Ain't Misbehavin': Discipline Tactics That Work!
'Fess up: You've had it up to here with nagging and yelling and you can tell from your kids' sniveling response that many of your reprimands just aren't working.
Penny Hutchins Paquette and Cheryl Gerson Tuttle, co-authors of Parenting a Child with a Behavior Problem (Lowell House Books), believe haphazard, "let's try this" approaches to discipline are often doomed to failure. Rather than flailing about in the heat of the moment, they argue, parents should actually plan what they'll do when kids turn into demons. You may be familiar with the following strategies, but perhaps unsure of when -- or even why -- to use them. Here's a clear, concise guide to dealing with kids who yell, hit, swear, won't share, or refuse to put their undies in the hamper!
When It Works: Paquette and Tuttle are big fans of time-out, but recommend that you use it sparingly, for "whatever you consider to be the most serious discipline situations with your child." Time-out works well when children are hitting, damaging possessions, or engaging in unacceptable acts of aggression. The "timing" of time-out is critical: Adhere to the "minute per age" rule (a five-year-old gets a five minute time-out). You can also choose to give toys a time-out, if a child is throwing them, or give a child's mouth a time-out if he or she is swearing or saying something hurtful.
Why It Works: When you remove children from a situation involving others, you deprive them of attention and a chance to be where the action is.
When It Doesn't Work: When it's overused. Many parents use time out as a cure for all ills, only to discover its effectiveness erodes as it becomes the automatic response to every minor infraction. Time out doesn't work for problems like whining or "forgetting" to pick up your toys because cause and effect are not so clear ("You're in time out because you whined" doesn't ring true the way "You're in time out because you hit your sister" does).
Caution: Don't use a child's bedroom as a time-out zone, assuming there are books or toys or other amusements to keep him or her happy. Choose a toy-free location that's away from other people, Cheryl Tuttle says, but still close enough so the child "can hear what everybody's doing but not be able to be part of it."
Good for Ages: 3-9.
When It Works: Keeping a chart, with stickers or stars to mark behavioral improvements, works well with chronic problems like whining or messy rooms, the types of things that drive parents crazy. Among other things, Penny Paquette notes, charting teaches delayed gratification, "that you don't automatically get things because you're cute, but because you earned it and waited for it." In terms of effectiveness, charts and time-outs are polar opposites: Time-out doesn't work when you use it all the time, while charts never work unless you do!
Why It Works: A chart is a "visual cue" for kids; they don't just hear complaints or praise, they can actually see change. It's a way to get them involved in the discipline strategy; they can help make the chart or perhaps choose a reward.
When It Doesn't Work: Keeping a chart can be a difficult task for kids with attention difficulties; lots of parental involvement is needed. Parents also need to assess their own schedules; if you start a chart and don't have time to keep it up, it undercuts the message that behavioral change is important. Finally, don't start 17 charts. Your child may whine, leave dirty socks lying around, and forget to do his homework, but focus on just one behavior problem at a time.
Caution: Don't promise a trip to Disney World in return for a semester's worth of completed homework assignments. Even Pokemon cards or candy bars are the wrong incentives, Paquette and Tuttle believe. The authors urge parents to use "gifts of time" to reward kids for good behavior. A family Monopoly tournament or a prized half-hour extension on bedtime send kids the message, "When you behave nicely, I want to be with you." If there are no behavioral improvements within a week, the chart is probably not having its intended effect.
Good for Ages: 4-12.
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