1. Be kind AND firm at the same time Children need both kindness AND firmness in order to thrive but many parents struggle to get the balance right. They're either too firm ("I'm the boss and you'll do as I say") or too permissive ("I love you and you can do anything you please"). Some parents vacillate between the two extremes being very inconsistent and confusing the child by swinging from controlling to permissive. A positive discipline parent is neither. They show firmness coupled with kindness. Which of the following best describes you... THE BOSS - You are in charge and your children must obey you simply because you are the parent. THE PLEASER - Your children are the centre of the universe, so they have all the power. THE KIND AND FIRM PARENT- Your child is part of your family and not the centre of the universe. You understand your child's personality and can create boundaries without breaking your child's spirit.
Both 'the boss' and 'the pleaser parent' act instead of being proactive. They wait until something happens and then respond in the moment. The 'kind and firm parent' takes a step back, observes and thinks before they act. They work on ways to show their child what to do instead of consistently saying YES or NO! The boss often looks for blame or fault and relies on punishment as the primary discipline tool. Kind and firm parents look for solutions instead of blame ad realise that the person who can and must change first is the parent.
The 'pleaser' lives with a lot of guilt. They spend a lot of time on what they 'should have' or 'could have' done. They tend to feel sorry for the children when they mess up, and are unwilling to let a child learn from his or her behaviour. If this is your style your child is parenting you instead of you providing leadership for the family. You are over protective and lack faith in your child's ability to learn and grow. You are not giving your child the many opportunities to develop the belief "I am capable." Guilt is your middle name.
When you use the tools of positive discipline, you become the Kind and Firm parent. You give yourself and your child permission to make mistakes, to be imperfect and to try again, and again and again. Why? Because you know that mistakes are the best teacher and that it is human to make them. You know that you are a team and that you must work together with respect for yourselves and each situation. You model the qualities you want to create and you take time for training, knowing that every day brings new learning opportunities to you all to become the people you wish to become. You know parenting is a journey and you take each day step by step, reflecting and your growth and the strengths of the family.
2. Act, don't talk Listen to yourself for one day. you may be surprised how many useless words you say! Or listen to other parents bargaining with their kids, begging them, nagging them or endlessly explaining what they want their children to do next. Over 75% of problems parents have with their children would probably disappear if parents TALKED LESS AND ACTED MORE.
This parenting by words ("Do this. Don;t do that.") is a way parents mistakenly turn power over to children who tune them out and don't do a thing they say. These parents then label their children as disobedient instead of acknowledging that they themselves are not using effective parenting skills. It is perfectly ok to calmly take children by the hand and start walking, or to gently lift them up and carry them to bed. It is disrespectful to yell, nag, lecture, beg, order or threaten. If you decide to act more and talk less your children will begin to notice the difference. If children are fighting over a toy, quietly remove it and put it where they can't reach it. The can always try again when they have all calmed down. If your child is banging an object on the table, ask once that they stop and if they carry on simply remove it calmly instead of repeating yourself incessantly. Give up counting to three; just zip your lips and act. You'll be amazed at the results.
3. Decide what YOU will do The heart of Positive Discipline is learning to change yourself instead of trying to control others and make them change. If you've been busy trying to control your children, you probably haven't considered the possibility that you can deal with problems by controlling your own behaviour and deciding what you will do instead of what you will try to make your children do. Once you begin to focus on changing your behaviour, you soon realise that actions must accompany your words and you have to have follow-through on your decisions. For example, many parents have learned how to avoid unsafe driving by pulling over to the side of the road and waiting until their children calm down. Or to not start the car until their children have their seat-belts fastened. Shopping trip tantrums have been avoided when parents calmly take their children to sit in the car the moment whining or tantrums start. All they say gently but firmly is "We'll go back as soon as you are ready." By deciding what YOU will do you can save many hours of endless power struggles.
4. Replace punishment with information and opportunities to learn from mistakes There is no place for punishment in Positive Discipline. Why? Hundreds of research projects have demonstrated that punishment is NOT the most effective way to teach positive outcomes. Instead it hurts, makes others feel bad and it uses fear as a motivator. Then why would so many parents use punitive or abusive methods? Simple. They believe it works and that they are 'doing something' instead of allowing their children to 'get away with' misbehaviour. But when many of these parents take a step back they realise they are punishing the same behaviour over and over again. That is a pretty good clue that punishment doesn't work in the long term.
