Solutions to Parents' Top Discipline Problems
Early childhood expert Dr. Becky Bailey tells parents how to cope with tantrums, bossiness, biting, and lying.
MY CHILD HAS A TANTRUM IF SHE DOESN'T GET WHAT SHE WANTS.
Tantrums are typical for children between the ages of fifteen months and three years. Most parents blame themselves for temper tantrums. But the outburst generally reflects the child's inner struggle. She's trying to say, "I've tried desperately to make the world go my way. Now I'm frazzled. I feel angry, helpless, and powerless." Stopping a tantrum once it's started is impossible. When it happens, your role is to help your child move through it. Here's what to do:
Don't give in. Giving in to a child when she's having a tantrum will only guarantee she'll have more tantrums and become more demanding. Your response to her tantrum teaches her how to behave in order to get what she wants and also how to treat other people when they're upset.
Discipline yourself first and your child second. Take several deep breaths before you speak. Make yourself as calm inside as you would like your child to become. Then say something soothing to your child. Try, "You're safe, you can handle this. You can calm down so we can talk about the problem. Let's take some deep breaths."
Use empathy to help your child become aware of herself. Describe to your child what you see her doing, "Your arms are going like this (demonstrate), your face looks like this (demonstrate)." Then say what you think your child feels, "Your body is telling me you feel frustrated. You wanted to play longer." If your child is able to compose herself enough to say what she wanted ("I wanted to swing more") then you can incorporate what you hear your child saying to soothe her. "You wanted to swing longer and you wish we could stay and play. It's hard to leave when you're having so much fun."
Give the child two positive choices to meet your expectations. You could say, "You have a choice. You can read in your car seat or have a snack. Which do you choose?" Shift the focus from the swing -- or whatever it is she wants -- to what you want the child to do.
MY SEVEN-YEAR-OLD BULLIES HER SISTER AND HER FRIENDS.
Young children don't separate who they are from what they do. So be careful not to attack your child's personality. Instead, focus on what you want your child to do and then decide how to encourage that behavior. Here's what to do:
Go to the target of the bullying first. It's imperative to approach the victims first. That way, you help empower children to deal with these situations. Teach the victims of your child's bossiness to use an assertive "big voice" to set the limit on your seven-year-old's bossy behavior. For example, if your child pushes her sister, go to her sister first and say, "Your sister just pushed you. Did you like it?" When she says, "No," tell her to say, "Stop, I don't like it when you push me."
More often than not we give the attention to (and chase after) the aggressor asking things like, "Was that nice? How would you like it if people treated you like that? Why are you doing this?" or "That's mean, go to your room." Notice how none of these comments actually teaches children what to do in social settings when another person intrudes in their space.
Teach the bossy child another way of communicating. After you've spoken to the victim of the bullying, turn to the aggressive child and say, "You wanted your sister to move so you pushed her. You may not push; pushing hurts. When you want you sister to move ask, 'Can you move, please?'" Now tell your child to practice using the correct behavior.
MY CHILD HITS, SPITS, BITES, AND TELLS US HE HATES US.
Figure out what your child is trying to say. All behavior, including misbehavior, is a form of communication. Ask yourself: What is my child trying to say with his actions? Is he saying, "I feel angry" or is he saying, "I want attention"? If you believe your child is hitting because he's angry and doesn't know how to express his feelings without hitting and hurting, you could say: "Stop (hold onto his hand so he can't hurt you). I will not let you hurt me or anyone else. When you feel angry say, 'I feel angry.'" You must teach this skill over and over again.
Quit trying to stop children's behavior. When most adults attempt to stop something, they tend to rely on fear, force, coercion, or manipulation. More than likely, these are the same skills your child is using to get what he wants. When we attempt to stop a child's behavior we end up with side effects like power struggles and crushed spirits (both yours and your kids').
Focus on transforming negative behavior so the child actually changes. Focus on what you want your child to do instead of what you want to stop from happening. When I say, "Don't think about a purple alligator," what immediately pops into your mind?
Learn what's age-appropriate. Stressed toddlers bite and stressed preschoolers hit. If you have a child four-years-old and older who is biting, this could be a sign of potential problems. If this is the case, seek professional help and guidance.
MY PRESCHOOLER LIES -- HE DRAWS ON WALLS AND THEN REFUSES TO ADMIT IT.
Parents have choices. You can focus on getting your children to admit their errors and feel bad about their actions, or you can focus on helping your children learn to be responsible by experiencing the consequences of their actions. If you go for an admission of guilt from your child by asking a question you already know the answer to -- "Did you draw on these walls?" -- You're setting up a trap for your child that most preschoolers won't willingly walk into. Most likely you'll get a denial.
Denial is a great defense mechanism. Children will often use denial when they're faced with fear or a threat. Once a child denies the situation, parents really become upset. We say things like, "Don't you lie to me. Lying only makes things worse." From here the interaction typically deteriorates into shouting or worse. Try this instead:
Set limits and hold your child accountable for her actions. In this situation you could say, "I see you drew pictures on the wall. You may not draw on the walls. Drawing is what you do on paper. You can clean the walls with a rag or a sponge. What's your choice?"
Follow-up with your child when he's doing the right thing. It's important that you praise your child when he is drawing on paper. Try saying something like, "You did it! You remembered to draw on the paper. That's great, honey." Then give him a great big hug and kiss.
MY EIGHT-YEAR-OLD WON'T LISTEN TO ME -- SHE REFUSES TO CLEAN HER ROOM AFTER REPEATED REQUESTS.
When it comes to listening, most seven- and eight-year-old children haven't fully developed "mature inner speech" -- the ability to think through the consequences of our actions before we act. At around six, seven, and eight years of age, inner speech is just developing. This means that, for the first time, children have two conversations to attend to at once. They can listen to the chatter in their heads as well as the talk of others. Often they'll say "what?" even as you talk, and they might even seem deaf at times. Try this:
Stay calm. When you're calm, you can focus on what you want. And when you're upset, you're always focused on what you don't want.
Don't shout, get close. Usually we'll start shouting the child's name. "Chelsea, Chelsea, do you hear me? CHELSEA listen to me..." Often these upsets are followed by a lecture. "I'm your mother and I expect you to listen to me when I say to clean your room..." Instead, walk up to your child and get as close to her face as you need to until she makes eye contact with you. Once your child makes eye contact, say gently, "Well there you are." Then say, "Room." One word will often be a sufficient reminder for many children. Follow this up with encouragement as your child begins to do what has been asked of her. You might say, "There you go. You can do it. Sometimes it's just hard to get started."
Give lots of encouragement. If your child isn't following through with a task, there's a good chance you aren't following through with encouragement. You're telling children what you want them to do, but not taking the time to celebrate their accomplishments.
Your children need lots of encouragement. Imagine a football game where everyone sat quietly until a touchdown was made. We need to encourage our children just as we encourage a favorite team attempting to score.
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