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Discipline Techniques for a Three-Year-Old

Toddler and Teenager Expert Advice from Carleton Kendrick, Ed.M., LCSW

Q: My son will be three and a half years old next week. I have been trying to teach him that there are consequences to all of his actions, positive or negative. What is the best way to do this? I was thinking of starting a chart, where I take away privileges for misbehavior and give him stickers to earn for good behavior -- after the required amount of stickers are earned, he gets the privilege back. Does this sound like a good idea?

A: I am a parent and a therapist who is not a believer in rewards and punishment as a means of discipline. The reward-and-punishment system does a poor job at teaching kids to be responsible for their own behavior; it makes parents responsible for it. It does not encourage personal decision-making by kids. It reinforces the notion that appropriate behavior is demanded only in an authority figure's presence. Punishment takes away respect and threatens the culprit with a loss of affection and approval. The punishment given is hardly ever related to the "crime."

I strongly favor an alternative called logical and natural consequences. This method encourages kids to be responsible for their own behavior while encouraging them to make decisions about appropriate behavior. Natural and logical consequences allow kids to learn from the natural and social order of the real world. Kids who refuse to eat get hungry. Kids who scream and kick when it's time to go outside to play are given the option to cooperate or show by their behavior that they are not ready to have fun. There's no power game here, the logical consequences fit the behavior and the child can "own" the outcome.

For a superb introduction into the world of natural and logical consequences, read "The Parent's Handbook "by Dinkmeyer and McKay. It provides a more detailed, example-filled account of this disciplining method along with many other parenting guidelines. It's a great learning tool for parents.

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Carleton Kendrick has been in private practice as a family therapist and has worked as a consultant for more than 20 years. He has conducted parenting seminars on topics ranging from how to discipline toddlers to how to stay connected with teenagers. Kendrick has appeared as an expert on national broadcast media such as CBS, Fox Television Network, Cable News Network, CNBC, PBS, and National Public Radio. In addition, he's been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, USA Today, Reader's Digest, BusinessWeek, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and many other publications.


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