~ Every Parent, Teacher and Caregiver Should Read This!
Imagine you are an employee who has made a mistake, and your boss comes to you and says, “You go to time-out and think about what you have done. And don’t come out until I say you can.” Or, if you are married, imagine your spouse coming to you and saying, “I don’t like your behavior. You are grounded for a week.” In either of these scenario’s what would you be thinking, feeling, and deciding. Is there any chance that you would say, “Oh, thank you so much. This is so helpful. I’m feeling so encouraged and empowered and can hardly wait to do better.” Not likely.
Where did we ever get the crazy idea that we have to make children feel bad before they will do better? This crazy idea is the basis for punitive time-out. It doesn’t work for children any more than it would work for adults.
Children are always making decisions about themselves (am I good or bad, capable or not capable, etc.), decisions about others, (are they supportive, friendly, etc. or not), and then decisions about what they will do in the future. These decisions help create a child’s personality (even though many are made at a subconscious level).
When children are sent to punitive time-out, they are likely to be thinking, “I won’t get caught next time.” “I’ll get even.” Or, worst of all, “I’m bad.” This is why the NAEYC (National Association for the Education of Young Children) is very much against time-out.
Positive time-out is totally different. A child (or students in a classroom) designs a “positive time-out area” filled with pleasant things to help him calm down until he can access his rational brain and “do better.”
After he has designed his “positive time-out area.” he gives it another name such as “my space,” or my “my cool off spot.” Giving positive time-out another name helps eliminate the negative feelings of punitive time-out.”
Then allow your child to “choose” to go to his positive time-out instead of being sent. During a conflict you might say, “Would it help you to go to your ‘feel good place?” If your child says, “No,” ask, “Would you like me to go with you?” (Often this is encouraging to a child and helps increase a connection, as well as calming down.) If your child still says, “No,” (or is having such a temper tantrum, she can’t even hear you,) say, “Okay, I’m going to my time-out place.” What a great model for your children.
Go to your own Positive Time-Out
Of course it is a good idea for you to have your own positive time-out area so you can model this self-regulation skill. Going to your own positive time-out may be the best place to start during a conflict. Instead of asking your child if it would help her to go to her feel good place, just go to your own. Your time-out could be a physical place. It could also take place by taking deep breaths, counting to ten (or 100), meditating on how much you love your child, etc.
Not for Children under the age of Three to Four
If a child isn’t old enough to design his own positive-time-out area, he is not old enough to understand any kind of time-out—even positive time-out.
Choose another Positive Discipline Tool Card
Remember that even positive-time-out is not always the most effective parenting tool to help children learn self-discipline, responsibility, problem-solving skills, and other valuable social and life skills. That is why there are 52 tool cards.
Jared’s Cool-Out Space (Children’s Picture Book)
Advice with the foundation of Positive Parenting for a Kindergarten Child that keeps getting into trouble at school: Don’t add punishment at home. Keep encouraging him to focus on solutions. As a parents you may express concern if your child’s solution is to be sent to his room for 5 minutes and you do not think that is severe enough.
The Positive Parenting advice would be to take the child’s suggestion and send him to his room for 5 minutes (very different from punishment when it is his idea). When he comes out avoid discouraging lectures. Use encouragement. Just say, “I hope this works.” If it doesn’t work—which it won’t because he is only a kindergartner and gets colored cards for things like talking (socializing with his friends)—which is developmentally appropriate for a Kindergarten child to do.
Celebrate every time the child gets a positive card from his school. This provides another opportunity for him to practice working on solutions. Every time he does, be encouraging and simply say, “Cool. I hope this works.” No reprimands when it doesn’t—just anther opportunity to practice problem solving—over and over and over.
Now lets time travel five years from now. Make some guesses about what a child might be thinking, feeling, and deciding about himself after many opportunities and encouragement to experiment with solutions when he gets into trouble. Then make some guesses about what that same child might be thinking, feeling, and deciding after experiencing punishment at school and at home every time he gets into trouble.
It is very important to consider the long-term results of what we do. Using the analogy of what it takes for a child to learn to talk—years of example—first to say a word, then more listening to examples and encouragement to learn sentences, and more years to keep developing and perfecting language. Why do we expect immediate results for other kinds of learning. Why do we expect social (behavior) learning to be immediate? And, how well would children learn to talk if they were humiliated and punished every time they got it wrong.
Children learn what they live. If we want our children to grow up learning to be kind and firm and respectful, we better make sure that is what they live. Remember that encouragement is the foundation of Positive Discipline. As Rudolf Dreikurs said, over and over,
“A child needs encouragement like a plant needs water. It is essential to healthy growth and development.
