Studies Show Harsh Discipline and Spanking Are All Harm and No Good – Try This, Instead

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Breaking news from Science Daily: The more children are spanked, the more likely they are to act out, defy their parents, engage in aggressive and antisocial behaviors and have both mental health problems and cognitive difficulties.

Take a moment to let that sink in.

According to a new study, published in the Journal of Family Psychology, spanking is associated with the above-mentioned unintentional detriments and is not associated with either immediate or long-term compliance. Long story, short: This meta-analysis of 50 years of research on spanking proves what we already know – spanking doesn’t work.

You can find the study here.

I’ve worked with countless parents over the years. Sometimes parents come to me because they want to avoid spanking – they remember what it felt like and don’t want to repeat history but they don’t know what to do. Sometimes parents want to stop yelling. Sometimes parents feel they are too permissive and their kids don’t respect them. Others are baffled by the behavior they see and want to figure out what they can change in their parenting style to improve the family dynamics.

One thing I’ve heard over and over again: “I was spanked and I turned out fine.” This is a fairly normal defense mechanism parents use to pack away the hurt and focus on the positive. In many ways, it makes sense. People use these statements to prove that their parents didn’t hurt them – it’s hard to admit that the people you loved the most as a child hurt you in some way.

But the truth is in the research: This meta-analysis included over 160,000 children and is the most complete analysis of the effects of spanking to date.

I find that spanking and authoritarian parenting tend to be generational. This is how my parents did it, so this is how I will do it. When I help parents work through their stuffed emotions about these parenting styles, however, I find that a world of hurt hides beneath the surface.

Side note: New research out of Iowa State University found that “harsh parenting” may increase a child’s risk for obesity and poor physical health later in life. You can read more about that here

We aren’t destined to repeat the patterns of previous generations. You can love your parents and make different choices for your children. It’s okay to move forward and think about what works best for your little ones. 

One of the problems with finding a parenting style that suits each parent is that it’s fairly difficult to find adequate support once the kids are beyond the preschool years. Information and groups are everywhere for those first five years, but then, poof!, it all disappears. Parents are left to sort out conflicting advice found on the Internet.

Honestly? That’s why I wrote THE HAPPY KID HANDBOOK. It’s a resource to help parents cope with the ups and downs that can and do occur along the way.

One of the most frequently asked questions I find in my inbox is this: How do I get started with positive parenting? How do I change everything and start over?

The good news is that if you’re asking that question, you’re already making changes. It takes time, patience and practice to try new parenting strategies. Change almost never occurs in a day – there will be slips and falls and tears and frustration, but the end result will be worth the effort.

Set healthy boundaries.

Kids need boundaries. Chances are, you already set some. When you set a certain bedtime and stick to it, that’s a healthy boundary. When you teach your kids look twice before crossing the street, that’s a healthy boundary. You get the point.

Kids come into this world full of curiosity and questions. They don’t have all the answers and they certainly don’t make the right choices every time, but they do look to their parents to fill in the blanks. It’s up to us to teach them about physical health, emotional health, safety, social interaction skills, problem solving skills and coping skills. Sounds like a lot, I know, but I’m willing to bet that you tackle some of these in small ways every single day.

Start with your expectations. I don’t have a ton of “rules” in my house, but I do expect kindness, respect, forgiveness and empathy. Do we mistakes? Yes. Do we work through them together? Absolutely.

Parent the child you have.

It’s fine to have a blueprint of rules and expectations. We all have certain ideas about how we want this parenting gig to go when we first begin the journey, but we also have to consider the individual needs of the kids we have. If you have a highly introverted child or a highly sensitive child on your hands, yelling and sarcasm will crush that child. Telling and extroverted child to “just stop talking” is akin to telling her to be someone else. Thinking out loud is how she processes her thoughts.

Get to know the individual needs of your child and meet him where he is. When we parent our kids with personality in mind, we help them thrive.

Remain calm.

Kids can really set parents off. Meltdowns, in particular, are a source of stress for many parents. It’s hard to know what to do when your kid is falling apart in the middle of the soccer field, after all.

Remain calm.

