Disciplining kids is a challenge for most parents. Duh, right!?!?!
By profession, I’m a Board Certified Behavior Analyst who primarily works with kids with disabilities. It can be hard as a professional to know the most appropriate way to respond and I have a ton of experience and training, however it’s even harder as a Mom! When our child is demonstrating less than ideal behavior, we want them to stop and we want them to stop now.
From reading my thoughts on having an imperfect child, you know that my son has had some issues in public. It can be embarrassing. Its so hard to respond to your child. Its difficult to know the right thing to say and do in the moment. Most of us moms question ourselves. We want our child to act appropriately and be polite. When our child is not appropriate, we don’t always know how to correct the behavior. We don’t want our kid to be the ‘bratty one.’
When most of us think of discipline, we think of punishment. By definition, punishment is anything that follows a behavior that makes the behavior less likely to occur again. The key is future occurrences of the behavior. For example, if I put my kid in time out for hitting but they continue to hit after being in time out a few times, its likely that the time out is not an effective punisher. (Time out may be effective for some kids but I’m just using that as an example.)
Then as Moms, add our emotions to the mix. It can be heart breaking to hear our little ones cry, especially when we are disciplining because it may feel like we are the cause of their upset. Although we know that sometimes our little ones have to learn and discipline is necessary, we also know that it can be easier to just ‘let it go and move on.’ Of course, you have to pick your battles but sometimes its necessary to pick a battle.
Disciplining is hard but there are other options for behavior modification. When considering discipline, I also want to encourage you to think about how you can increase appropriate behavior by using praise, reinforcement, choices and modeling.
Here are 5 tips:
- SOCIAL PRAISE… Give LOTS OF PRAISE and BE SPECIFIC! Rather than saying ‘good job,’ say ‘I really like how you are walking with me in the store.’ Specificity in your praise will help your child to know exactly what they are doing well. Its likely they will also enjoy the conversation about how well they are doing and engage in the positive attention. If your child is demonstrating appropriate behavior, identify the behavior and provide lots of praise. Of course, remember to be sincere when providing the praise. Even young kids can easily pick up on sarcasm.
- REINFORCEMENT… If you want a behavior to continue, provide access to fun things!!! Reinforcement is anything that follows a behavior which makes the behavior more likely to continue. For example, offer a snack for cleaning up toys such as saying “When you clean up your toys, you may have fruit snacks.” Do not negotiate with your little one. All of us, even as adults, have access to reinforcement in some form or another and it’s completely acceptable to set up clear contingencies for children.
- MODEL… If you don’t want your child to use curse words, then you can’t use curse words. If you want your child to clean up after themselves, then you have to clean up too.
- GIVE CHOICES… Provide choices whenever possible! Our little ones are still mastering communication and they are learning limits. Our little ones desperately want control. Its not always possible to give choices but if you make a conscious effort to give choices, you will find that most situations can be offered as a choice. For example, “do you want to clean up your cars first or put your books on the shelf?” or “do you want to carry your bag or my lunchbox to the car? or “do you want to sit in the cart or do you want to walk next to me while holding the cart?”
For the more challenging part… what to do when the behavior occurs. Try to understand the FUNCTION of the behavior- the WHY. It doesn’t matter if he isn’t talking much. ALL of us do things for a reason. If you want his behavior to change, you have to understand the function- the WHY. Let me try to outline some possibilities….
- Let’s say your child is pinching you and you telling him that ‘it hurts’ isn’t changing his behavior. It’s possible that he is looking for your attention and each time you address him (telling him it hurts), you are giving him what he wants. If you tell him no one time and he does it again, walk away. If he proceeds to demonstrate any behavior, ignore him till he is being appropriate. When he is calm, address him and give him attention… but only when he is behaving appropriately.
- Let’s say that he is pinching you after you told him to do something such as pick up a toy. Its possible that he is pinching to escape/avoid the task of picking up the toy. In this situation, if you would put him in time out, you would potentially be giving him exactly what he wants. So, therefore, it may be more effective to follow through with having him pick up the toy by hand-over-hand helping him pick up the toy. AFTER he picks up the toy, tell him nice job and then move on to something else.
- Let’s say that he is pinching you after you told him ‘no’ to something he wants. For example, he asked for candy and you said no. It’s possible that he wants access to the candy and he is demonstrating behavior. Many parents (including myself) try to rationalize and negotiate by offering alternatives. However No means No. My recommendation in this situation is to offer ONE alternative ONE time and then walk away. For example, he asks for candy and you say no but you can have an apple. If he continues (or starts screaming/pinching/etc), walk away and don’t address him again till he is being appropriate. He will learn that no means no and accept the answer more quickly.
Have you had similar challenges? Are there any other discipline strategies that work for you and your family?