Helping children explore the consequences of their choices is much different from imposing consequences on them. Exploring invites the participation of children to think for themselves and figure things out for themselves, and to decide what is important to them, and to decide what they want. The end result is focusing on solutions to the problem instead of focusing on consequences.
Imposing consequences often invites rebellion and defensive thinking instead of explorative thinking. The key to helping children explore is to stop telling and to start asking curiosity questions.
Too often adults tell children what happened, what caused it to happen, how the child should feel about it, what the child should learn from it, and what the child should do about it. It is much more respectful and encouraging when we ask what happened, what the child thinks caused it, how the child feels about it, what the child has learned, what ideas the child has to solve the problem, or how the child can use what she has learned in the future. This is the true meaning of education, which comes from the Latin word educare’, which means to draw forth. Too often adults try to stuff in instead of draw forth, and then wonder why children don’t learn.
I call these typical curiosity questions because it is important not to have a script. The point is to get into the child’s world. You’ll notice that “Why?” isn’t one of the suggested questions. The reason is that “Why?” usually sounds accusatory and invites defensiveness. This isn’t always the case. All of the questions can be asked in an accusatory tone of voice. “Why?” works when children feel that you are truly interested in their point of view.The following guidelines will help when using curiosity questions:
- Don’t have an agenda. You aren’t getting into the child’s world if you have an agenda about how the child should answer these questions. That is why they are called curiosity questions.
- Don’t ask questions if either of you are upset. Wait until you are both feeling calm.
- Ask curiosity questions from your heart. Use your wisdom to show you how to get into the child’s world and show empathy and acceptance.
When the solutions come from the children, or are brainstormed together and the child chooses what will be most helpful, they learn that they can make a valuable contribution when using respectful decision-making skills. Children learn that mistakes aren’t horrible if you don’t beat yourself up about them and if you look at mistakes as opportunities to learn.
Offering limited choices instead of making demands can be very effective. Children often respond to choices when they will not respond to demands, especially when you follow the choice with, “You decide.” Choices should be respectful and should focus attention on the needs of the situation.
Choices are directly related to responsibility. Younger children are less capable of wide responsibility, so their choices are more limited. Older children are capable of broader choices, because they can assume responsibility for the consequences of their choice. For instance, younger children might be given the choice of going to bed now or in five minutes. Older children might be given full responsibility for choosing their bedtime, because they also take full responsibility for getting themselves up in the morning and off to school without any hassles.
Choices are also directly related to the respect for, and convenience of, others.Whenever a choice is given, either alternative should be acceptable to the adult. Adding, “You decide,” after a choice is very empowering. It adds emphasis to the fact that the child does have a choice. What if they don’t want either choice and want to do something else? If the something else is acceptable to you, fine. If it is not, say, “That isn’t one of the choices.” And, then repeat the choices and, “You decide.” Children may not have a choice about many things, such as whether or not to do their homework. Homework needs to be done, but children can be offered a choice as to when they would like to do it, such as right after school, just before dinner, or after dinner.
As with every Positive Discipline tool, it is important to remember that there isn’t one tool that works for every child in every situation. That is why we offer so many Positive Discipline tools. It is also important to remember that the feeling behind what you do is as important as what you do. The key is to be kind and firm at the same time.
Break The Code of Misbehavior
When children are misbehaving, they are speaking to adults in code? A misbehaving child is a discouraged child. The primary goal of all children is to feel a sense of belonging and significance. Too often they form a mistaken belief about how to seek belonging and significance—as explained in the Mistaken Goal Chart. Unless adults know how to break the code—children usually experience the opposite of belonging and significance. Download the Mistaken Goal Chart here: MistakenGoalChart so you can follow along.
Break the Code Worksheet
1. Describe a challenging behavior you are experiencing with your child.
2. Identify your feelings. Remember that a feeling can be described with just one word. (Frustrated doesn’t count because it is a generic feeling that can be narrowed down to a more specific feeling. In the beginning you may need to look at the second column of the Mistaken Goal Chart to find the feelings that fit for you.) Write your feeling or feelings below.
3. Describe what you usually do in response to the challenging behavior?
4. Now get into your child’s world. How would you feel if you were a child and your parent did or said what you did or said?
What would you be thinking?
What would you be feeling?
What would you decide to do? (This is a clue to the belief behind the action.)
5. Look at the sixth column of the Mistaken Goal Chart to “break the code” and identify what the child needs.
6. Choose a suggestion from the last column of the Mistaken Goal Chart that you would like to try the next time you encounter the challenging behavior. Describe how you think this might be encouraging to your child and how it might help your child revise his or her belief about how to find belonging and significance.