When parents meet anger with anger (or frustration with frustration), the situation only gets worse. Engage in deep breathing to calm your own reactions and empathize with your child. Stop worrying about what other people think and stay focused on the little one in your arms.

Be okay with big emotions.

Many parents are triggered by the feelings of their kids. Kids cry and parents want to fix the problem. Kids yell and parents want to hand out time outs. It takes time to learn how to process and cope with emotions, and yelling and crying are simply ways to vent those very big feelings.

Let your kids express their emotions. Let there be tears. Let there be foot stomping. Let there be yelling when times are tough. You can work on coping skills when they’re calm but shushing their feelings in the moment (or distracting them with candy) will only lead to a bigger meltdown later on.

Find the hidden picture.

All behavior is communication. Most kids don’t have the sophisticated social skills to say, “I’m feeling really jealous of Johnny right now and I would like more 1:1 time with mom, too,” so they hit Johnny, instead. Or they yell at Johnny. Or they hide Johnny’s toys and tease him while he tries to find them. Kids need help communicating their feelings, and it’s up to us to teach them

Look for clues to identify the underlying problem and talk to your child about how he might be feeling. Hunger, exhaustion, jealousy, anxiety, anger and loneliness can all result in behaviors that seem defiant on the surface. Dig beneath the surface to help to your child uncover his hidden emotions and learn to cope.

Try family meetings.

A weekly check in to talk about how things are going can be a great strategy for families. It’s a time to discuss what’s working, what’s not and how all family members are feeling about the current family dynamics.

When families communicate and listen to one another, they learn to work together for the greater good. Take the time to check in and engage in open and honest communication as a family. Your kids will benefit from having a voice, and you will find ways to improve the family dynamics as a result.

Image via Pexels

How to Deal With Explosive Temper Tantrums

How to deal with explosive behavior

Josh* was seven-years-old when his mom reached out to me. I will never forget the phone call. Two minutes into her description of her son’s temper tantrums that occurred frequently and seemed to last “forever”, she broke down into tears. Feeling alone in the situation, the family quietly dealt with Josh’s tantrums behind closed doors and didn’t seek advice from anyone. They were exhausted, embarrassed and frustrated. The tantrums, which I later discovered lasted approximately 45 minutes in duration and occurred about three times per week, were negatively impacting the family.

Mom and dad were out of energy and out of ideas. They fought constantly and lost their patience with Josh regularly. His sisters, both older, began to shut down. They avoided him and pulled away from their parents. Nothing seemed to work.

This family felt very alone in their struggle to help a child with explosive tantrums, but the truth is that tantrums aren’t just for toddlers and many families face very similar situations.

Tantrums can and do occur in the school age years. As parents, we tend to reframe big kid tantrums as “meltdowns”. Many school age children have difficulty coping with their emotions and lack the ability to verbalize their feelings. Meltdowns occur when emotions build up and kids need to release their feelings. It’s common for kids to direct these pent up emotions toward their parents or care givers. The good news, if you choose to see it, is that this expression of misdirected frustration is actually a sign of trust.

What makes a tantrum “explosive”?

Tantrums shift from average to explosive based on a number of factors.

  • Length: Explosive tantrums tend to be long in duration
  • Aggressive behavior: Can include hitting, biting, throwing things
  • Excessive screaming (can include cursing and verbal threats)
  • Behavior that can be considered dangerous for the child or the bystanders (ex: jumping from a moving car)
  • Can occur across multiple domains (ex: home, school, baseball practice, etc.)

Note: All children are different and you should always evaluate your child’s behavior against his own baseline (his average daily behavior).

Why do children engage in explosive behavior?

It’s important to remember that behavior is a form of communication. A child who is so overwhelmed that he lashes out is distressed. There is no one reason that triggers explosive tantrums, but there are a few things that explosive children tend to have in common:

  • Difficulty managing emotions
  • Poor (or no) coping skills
  • Lack effective communication skills
  • Poor impulse control
  • Lack problem-solving skills

There is a tendency to view explosive behavior as “manipulative”. Children who experience explosive tantrums tend to run high on emotion and low on coping skills. They aren’t trying o manipulate – they are trying to communicate.

