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Taming Trouble: Discipline and Manners for Your Preschooler

7 tips for parents to help preschoolers master manners.

No. 3: Validate your child's feelings.

When it comes to discipline, parents need to be warm but firm, says Unruh. Listen to your child and validate the feelings causing the problem and then set firm limits when she is behaving inappropriately.

For example, if Maya hits her sibling, let her know what the consequences are, like a timeout. Then take her into another room to stop the behavior and give her a chance to calm down. You can say to her: “I see you’re upset and you handled your upset by hitting. What are you upset about?”

"Children can say what they're feeling if you give them that training," he says. "A huge side benefit is teaching the child empathy. A child learns through experience what it's like and ends up being very empathetic and compassionate to others."

No. 4: Listen.

Parents tend to focus strictly on the behavior and that's just the tip of the iceberg for the child's identity, Unruh says.

"Parents will say, 'How many times did I tell you to stop? Go to your room right now.' But there's no teaching or learning involved," he says. "You're just telling them to stop it because you want them to stop it."

Unruh suggests a 75/25 rule, which calls for listening 75% of the time and talking 25% of the time. And don't lecture.

"Autonomy and self-confidence flourish when parents are asking the child things instead of telling them all the time," he says.

No. 5: Model good behavior.

For teaching manners, it's important to model the behavior you want to see, says Jane Nelsen, EDD, author of the Positive Discipline book series.

Teach them without expecting results right away, like teaching language, she says. Don't get mad at them if they don't do it every time. By the time they're school age, they'll take hold like the way language does.

If a child has had modeling for apologizing, he may be able to come up with "saying sorry" on his own to make another child feel better in the right situation.

"It's so much more effective when it comes from them rather than telling them what they should do," she says.

No. 6: Give your child choices.

Get your children involved with family meetings to come up with solutions together. For example, you and your child can create a bedtime routine chart that includes teeth brushing, bath time, putting on pajamas, and storytime.

"Positive discipline is about helping children develop their thinking skills, social and life skills, and the belief that they're capable," Nelsen says. "You can't tell them they're capable. You have to let them experience it."

If it's bedtime and your child isn't responding to the routine, give him choices. You can say, "I know you don't want to brush your teeth but it's time to brush your teeth. Do you want to do it with me or by yourself?

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