7. Journal about the results of what you did. If it didn’t seem to work to change the behavior, is it possible that your child is at least making a new decision.
Use this worksheet until it becomes second nature and you will earn an honorary degree as a behavior detective and encouragement expert.
One of the biggest mistakes some parents and teachers make, when they decide to do Positive Discipline, is becoming too permissive because they don’t want to be punitive. Some mistakenly believe they are being kind when they rescue their children, and protect them from all disappointment. This is not being kind; it is being permissive. Being kind means to be respectful of the child and of yourself. It is not respectful to pamper children. It is not respectful to rescue them from every disappointment so they don’t have the opportunity to develop their disappointment muscles.
It is respectful to validate their feelings, “I can see that you are disappointed (or angry, or upset, etc.).” Then it is respectful to have faith in children that they can survive disappointment and develop a sense of capability in the process. Have faith in children to handle their own problems. (Offer support through validating feelings or giving a hug, but not by rescuing or fixing.)
TAKE TIME FOR TRAINING
It is also important to take time for training. Adults often expect children to accomplish tasks for which there has not been adequate training. This is more typical in homes than in schools. Parents may expect children to clean their rooms, but never teach them how. Children go into their messy rooms and feel overwhelmed. It may be helpful to clean the room with your children until they have more training. This is also a great way to create connection.
Be sure and use “Curiosity Questions.” (see above for details) Instead of telling children what to do, ask curiosity questions. “Where do your dirty clothes go?” “What do we need to do before we can vacuum the floor?” Children are great problem solvers when we give them a chance.
Patience is probably the most difficult part of showing faith in our children. It is almost always more expedient to solve problems for our children. This is particularly true when we are under time pressures. In these cases we can take time later to explore solutions for the future. Ask your children exploratory questions. “What happened?” “What caused it to happen?” “What did you learn?” “What can you do in the future?”
When time pressures are not an issue, practice having patience with your children. Allow them to problem solve on their own. Allow them to feel a little disappointment. Allow them to work through their feelings. They will need these skills in the future.
It may help to remember that who your children are today, is not who they will be forever. Someday they will be nagging their own children to put their dishes in the sink and to clean their rooms. Remember that example is the best teacher. Model what you want for your children, take time for training so they learn skills, have regular family meetings, and then have lots of faith in them to become the best they can be.
Have you ever tried talking with your children only to be frustrated by one word, unenthusiastic, totally bored responses? Many parents become discouraged when they ask their children, “How was your day?” and their children say, “Fine.” Then they ask, “What did you do today?” The response is, “Nothing.” Try closet listening. Closet listening means you find times to be near your children, hoping they will talk with you, but not being obvious about it.
What do you think? Is this the last time Jimmy’s mother will drive him to school when he misses the bus? No. Jimmy is very intelligent. He knows his mother’s threats are meaningless. He has heard the threats many times and knows his mother will drive him to school when he’s late.
Jimmy’s mother is right about one thing: Jimmy should learn to be more responsible. But through morning scenes like these, she is teaching him to be less responsible. She is the responsible party when she keeps reminding him of everything he needs to do.
Lecturing, Nagging, Scolding, Threatening
Children do not learn from the lecturing, nagging, scolding, and threatening.
Actually, they do learn from these methods—just not what you hope they will learn. They learn to engage in power-struggles, resistance, rebellion, and revenge cycles. They may learn to comply and become approval junkies—more concerned about pleasing others to feel a sense of belonging and significance than to cooperate out of mutual respect.
8 Tips for Letting Go, Avoiding Morning Hassles and Teaching Responsibility
Ownership and motivation are not the only benefits of getting children involved in the problem-solving process. They usually have great ideas when we allow them to contribute. They also develop the perception that they are capable and the a feeling of self-confidence that comes from making valuable contributions. And, it helps you let go.
2. Involve children in the creation of routines. One of the best ways to avoid morning hassles is by starting the night before with a routine that helps avoid bedtime hassles, so start with the creation of a bedtime routine with your children.
5. Decide what you will do. This is one way to take a small step in letting go of the power struggles you create when trying to make children do something. Let your children know in advance what you plan to do. For example, Jimmy’s mother might tell him that she will call him once to get up. (Or better yet, she will buy him an alarm clock, teach him how to use it, and let him take full responsibility.) If he doesn’t take the responsibility from then on, he will probably miss his bus. Mom can let him know in a kind and firm manner that she is not willing to drive him to school. If he misses his bus, he will have to walk to school and may have to stay late to make up the time. (If walking is not an option because safety is an issue you may wish to find another solution. Perhaps Jimmy can spend time after school doing something for mommy to make up for the time spent driving Jimmy to school.)