What can parents do?

Remain calm.

When parents yell, command and/or criticize kids during explosive tantrums, the aggressive and explosive behavior increases. These tantrums are very difficult for parents to manage. Practice deep breathing techniques when you’re calm so that you can calm your senses when your child engages in explosive behavior.

Use calming phrases (on repeat) and don’t give in.

It’s tempting to give in the moment an explosive tantrum begins, but giving in won’t necessarily stop the behavior and it certainly won’t help long term. Giving in reinforces the behavior.

When your child is calm, talk through some calming phrases that you can use when he’s upset. “I know you’re upset; I will help you calm down” works for some kids, but many kids are specific in what words actually calm them (versus inflame them).

THE HAPPY KID HANDBOOK is packed with great strategies to deal with big feelings!

Log it.

Keeping a tantrum log helps. I know that writing down the event is probably the last thing you want to do once it’s over, but keeping a log helps you establish patterns and find the triggers. When you know what sets your child off, you can make a plan.

You don’t have to fill a page. Start with this:

  • Time of day
  • Length of tantrum
  • Behaviors that occurred (screaming, hitting, breaking things, etc.)
  • Possible triggers
  • Interventions that worked
  • Interventions that didn’t work
  • Baseline status: Where it occurred, last time child ate and what, how much sleep the night before, what was coming next

Create a daily discharge plan.

Kids need to vent or discharge their emotions. In addition to the fact that kids are sitting for longer periods and expected to learn and even play (sports) at an accelerated pace, many kids spend the day in survival mode. They stuff their emotions to avoid a meltdown in front of peers and save it for home.

Create a safe space for venting emotions. Some kids respond well to venting while drawing, some need to yell it out and some like to write it down then tear it up. Find a strategy that works for your child.

Set clear limits and expectations.

As parents, we have a tendency to provide stern reminders of our expectations and limits when we’re under pressure, but many kids fail to internalize those limits and expectations and need reminders. Make your behavioral expectations and limits clear when kids are calm. You don’t need 100 house rules, you simply need to talk about your expectations and provide frequent reminders.

Structure is essential for kids who tend to have explosive tantrums. Keep to a consistent bedtime, have consistent meals and snacks and factor in downtime.

Increase 1:1 time.

Sometimes explosive kids struggle to relate to or bond with their parents. They often feel sorry after their tantrums and carry around feelings of guilt. Plan regular 1:1 time with your child to spend time bonding with him and getting to know him better.

time-bonding-parents

Deal with your feelings.

Many parents experience frustration and resentment as a result of their children’s behavior. Some also feel sad and anxious. Work through your own feelings about your child’s behavior so that you don’t bring those feelings into the mix when your child experiences a meltdown.

Many parents benefit from their own therapy or parent education to work through these feelings.

Be aware of possible underlying issues.

Explosive tantrums can stem from other underlying issues. A few to consider:

  • ADD/ADHD
  • Anxiety
  • Learning differences
  • Sensory processing disorder
  • Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder (DMDD)
  • Intermittent Explosive Disorder
  • Oppositional Defiant Disorder

If your child experiences explosive tantrums more than twice a week (on average) into the school age years and fails to improve, seek an evaluation. If your child displays any suicidal behavior (thoughts, actions, plans) or is a danger to others, seek immediate help.

This article does not replace an evaluation from a licensed mental health professional.

*Names, genders, ages and other identifying features changed.

 

How to Help Your Negative Thinker

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Some kids are super hard on themselves.

For many years, I worked with a little girl who struggled to silence her inner critic. She constantly looked for approval and praise from her teachers, me or her parents. It wasn’t just that she needed praise – she wasn’t a kid raised on “you’re the best at everything!” – she just couldn’t stop looking for flaws.

One day she brought me a poem she had written in her free time. It was quite beautiful and far more sophisticated than you would expect from a nine-year-old. The imagery practically jumped off the page. “Do you think it’s good?” Loaded question. Her words hung in the air for a moment while I read the poem a second time. I knew that I had to choose my words carefully. Was it good? Yes, definitely. Would that response help this child move forward? No. “I love how you describe the sunset. I can picture it in my mind. What’s your favorite part?” She looked at me with curiosity for a while. The silence spoke volumes. “I never really thought about that,” she said, meeting my gaze at last.

