so their motive for misbehaving is removed."

She suggests this approach: "Would it help you to go to your feel-good place now? Would you like me to go with you?" If the child says, no, the parent answers, "Fine, I think I'll go myself."

Parents can model the value of a positive time-out, particularly with older children. Nelsen gives this example: Barbara's 9-year-old son had come home late and Barbara had been worried sick. When Rick appeared, she realized anger had the upper hand. She said, "Rick, I'm glad you're okay -- I've been worried. But right now I'm so upset that I need to take time out to calm down before we discuss what has happened."

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