6. Follow-through with actions, not words. When children test your new plan, the fewer words you use the better. Keep your mouth shut and act. If Jimmy continues to dawdle and misses his bus, don’t resort to “I told you so.” Just follow through on agreed-upon consequences.
The few words you do use to ensure firmness with dignity and respect should be stated in a kind and friendly manner. “I’m sorry you missed your bus, Jimmy. We can talk about your walking experience tomorrow.”
Ignore the temptation to become involved in a power struggle or revenge cycle. Children will do their best to get you sucked into your usual response. When Jimmy says, “Please drive me, Mom. I won’t be late again,” don’t give in. Kindly and firmly remind him of your decision. Then jump in the shower so you’re not tempted to get involved in further discussion!
7. Things may get worse before they get better. Children may try hard to get the response they are used to getting from you. Be consistent with your new plan of action and children will learn a new response-ability. If Jimmy is late and misses his bus, he will have to experience the natural consequence—walking to school. If Jimmy doesn’t like walking to school, it won’t be long before he begins to take responsibility for himself.
8. Have faith in your children. Children learn to be capable people by spending time with people who believe they are capable. For example, when Jimmy’s mother believes that he can get himself up and ready for school without her hassling him constantly, Jimmy will also believe that he can accomplish this feat on his own. It gives him a new sense of self-confidence—even at age six. If he can handle getting himself up and ready for school, what can’t he handle?
For example a parent took time for training with their four-year child about interrupting. (Remember, that time for training takes place during calm times—not at the time of conflict.) They decided on a secret signal and then they practiced. When Mom is talking to someone else, the 4 year old child, squeezes her hand to let her know he wants to say something. She puts her hand on his shoulder to let him know she will finish as soon as she can and listen to him. The 4 year old child seldom interrupted after that. It was obvious that the child felt pleased about their secret code.
The silent signal illustrated on the Positive Discipline Tool Card is to point to your watch when you have agreed (together) on a specific time that something should be done. Remember to smile while you are pointing.
Following are some more examples of using Silent Signals.
Mr. Perry, a principal, decided to attend a parent study group at his school. He made it clear to the group that he was attending as a parent who would like to learn some skills to use with his own children.One night he asked the group to help him solve the problem of getting his son, Mike, to take out the garbage. Mike always agreed to do it, but never did without constant reminders. The group gave Mr. Perry several suggestions, such as turning the television off until it was done or giving Mike a choice as to when he would do it. One parent suggested they try the silent signal of turning Mike’s empty plate over at the dinner table if he forgot to take the garbage out before dinner. Mr. Perry decided to try this.
First, the family discussed the garbage problem at a family meeting. Mike again reaffirmed that he would do it. Mrs. Perry said, “We appreciate your willingness to help, but we also realize how easy it is to forget. Would it be okay with you if we use a silent signal so that we can stop nagging?”
Mike wanted to know what kind of signal.
Mr. Perry explained the idea of turning his empty plate over at the dinner table. If he came to the table and saw his plate turned over, that would remind him. He could then empty the garbage before coming to the table. Mike said, “That’s okay with me.”It was eight days before Mike forgot to empty the garbage. (When children are involved in a problem solving discussion, they usually cooperate for a while before testing the plan.) When he came to the table and saw his plate turned over, Mike started having a temper tantrum. He whined, “I’m hungry! I’ll take the garbage out later! This is really dumb!”
I’m sure you can imagine how difficult it was for Mom and Dad to ignore this rebellious behavior. Most parents would want to say, “Come on, Mike, you agreed, now stop acting like a baby!” If Mike continued his misbehavior, they would want to forget the plan and use punishment (which would stop the present rebellious behavior, but would not solve the problem of getting the garbage emptied and allow Mike to learn responsibility).
Mr. and Mrs. Perry continued to ignore Mike’s temper tantrum, even when he stomped into the kitchen, got the garbage, slammed the garage door on his way out, and then sulked and banged his fork on his plate all during dinner.
The next day Mike remembered to empty the garbage and was very pleasant during dinner. As a result of their consistency in following the agreed upon plan, Mike did not forget to empty the garbage for two more weeks. When he saw his empty plate turned over again, he said, “Oh, yeah.” He then took the garbage out, came to the table, turned his plate over, and pleasantly ate with the rest of the family.