What’s the deal with negative self-talk?

Negative self-talk is fairly common among young children, and it doesn’t necessarily mean that a child is pessimistic by nature or needs help from a therapist. Sometimes it stems from perfectionism. Sometimes it’s a result of stress or pressure. Some kids get stuck in black and white thinking – one small failure seems like a huge failure (ex: I bombed that spelling test so I must be a terrible speller.) Sometimes it’s even a cry for more 1:1 time with mom or dad.

No one is positive all of the time. Even the greatest optimists among us have hard days once in a while. When kids get stuck in a negative loop, however, it can impact them in many ways. It’s difficult to learn, for instance, when the inner critic tells you that you’re terrible at math, spelling or something else. It’s hard to have fun on the playing field when your inner critic tells you that you ruined the whole game by letting that goal in. It’s even hard to enjoy time with friends when that pesky inner critic makes you feel like you don’t have much to offer the friendship.

What can parents do to help?

The truth is that you can’t change this behavior for your kid. Responding to negative self-talk with an overly optimistic outlook might actually fuel the negativity. Getting out of the negative loop takes time and practice. But you can support and encourage your child along the way.

Watch your words.

Do you ever catch yourself saying something like, “wow, I really stink at that game!” or “why can’t I catch a break this week?” Kids are the masters of picking up on what we say when we think they aren’t paying attention. Sure, we give great speeches about the power of positive thinking, including stories of our own childhoods, but those sometimes fall flat. What kids look for is how we respond in the moment. They watch us when the chips are down so that they might learn how to cope with the hard stuff.

Think about the words you use when your kids are around. If we criticize ourselves or our children out loud, our kids will internalize it and repeat it.

Stop overcorrecting.

Kids endure a lot of negative input when they’re young. Most of it is meant to help – it comes from a good place. Parents want to keep them safe from harm or help them solve problems. Parents want to raise kind, respectful and responsible kids, and that involves establishing healthy boundaries and providing input on behavior.

But sometimes it comes from the need of the parent. Not long ago, I sat in a first grade classroom and watched as the kids presented projects they made for homework. It was easy to see which were made by the kids and which were made by the parents. Parents want their kids to succeed – they also feel pressure to perform in some way – and this results in the parent take-over. Overcorrecting the homework can quickly snowball into doing for the child and completely taking over.

When parents don’t let their kids try (and don’t let the homework go back to school with mistakes), kids feel like they aren’t good enough. It’s a tough burden to bear when you’re young, and it does result in negative self-talk.

Listen and empathize.

When kids do come to you full of negative thoughts, the best thing you can do is listen and empathize. Countering every negative statement only adds to the pressure to be better or perfect in the moment of upset. Giving your child the space to vent and conveying understanding shows your child that you get it – life is hard, we all make mistakes and sometimes it feels like we can’t do anything right.

Offer honesty.

After your child vents her emotions and gets the negative thoughts out, take some time to brainstorm together. Give honest feedback. Instead of countering “I failed my spelling test and I’m a terrible speller” with “you’re a great speller! It was just a bad test!” try talking about ways to practice spelling that might be more fun and engaging.

Countering negative black and white thinking with positive black and white thinking isn’t a solution. Helping your child think about what went wrong or what has her down and coming up with a list of solutions empowers her to try a new tactic the next time. It also reminds her that she has the power to make changes.

Create a positive word wall.

Sit with your child and think about some positive phrases that might be inspiring – almost like a list of mantras to tap into when the going gets tough. Put them on a poster, decorate it and hang it on the wall. In times of struggle, the words will be there to lift her up. When kids are surrounded by positive thoughts, they internalize them.

Correct missteps.

We all have bad moments. We all say things we wish we could unsay and we all make mistakes. Instead of pretending those bad moments didn’t happen, talk about them. Correct the mistakes and apologize for your own words and behaviors.