Very little constructive learning can be done with anger and the output of negative energy. When your children think you are angry with them, they often behave worse. Discipline, to be effective, needs to be rational and loving (kind and firm at the same time). While it is fine to tell your child you are angry about a particular behaviour, it is counterproductive to scream out a punishment in anger. Positive Discipline methods focus on teaching children new ways of behaving that are useful, harmonious and positive for their own growth.
- Your child spills his juice. Punitive parents may scream, hit, or take the juice away in anger, but you would grab a cloth for you and one for your child and say "Oooops, when we make a mess we clean it up. Let's wipe it up together like this..."
- Your child fights with a sibling over a toy. Punitive parents may scold, argue, nag, threaten or yell. You would calmly remove the toy and tell them both "You two can try again later when you are ready to share nicely."
- Your toddler hits you. Punitive parents may hit back, yell or threaten. You would take your child's hand and gently pat yourself saying 'Pat, pat, pat. Be gentle like this."
Parents using Positive Discipline don't ignore problems. They are actively involved in helping their child learn how to handle situations more appropriately while remaining calm, friendly, and respectful to the child and themselves.
5. Turn don'ts into do's As you read this don't think of a pink elephant! Don't notice how your right foot feels. Don't think of what's behind you! Hard isn't it?! I bet you were tempted to do what I just said not to do even if you didn't actually do it right? The reason it's so hard not to do what you've been instructed not to do is because of how the brain works out what the words mean. To understand not doing something the brain first creates an impression of what it is we are not meant to do! Hypnotists even use this 'negative command' language pattern to give hypnotic suggestions to their clients! When you tell your child not to do something, chances are you'll get more of exactly what you didn't want! So instead of telling your child not to run around the pool rather say "Please walk carefully around the pool." Instead of "Don't shout in the house." say "Please speak quietly in the house." or may favourite "Please use your inside voice."
Also when you're about to tell your child not to do something rather think of what you can usefully and safely ask them to do instead.
- "Don't run on the road." becomes "Walk on the pavement." - "Don't make a mess." becomes "Please put things back when you're finished." - It's also ok to tell them what you don't want them to do if you follow up with what you do want them to do instead. "Don't just help yourself to a snack. Please help me lay the table and you can have a biscuit after you've finished dinner."
6. Offer effective choices Children like to feel they have some power and some say over their lives. When they are constantly being told what to do and how to do things they often engage in power struggles in an attempt to exert their own authority. Your toddler shouting "No!" can become a common way for them to feel they have some control over what's happening to them.
By being offered a choice (no matter how small) gives them a sense of involvement and that their needs and wants are being considered, respected and valued. So assume that they will do what you want them to do but give them a choice about how they will do it. - Time to get dressed now... would you like to wear the pink shirt or the blue one?
- Time for breakfast. Come sit down and choose which cereal you'd like today - Weatbix or Porridge?
- Time for a bath. Would you like to wash your hair or your body first?
Offer simple and clearly worded choices and choices that are appropriate to their preferences and abilities so they are more likely to enjoy what they are doing and co-operate with you. If you have a preferred option then put that option last. The last thing we say tends to have a greater impact so they are more likely to choose it (though remember the whole idea is to give them some power over their life so don't control their choice too much or they will see through your effort and are likely to rebel again and enter into another power struggle!).
A third choice: sometimes a highly assertive child will need a third choice to make them feel they truly have some power. For example "Would you like to wear the blue long-sleeved shirt, the pink long-sleeved shirt or any one of these other long-sleeved shirts in your drawer?" Or "Would you like to eat broccoli, peas or another vegetable you see in the fridge?" Sometimes it takes giving the child an option that they feel they have chosen completely out of their own will (the third option) for them to co-operate but this way you are still assuming what you want will happen (i.e you will choose a veggie) and you are still limiting the choice so that it works for you (i.e veggies you see in our fridge).
To learn many more Positive Discipline tools, please consider attending one of our monthly talks or workshops or contact me to host a free introductory talk at your home or school. You'll also find more tips and tools when you join our positive parenting community www.facebook.com/PureParentingSA.
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