Another reason it is difficult for parents to ignore rebellious misbehavior is the feeling that they are letting children get away with something. They feel they are neglecting their duty to do something about it. This could be true, if there weren’t some plan or purpose behind the ignoring. Mr. and Mrs. Perry let Mike get away with his temporary outburst (remember, things often get worse before they get better) but since it was part of an agreed upon plan, they solved the problem of continuous nagging over neglected chores.
Mrs. Beal was frustrated because it irritated her so much when the children would come home from school and dump their books on the couch. Constant nagging was not producing any change.
During a family meeting she told her children she didn’t want to yell and nag anymore about this problem. She suggested the silent signal of putting a pillow slip over the television as a reminder that there were books on the couch. The children agreed to this plan, and it worked very well. Mother no longer got involved beyond the signal. When the children saw the pillow slip, they either picked up their own books or reminded someone else to.
Several weeks later, Mrs. Beal wanted to watch her favorite TV program after the children had gone to school. She was surprised to find a pillow slip on the television. She looked at the couch and saw the packages she had left there the night before, when she was in a hurry to fix dinner.
The whole family had a good laugh over this turn of events. They enjoyed this method, and from then on the children thought of many silent signals as solutions to problems.
Mrs. Reed likes to use silent signals in her fifth-grade classroom. She teaches them to her students almost as a second language on the first day of school. One is to have them give her the silent signal of sitting quietly with their hands clasped on top of their desks when they were ready to listen. When she wants them to turn around and sit down during class or an assembly, she raises her right index finger and makes two small circles and then two up and down motions in the air to the rhythm of the words, “Turn around and sit down.” She also taught them a signal for quiet during extreme noise. She would clap her hands once. Everyone who heard the single clap would clap once. Then she would clap twice. By now, several students had heard the echo clap of their classmates and were ready to join the response of two claps. Two claps were usually enough to get everyone quiet. Occasionally it would take three claps before everyone would hear and echo with three claps.As you can see, the Positive Discipline Tool of Silent Signals can help solve problems, help children follow-through and help parents avoid constant nagging and reminding.
1. Create your own special time-out area and let your children know when you need to use it.Some parents are uncomfortable with this solution, especially when dealing with younger children. But if your children are older and you can set up this system in advance, it can be quite effective. It is nearly impossible to solve problems at the time of conflict when both the child and the parent have flipped their lid. The result is distance and hurt feelings. Usually followed by guilt!
Why not let your children know that you are taking a time out. Remove yourself from the situation and get centered before attempting to solve the problem. How you take your time-out is up to you. Maybe you will go to your room. Maybe you will go for a walk. Maybe call a close friend and discuss the problem. Whatever you decide, the important thing is to take time to cool off before addressing the problem.
2. If you can’t leave the scene, count to 10 or take deep breaths.
This is a good solution if you have younger children or the situation requires your presence. It is also okay to share what you are feeling. “I’m so angry right now, I need to calm down before we talk.” Kids need to know that what they feel is always okay, but what they do is not always okay. You model this by sharing your feelings without reacting to them and without blaming your children for your feelings. Avoid saying, “You make me so angry.”
3. When you make mistakes, apologize to your children.
Children are wonderfully forgiving when we take time to sincerely apologize when we lose control. The Universal response from children when parents apologize is, “That’s okay.”
Kind AND Firm
A foundation of Positive Discipline is to be kind and firm at the same time. Some parents are kind, but not firm. Others are firm, but not kind. Many parents vacillate between the two—being too kind until they can’t stand their kids (who develop an entitlement attitude) and then being too firm until they can’t stand themselves (feeling like tyrants).
Opposites Attract: When One Parent Is Kind And The Other Is Firm
It is interesting to note how often two people with opposing philosophies about kindness and firmness get married. One has a tendency to be just a little too lenient. The other has a tendency to be just a little too strict. Then the lenient parent thinks he or she needs to be more lenient to make up for the mean old strict parent. The strict parent thinks he or she needs to be more strict to make up for the wishy-washy lenient parent—so they get further and further apart and fight about who is right and who is wrong. In truth they are both wrong. The trick is to be kind and firm and the same time.
Putting kind and firm together can be a challenge for parents who have a habit of going to one extreme or the other.
The Importance of “And” In Kind and Firm
A Fantastic example of kind and firm at the same time is, “I love you, and the answer is NO.”
Other examples:I know you don’t want to stop playing (validate feelings), AND it is time for _____
I know you would rather watch TV than do your homework (show understanding), AND homework needs to be done first.
You don’t want to brush your teeth, AND we’ll do it together. Want to race? (Redirection.)
I know you don’t want to mow the lawn, AND what was our agreement? (Kindly and quietly wait for the answer—assuming you decided together on an agreement in advance.)