Parents have a tendency to try to hide the bad moments from the kids, but showing our kids that we struggle at times actually helps them gain perspective. Ask them to help you brainstorm solutions to your hard moments! Kids might feel like they’re the only ones who need help, but very often they have the answers to our problems, too.

For more great strategies to empower kids to work through stress, anxiety and negativity, grab your copy of THE HAPPY KID HANDBOOK!

 

 

3 Wishes for 2016

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I’ve never been big on resolutions. It wasn’t a thing we did in our family. We didn’t sit around the table on December 31st talking about our plans for the coming year. We didn’t write out our plans and check in every month to see if we were still on track to meet those resolutions. We just didn’t do that.

We were taught to set goals. We were encouraged to figure out a step-by-step process to meet our goals. We were cheered on and we always knew that our parents would listen and help and be there for us as we reached for our own personal goals. But those goals could be set at any time. Ringing in a New Year didn’t mean an opportunity for personal development, it meant celebrating what we achieved the previous year and looking forward to another year of health and happiness.

As I got older I saw friends fall into the trap of resolutions centered around weight loss, healthy eating and increased exercise. I admired their focus in those first few months of each year; though I stuck with my usual plan of running because it feels good and everything in moderation. I didn’t want the added pressure of meeting a goal meant to improve my overall lifestyle – what works for some doesn’t work for all.

As we crawl into 2016, I certainly do have a few personal goals on my mind. Write on my own blog more often. Finish the new book proposal. Continue to book speaking engagements to spread the Happy Kid message. The truth is, those goals have been on my mind for quite some time now. It’s not about 2016. I can’t possibly predict what will happen this year, but I can keep those goals in mind as I work my way through this year.

What I do have for 2016 is big wishes. It’s no big secret that I’m a dreamer. To know me personally is to know that a blank stare out the window isn’t a sign of unhappiness or stress but a sign of ideas rolling through my mind.

Yet sometimes I feel burdened by those thoughts and dreams. I’m a sensitive soul, and I tend to spend too much time thinking about ways change the world for the better. Some of those ideas are too big for one person to tackle. Some will always be a work in progress. And some, well, some might not come to fruition.

But I find that big ideas are always worth considering. If we can take steps to make the world a better place, we should. Even if those steps feel small in size. Even if it feels like some steps are taken alone.

With that in mind, please consider these three wishes for 2016. Together we can make a difference.

Focus on positive parenting.

I recently wrote an article about time-outs – specifically, why I’m not a fan. I believe in solving problems together, and giving children the opportunity to vent and work through emotions with someone who will listen, no matter how tired or frustrated that someone might be.

Some of the comments left in response to that article left me feeling sad, for both kids and parents. I whip mine. I pinch mine. I spank mine. I just yell and they stop. All I have to do is threaten them. The negative parenting strategies seemed to go on and on.

The article included specific strategies to decrease parental frustration and help parents help their kids through upsetting situations, and yet many of the responses focused on the so-called benefits of physical punishment and intimidation.

Children learn through trial and error. They have big feelings and they don’t always know what to do with those feelings. They don’t always get it right. But that’s what being a kid is all about – learning and growing and finding new ways to handle everyday issues.

I can’t help but consider what a child might say if given the chance to talk under such circumstances…

Please don’t hit me. Please don’t yell at me. Please don’t scare me. I’m little and I’m learning and I need your love and support along the way.

There are many wonderful therapists and educators out there trying to help spread positive parenting techniques. Pick up your copy of The Happy Kid Handbook – it is full of practical and easy-to-implement strategies, I promise. Then follow these wonderful resources:

Talk about mental illness

Let this be the year that people feel comfortable opening up about mental health. Let this be the year that the word suicide stops scaring people into silence. Let this be the year that words like “anxiety” and “depression” hold their true meaning, and that people can use them at the dinner table as they would any other word to describe any other illness.

I watch as parents try to minimize the meaning of anxiety and depression when it comes to their kids. She’s just not herself right now. She’ll be good as new soon! I watch as people go silent when mental health becomes a topic in the room.

People are suffering in this world – and all too often they suffer in silence. It’s time to break the silence on mental illness. It’s time to learn how to listen without going silent. It’s time to learn to ask one simple question: How can I help?

