How to Get Your Kids to Behave
Surprise. You might first have to change your own behavior.
Called "loving regulation," "turning conflict into
cooperation," and "positive discipline," these gentle techniques
are not easy, but experts say the benefits are enormous: self-disciplined
parents breed self-disciplined children. "This is about learning to change
your own behavior, and your children's behavior, so that you can embrace and
resolve conflict, and enjoy life," says Becky Bailey, Ph.D., author of
Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline.
But how? The first step, says Bailey, is for parents to look at themselves:
Are they assertive or passive? Do they flee from conflict or step in to
problem-solve? Parents can't teach skills they don't have, she says. Prepared
with the right tools, parents needn't shrink from an angry child, these experts
say. Just as adults respond better when they feel supported, instead of
criticized, so do children, says Heineman Pieper, "You can be in charge of
your child without ever making them feel disapproved of, or punished."
"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.