You don’t want to go to bed, AND it is bedtime. Do you want one story or two stories as soon as your jammies are on? (Provide a choice?)
I know you want to keep playing video games, AND your time is up. You can turn it off now, or it will be put in my closet. (A choice and then follow through by deciding what you will do.)
Kind Is Not Always Nice
The mother bird knows instinctively when it is time to push her baby bird from the nest so it will learn to fly. If we didn’t know better we might think this is not very nice of the mother bird. If the baby bird could talk, it might be saying, “No. I don’t want to leave the nest. Don’t be so mean. That’s not fair.” However, we know the baby bird would not learn to fly if the mother bird did not provide that important push.
Kind is not always nice. It would be very unkind to allow her baby to be handicapped for life by pampering—an unkindness practiced by many parents today.
I think we all know the mistakes made in the name of firmness without kindness. In a word, it is punishment. However, many do not know the mistakes made in the name of kindness such as:
- Pampering—providing all “wants”
- Micromanaging in the name of love
- Giving too many choices
- Making sure children never suffer
All of theses parenting methods create weakness.
You may be surprised to see, “making sure children never suffer,” as a mistake in the name of kindness. Rescuing children from all suffering creates weakness.
Parents often (in the name of love) want to protect their children from struggle. They don’t realize that their children need to struggle, to deal with disappointment, to solve their own problems, so they can develop their emotional muscles and develop the skills necessary for the even bigger struggles they will encounter throughout their lives.
It is important that parents do not make children suffer, but sometimes it is most helpful to “allow” them to suffer with support.
For example, suppose a child “suffers” because she can’t have the toy she wants. Allowing her to suffer through this experience can help her develop her resiliency muscles. She learns that she can survive the ups and downs of life—leading to a sense of capability and competency. The support part is that you validate her feelings, but avoid rescuing or lecturing.
It isn’t helpful when parents engage in “piggy backing”—adding lectures, blame and shame to what the child is experiencing. “Stop crying and acting like a spoiled brat. You can’t always have what you want. Do you think I’m made of money? And besides, all I got in my Christmas stocking was nuts and an orange.”
Instead, parents can offer loving support. “I can see this is very upsetting to you. It can be very disappointing when we don’t get what we want.” Period. I say, “period,” because some parents even overdo validating feelings—going on and on in the hopes that validating feelings will take away the suffering.
Validate a child’s feelings and then allow her to recover from those feelings. “I can see you are very disappointed that you didn’t get a better grade.” Then comes the tough part—no rescuing and no lectures. Simply allow her to discover that she can get over her disappointment and figure out what might increase her chances of getting what she wants in the future.
Where did we ever get the crazy idea that to make children do better, first we have to make them feel worse?
Think of the last time you felt humiliated or treated unfairly. Did you feel like cooperating or doing better?
Take time to close your eyes and remember a recent time (or a time during your childhood) when someone tried to motivate you to do better by trying to make you feel bad. Remember exactly what happened. Get in touch with how you felt. Be aware of what you were deciding about yourself, about the other person, and about what to do in the future. (Even though you were not aware that you were making decisions at the time.)
Did you feel motivated to do better? If so, was it a good feeling, or was it based on negative feelings about yourself and/or the other person? Did you feel motivated to give up or to cover up so you could avoid future humiliation? Or, did you want to become an approval junkie—giving up a big part of yourself in order to please others?
Children do not develop positive characteristics based on the feelings and subconscious decisions they make as a result of punishment. Parents and teachers who don’t like excessive control or permissiveness, but don’t know what else to do, may switch back and forth in confusion between two ineffective alternatives. They try excessive control until they can’t stand themselves for sounding so tyrannical. They then switch to permissiveness until they can’t stand how spoiled and demanding the children get—so they go back to excessive control.
What is the price when excessive control seems to work with some children? Research has shown that children who experience a great deal of punishment become either rebellious or fearfully submissive. Positive Discipline does not include any blame, shame, or pain (physical or emotional) as motivators. On the other hand, permissiveness is humiliating to adults and children and creates unhealthy co-dependence instead of self-reliance and cooperation.
Since many parents and teachers believe the only alternative to giving up excessive control and strictness is permissiveness, it is important that we define discipline. Discipline is a word that is often misused. Many people equate discipline with punishment—or at least believe that punishment is the way to help people achieve discipline. However, discipline comes from the Latin word discipulus or disciplini which means a follower of truth, principle, or a venerated leader. Children and students will not become followers of truth and principle unless their motivation comes from an internal locus of control—until they learn self-discipline. Both punishment and reward come from an external locus of control.
If Not Strictness, and Not Permissiveness—Then What?
