How to Get Your Kids to Behave
Surprise. You might first have to change your own behavior.
"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."