It’s okay that you don’t know what to say. It’s okay that the thought of suicide scares you or that you don’t really understand the meaning of depression. But it’s not okay to judge, walk away from a friend in need or minimize the struggles of others. It’s not okay to turn the other cheek.

Let this be the year that we all learn to speak clearly and listen with open hearts.

Slow down and play

We live in a high stress world where the race to the finish is causing our children pain and heartache. They are doing too much highly structured stuff and not enough good for their souls stuff. It’s time to stop building the resume. It’s time to slow down, take back childhood and truly get back to the business of play.

In just a few weeks, parents everywhere will begin stressing about summer plans. How many camps will keep my kids busy? What enrichment programs will help them get ahead? How much do I need to bribe them to read? I’ve heard it all before, and I will hear it all again.

But before you step back on the fast track to busy, consider this: Kids today are play deprived. Kids today are under stress and experiencing higher rates of anxiety and depression. Kids today are sleep deprived. Consider the whole child before you mark up those summer months. Consider getting back to basics and giving your child the chance to do what kids are meant to do: Play and act like kids.

On that note, I’m off to play. Wishing you the very best in the coming year. Happy 2016!

 

 

3 Phrases That Will Strengthen Your Bond With Your Child Today

 

It’s easy to talk about and practice unconditional love when we are rested, happy and healthy but when times get tough – the act of unconditional can fade away. And that’s just it. We all talk about it often. Of course we feel huge love for our children. But do we show it? Do we make sure to communicate it?

Unconditional love isn’t just a feeling in our hearts, after all, it’s an action we take to communicate that feeling.

I was overwhelmed with exhaustion. A cold morphed into croup – the kind of croup that triggers the asthma and results in a desperate call for help in the dark of night. There were treatments and visits to the doctor and more treatments. There was little sleep. We were both overwhelmed and bone tired. Worry kept me awake, standing guard over her little lungs while she finally slept. It seemed as though it might never end this time. Nothing worked. Until it did. Finally, the light emerged.

But getting back to the daily grind was no easy task. That kind of illness, that inability to take a single breath – that leaves little ones scared and clingy. That triggers worries and sadness and difficulty sleeping. Although I was running on empty and wanted to rush through the process of reentering the world, I knew I couldn’t. I had to find the strength and patience to continue to practice that unconditional love. I had to help her through the next steps – to wash the fears away.

It wasn’t easy. I used a few strategies from the book. We did rainbow breathing together and practiced bossing back that pesky worry brain. When she was ready, we both tentatively let go. Our eyes met through the window of the classroom, both sets lined with tears. I watched and waited. She opened her book. Slowly, I walked away, placing my trust in unconditional love.

Kids need to know that we are always there for them. They need to hear the words and feel our arms wrapped around them. When we build them up with love, they are better able to spread their wings and fly.

There are countless things we can say and do to communicate unconditional love. Try these:

“I trust you.”

We spend a fair amount of time guiding our kids, as we should. We teach them to play well with others. We show them how to mediate conflict. We give them strategies to cope with the hard stuff. But at some point, we have to trust them. We have to believe that they can take it from here.

Communicate that to your child. Trust that your child can make good decisions, stand up for what’s right and walk away from what isn’t. Build your child up by trusting in her ability to thrive while she’s away from you.

“I believe in you.”

Many kids are pleasers by nature. They run to us with every little accomplishment because they want us to cheer for their success. They want us to know that they can do it! The hard part is empowering your kids to believe in themselves. We want them to carve their own paths – to find happiness by reaching their own goals. Not by pleasing us.

“I believe in you” is a frequently used phrase around here. I use it when they struggle to make decisions, when they walk into their classrooms each morning, when they step onto the field or dance floor or when they question their own abilities.

“I believe in you” puts your faith in them and empowers them to reach their own goals on their own timeline to make their own dreams come true. Powerful stuff.

“I will always be here for you.”

Growing up is hard work and sometimes letting go feels like jumping into the great unknown without a parachute. Kids need the parachute.

You know you’ll always be there to love them through their successes and failures, but kids need to hear their parents communicate this to them.