Positive Discipline is an approach that does not include excessive control or permissiveness. Positive Discipline is based on mutual respect and cooperation and using kindness and firmness at the same time as the foundation for teaching life competencies based on an inner locus of control. We stress the importance of making a connection before correction; and involving children to focus on solutions instead of punishing for mistakes.
When adults use excessive control, it is their responsibility to be constantly in charge of children’s behavior. The most popular form of excessive control used by parents and teachers is a system of rewards and punishment. With this system, adults must catch children being “good” so they can give rewards and catch them being “bad” so they can dole out punishment. Who is being responsible? Obviously it is the adult; so what happens when the adult is not around? Children do not learn to be responsible for their own behavior. They do not learn to do the right thing when no one is looking.
It is interesting to note how often controlling adults complain about irresponsibility in children without realizing they are training children to be irresponsible. Permissiveness also teaches irresponsibility because adults and children both relinquish responsibility.
One of the most important concepts to understand about Positive Discipline is that children are more willing to follow rules that they have helped establish. They become effective decision makers with healthy self-concepts when they learn to be contributing members of a family, a classroom, and of society. These are important long-term effects of the positive approach. They can be summarized in the following:
Five Criteria for Positive Discipline
- Is kind and firm at the same time. (Respectful and encouraging)
- Helps children feel a sense of belonging and significance. (Connection)
- Is effective long-term. (Punishment works short term, but has negative long-term results.)
- Teaches valuable social and life skills for good character. (Respect, concern for others, problem-solving, accountability, contribution, cooperation)
- Invites children to discover how capable they are and to use their personal power in constructive ways.
KINDNESS AND FIRMNESS AT THE SAME TIME
Rudolf Dreikurs taught the importance of being both kind and firm. Kindness is important to show respect for the child. Firmness is important to show respect for ourselves and for the needs of the situation. Authoritarian methods usually lack kindness. Permissive methods lack firmness. Kindness and firmness are essential for positive discipline.
Many parents and teachers struggle with this concept for several reasons. One is that they often don’t feel like being kind when a child has pushed their buttons. Again adults want children to control their behavior when adults don’t control their own behavior? Often, it is the adults who should take some positive time-out until they can feel better so they can do better.
Another reason adults have difficulty being kind and firm at the same time is that they don’t know what kind and firm looks like. They may be stuck in the vicious cycle of being too firm when upset—or because they don’t know what else to do; and then being too kind to make up for being too firm.
You may be vividly aware of how skilled most of us are in using enabling responses to our children, and how unskilled we are in using empowering responses. Parents who are used to controlling and rescuing may have a difficult time seeing the benefit of empowering statements.
First lets review enabling actions and statements—just in case you aren’t familiar with them. The definition of enabling is, “Getting between young people and life experiences to minimize the consequences of their choices.” Enabling responses include:
- DOING TOO MUCH FOR THEM: Doing things for kids that they could do for themselves, bailing them out after bawling them out. “I can’t believe you have procrastinated again. What will ever become of you? Okay, I’ll do it this time, but next time you’ll just have to suffer the consequences.”
- GIVING THEM TOO MUCH: Buying everything they want, cell phones, cars, insurance, clothes you can’t afford, CDs, junk food. “I can’t believe you didn’t do your homework after I bought you a car, a cell phone, clothes I can’t afford, and gave you a big allowance.”
- BRIBING AND/OR REWARDING: “You can have a new CD, allowance, cell phone, if you do your homework.”
- OVERPROTECTING: What to wear, when to wear coats so they won’t get cold as if they are too stupid to know or to learn, picking their friends, extreme fear of danger. “Honey, I’ve got the car warming up in the garage so you won’t be cold. Did you see the clothes I picked out for you? I’ll wait till you’re ready to go, cuz I’d like to drive you to school so you won’t catch a cold.”
- HOVERING: Doing their laundry, waking them up in the morning, making their lunches, driving them places when they could walk or ride a bike, excusing them from helping the family because they have homework. “I just don’t understand. I excused you from chores, I woke you up early, I drove you everywhere so you would have more time, I made your lunches. How could this be?”
- LYING FOR THEM: Excuses to the teacher, writing notes when they just slept in, I won’t tell Dad/Mom. “Okay, I’ll write a note to the teacher that you were sick this morning, but you’ll need to be sure and catch up.”
- PUNISHING/CONTROLLING: Grounding, taking away privileges, creating your agenda for them. “Well then, you are grounded and you lose all your privileges, no car, no TV, no friends, until it is done.”
