Help me stay positive!

Positive discipline that is. Last week I went to hear a guru in the field of positive discipline, Jane Nelsen, speak about her methods. It was a very informative, funny and thought-provoking lecture. This woman is very honest about her methods, and how to use them, and I appreciated that honestly greatly – especially as I try my hardest to use positive discipline strategies in my discipline choices with my oldest child, and have them fail.

The basic theory behind positive discipline is the enduring understanding of mutual respect between parent and child. That the relationship is reciprocal, that we deserve the same respect and dignity that our children do. Our brains respond better, learn better, and comprehend better when we feel safe and cared for. When we are stressed, we shut down, tune out, or just get angry. When a child is in the right state of mind, he or she is better able to understand what a parent it trying to convey, and hopefully remember the message longterm. So trying to keep disciplines measure positive allows for this. In addition, when we give children choices and more autonomy in how we discipline them, according to the philosophy of positive discipline, we are empowering our children to learn the important life skills necessary to lead successful lives.

With those principals in mind the key points I honed in on and try to do with my older daughter, and soon with my younger daughter, are: asking versus telling, redirecting, and hugs.

Asking versus telling. This was a big one. I found that I often already did this, but it was nice to see more examples. The concept is that a parent guides their child to make a choice about their behavior, rather than being told to do something. For example, instead of telling your child to go get their shoes, one might say, “We are going to preschool now, and need to go outside, but have nothing on our feet to run on the playground in, what should you put on in order to be ready to go?” This puts the choice to go get their shoes on them, rather than you just telling them, and many young kids like feeling like they decided to do something. Now I am not saying I will do this EVERY time my daughters need to get their shoes on, but taking more opportunities to ask them to complete tasks, rather than tell them, will hopefully have long term results, and better follow through on their part. At dinnertime the other night, I knew my daughter was happily engaged in an activity and might not want to leave it to eat, so instead of saying, “It’s dinnertime, come wash your hands,” I gave her a heads up, and a choice and said, “In a few minutes it will be dinnertime, would you like water or milk?” I followed through with her choice, and then when it was time to eat I asked her, “Would you like to wash your hands or set your fork on the table, first?” I was able to direct her to the kitchen, as well as avoid the tantrum of her being pulled away from her activity.

Redirecting. Another big strategy, and something I have been trying hard to do in the last week. This is two-fold. Sometime redirecting is merely distracting. When you know your child is going to be upset about something, distract them with another toy or book, and don’t dwell on the issue. Moreover, it is often guiding their behavior to show or tell them what they CAN do, versus what they CAN’T.  For example, my oldest was having fun, yelling loudly next to my youngest and scaring her a little, so I simple said, “Wow! You are being very loud, and that is scaring your sister, we can be loud in our room, so if you want to be loud, go yell there.” It worked, she immediately left and went and yelled in her room. Now it didn’t stop the yelling, but it did remove her from the situation, and I didn’t have to warn her to stop, she left.

Hugs. I have only tried this once, and it sort of worked. The basic idea here is, if your child is having a tantrum and just loosing it, you can redirect their attention away from what is upsetting them by simply getting down to their level and saying, “I need a hug.” They may tantrum more, but if you keep repeating yourself, softly, they might just get it, forget what they were upset about and give you a hug, thus calming themselves down. Ms. Nelsen also mentioned that it can work the other way to, where the adult can ask the child if they need a hug, or suggest that they seem so mad, they might want a hug. At naptime the other day my daughter was resisting her nap, and getting revved up, so I sat down on the floor, looked like I was sulking and asked for a hug. She soon saw me, heard what I was saying and stopped crying about nap, came over and gave me a hug. Then I said I would feel better if we could read a story  before nap, and yes, she was okay to get in bed with me and read. Now, she did start whining when I left after the story, but for the moment it worked.

Now here is where it doesn’t work for me. Tonight we were playing in the backyard with family, carving pumpkins, having fun and my daughters were  playing on the blanket and grass with grandma, when my oldest wanted some more attention. So in order to get this attention she comes up to her little sister and whacks her on the face, sees it gets a rise out of the adults, and does it again. This has happened before, and I try to simply fawn over the victim, my youngest, but it just struck a cord in my tonight, and my anger lead to my reaction, which was to swoop my oldest daughter up in my arms, carry her into her room, and close the door so she could have time out. I didn’t even say a word, but she knew.  A few minutes later I returned and gave her a VERY firm, but short, lecture. She knew what she had done wrong, but ultimately I know it wasn’t the best way to handle the situation, and that she will probably repeat the offense. She got what she wanted – attention. In the back of my mind the whole time I am thinking, this isn’t necessarily going to solve anything, but it made me feel better for the moment. It’s times like these that I have to refocus myself to stay positive in my discipline techniques and remind myself what my goal is. Time out really isn’t that effective for the children, yet I still give them, I feel like it is more for the adults. I feel this way especially because I find myself giving time outs for the same reasons – so something isn’t working here. I remember going through this when my oldest was about 16 months old and a biter. We tried every strategy we could, even did time outs, which at that age really was useless, and eventually she just outgrew it. I know my oldest won’t outgrow whacking her sister in the face, but I have to think of a better way to handle the anger I feel when she does that, and how to modify her behavior so that it stops happening. Thus the motivation for my post tonight. I am sure there will be more on this topic later. In the meantime, check out Dr. Nelsen’s books, as well as other child-rearing books. I added the Positive Discipline App to my list of apps for parents. This has a lot of great strategies and might be a nice, quick introduction to the philosophy. On the children’s bookshelf I have also suggested a nice serious of kids books, like Teeth are Not for Biting, to help with problem behaviors like biting, or hitting.

In the meantime, what has worked well for you when it comes to discipline? I’m always looking for more “tools” to add to my parenting toolbox!

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