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Scolding Without Shouting?

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

Q: My wife and I have a three and a half year old daughter who constantly is trying to get her own way ,no matter what. We try to talk to her at a level that she understands, but she turns and regresses into a baby-like attitude when scolded about her behavior. Is there a way to discipline without reverting to shouting and me becoming my father all over again? Please respond in kind, thank you.

A: It's a feather in your cap that you recognize how easy it is for all of us parents to repeat the behaviors of our parents, even the ones we hated. Not that this will make you feel better but your daughter's testing limits and trying to get her way is what she's supposed to be doing as she shapes her independent personality. Her regressing to baby-like behavior when disciplined is her current defense mechanism against unwanted criticism.

Shouting, humiliation (you're a bad girl) and spanking don't teach anything but fear and shame. You do need to maintain your expectations of acceptable behavior for her. Try finding opportunities on a daily basis for legitimate praise of her behavior. Don't call her a good girl for doing something you like anymore than calling her a bad girl for something you don't like. Comment on her behavior or accomplishment, e.g., "I really appreciated how nicely you picked up your toys. What a big help that was." Think about the ratio of praising to scolding; change it so it's always heavily weighted in favor of praising.

You can also offer her choices of behavior that are all acceptable to you but seem to offer her some power in choosing, e.g., "You can stop doing X (a negative behavior) now and we can play Y, or you can talk like a baby until you're ready to tell me you want to be three again and play Z." Sometimes just breaking the rhythm of what isn't working ushers in a chance for both parents and child to create a new, better way of communicating.

Look over the book, "How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk" by Faber and Mazlish. There are many practical examples of successful discipline strategies in this superb book.

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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.


Please note: This "Expert Advice" area of FamilyEducation.com should be used for general information purposes only. Advice given here is not intended to provide a basis for action in particular circumstances without consideration by a competent professional. Before using this Expert Advice area, please review our General and Medical Disclaimers.

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