- WHAT AND HOW LECTURES: Telling them what happened, what caused it to happen, how they should feel, and what they should do about it. “Well, no wonder. I saw you wasting your time on MySpace and spending too much time texting your friends and sleeping in. You should feel ashamed of yourself. You’d better shape up or you’ll be shipping out to live on the streets like a bum.”
- HOW, WHAT, AND WHY CAN’T YOU LECTURES: “How many times have I told you to get your homework done early? Why can’t you be more like your brother?” Why can’t you be more responsible? What will become of you?”
- BLAMING AND SHAMING: “How could you ever do such a thing, how come you always forget and never get your homework done, I can’t believe you would be so lazy.”
- LIVING IN DENIAL: Thinking your child could never do such a thing–being oblivious to the cultural mores regarding sex and drugs, and believing things are dangerous without educating yourself. “Well, honey. I’m sure you don’t really need to do homework. It is a stupid thing for teachers to expect. You are smart enough to do just fine without it.”
- RESCUING/FIXING: Buying new things to replace what your child loses, hiring lawyers, staying up late to help with (or doing) last minute homework. “I’ll hurry and do it for you while you get dressed and eat your breakfast. Sorry I won’t be able to fix your bacon, eggs, and waffles. I’m sure you’ll do your homework tomorrow.”
The definition of empowering is, “Turning control over to young people as soon as possible so they have power over their own lives.” All of the following Empowering Responses are possibilities that can be used in response to neglected homework as well as other challenges you may be experiencing:
- SHOW FAITH: “I have faith in you. I trust you to figure out what you need. I know that when it’s important to you, you’ll know what to do.”
- RESPECT PRIVACY: “I respect your privacy and want you to know I’m available if you want to discuss this with me.”
- EXPRESS YOUR LIMITS: “I’m not willing to go to school to bail you out. When your teacher calls, I’ll hand the phone to you or tell her she’ll need to discuss it with you. “A respectful attitude and tone of voice is essential.
- LISTEN WITHOUT FIXING OR JUDGING: “I would like to hear what this means for you.”
- CONTROL YOUR OWN BEHAVIOR: “I’m willing to take you to the library when we come to an agreement in advance for a convenient time, but I’m not willing to get involved at the last minute.” “If you need my help with your homework, please let me know in advance.”
- DECIDE WHAT YOU WILL DO WITH DIGNITY AND RESPECT: “I’m available to help with homework between 7:00 and 8:00 on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I won’t be available to help with last minute projects.”
- FOLLOW THROUGH WITH KINDNESS AND FIRMNESS: “I can see you are stressed about waiting until that last minute. I’m sure you’ll figure it out. I’ll be available Tuesdays and Thursdays from 7:00 to 8:00.”
- LET GO OF THEIR ISSUES: “I hope you’ll go to college, but I’m not sure it’s important to you.”
- AGREEMENT NOT RULES: “Could we sit down and see if we can work on a plan regarding homework that we both can live with?”
- LOVE AND ENCOURAGE: “I love you just the way you are and respect you to choose what is right for you.”
- ASK FOR HELP: “I need your help. Can you explain to me why it isn’t important to you to do your homework?”
- SHARE YOUR FEELINGS: Share your truth by using the “I feel ______ because _______ and I wish” process without expecting anyone else to feel the same or grant your wish. This is a great model for children to acknowledge their feelings and wishes without expectations. “I feel upset when you don’t do your homework because I value education so much and think it could be very beneficial to you in your life and I really wish you would do it.”
- JOINT PROBLEM SOLVING: “What is your picture of what is going on regarding your homework? Would you be willing to hear my concerns? Could we brainstorm together on some possible solutions?”
- RESPECTFUL COMMUNICATION: “I’m feeling too upset to talk about this right now. Let’s put it on the agenda for the family meeting so we can talk about it when I’m not so emotional.”
- INFORMATION VS. ORDERS: “I notice you spend a lot of time watching television and talking on the phone during the time you have set aside for homework.” “I notice you often leave your homework until the last minute and then feel discouraged about getting it done.”
- ENCOURAGE LEARNING FROM MISTAKES: “I can see that you feel bad about getting that poor grade. I have faith in you to learn from this and figure out what you need to do to get the grade you would like.”
If you are used to using short-range solutions of control and rescuing, you might not realize how powerful these empowering statements are. Empowering statements and actions are important because they turn control over to your kids so they have power over their own lives. This power often leads to mistakes and failure. When you understand and trust that learning from mistakes and failure is an important part of a successful life process, you may find it easier to use the empowering statements. If what you are currently doing isn’t working, take a leap of faith and work on using empowering statements with your kids.
Click Here to Read About the Parenting Tool Encouragement versus Praise