“I will always be here for you.” Say it often. Set it on repeat. Make it happen.

There will be ups and downs along this journey. There will be long days and longer nights and heartbreaking moments that bring you tears, but there will also be laughter, happiness and moments of pride that can’t be put into words. Be there for all of them, both in words and in spirit.

 

For more strategies to empower your kids to live happy lives and teach your kids how to cope with the hard stuff, preorder your copy of The Happy Kid Handbook today!

 

 

Discipline Without Agression

I overheard a disturbing conversation a couple of weeks ago.  Two parents were discussing when it is considered “ok” to hit a child.  Just like that, in a public place, they discussed negative behaviors that would justify corporal punishment.

Those two parents are not alone.  Studies show that up to 65% of parents still use spanking as a form of discipline in this country.  The age of child most likely to be spanked?  Three.  Years.  Old.

 

Toddlers and preschoolers can be challenging.  If you have one, this comes as no surprise.  They test limits, get over-stimulated quickly, and have some very large meltdowns.  It’s what they do.

Managing emotions is difficult for many adults (hence my profession), so it stands to reason that it is difficult for small children as well.

It’s our job to teach our children how to manage and cope with overwhelming emotions.  It’s our job to teach them right from wrong and help them learn to make good choices.  If we don’t teach them, who will?

Here are a few things that don’t work:

  • Spanking or hitting (or whatever else you want to call it)
  • Belittling
  • Sarcasm (they might not understand the context, but they understand that it’s meant to hurt)
  • Teasing (in private or in public)
  • Making them write “I won’t hit again” over and over until their arms hurt

All of these behaviors fall under the umbrella of “bullying”.  All over this country people are fighting to put an end to bullying that occurs in schools.  Here’s the catch:  More often than not, bullying is learned at home.

If you don’t want your child to bully others, why on Earth would you bully your child?

Children who are disciplined aggressively can suffer devastating long terms consequences:  Anxiety, depression, substance abuse, and use of aggression to cope with difficult emotions. They are also more likely to hit their own children in the future.

Are you with me now?

Below are some strategies for using positive discipline to help your children learn and grow.  Because hitting is never ever ok…

1.    Structure & Limits:  I often have parents complain that their kids don’t follow any rules or listen, but when I ask them if the house rules are understood and visible the answer is always no.  Create reasonable limits and adjust by age.  Make sure your children understand those limits.  Make a copy of the house rules (using pictures for pre-readers) and place it in the kitchen.  You can’t expect them to internalize your house rules if you haven’t clearly explained them and repeated them often.  Structure your days.  Young children respond well to a predictable environment.  This doesn’t mean that you have to eat every meal at the exact same minute every single day, but try to stay on schedule as much as possible so that your kids know what comes next.

2.    Positive Reinforcement:  Positive energy is contagious (as is negative energy).  Why not go with a positive vibe?  Children respond well to praise.  They tend to want to please their parents and make good choices.  When you praise positive behaviors and choices, you empower your child to repeat those behaviors and choices.  It’s much easier to point out positives then to spend your days saying no.

3.    Relaxation Breaks:  Kids make poor choices at times.  It’s part of growing up.  That doesn’t mean that they need to lose a week of TV because of it (which, by the way, is also a punishment for you).  Reframe the concept of “time out” and call it a relaxation break.  Have a box of quiet time toys stored away for those occasions when your child needs some time alone.  Set a timer (the minute by age thing works for ages 3+).  Try not to think of the quiet time toys as a reward.  The point is that your child is taking a break and calming down.  When the timer runs out, talk to your child about what went wrong and what he should do the next time.

4.    Time Ins:  Often young children act out when they need more attention.  When the negative behaviors start, try to stop the action for a moment and come up with an activity that you can do together.  This is also known as distraction.  Sometimes young children need to shift their focus and have some 1:1 time with mom or dad.  I often talk to parents about increasing the amount of “special time” they spend with each child.  Life is busy and work, chores, and smart phones can get in the way of quality time.  Try to be aware of your child’s needs and make time for good old-fashioned play time.

5.    Toy Time Outs:  Are you kids fighting over toys or are certain toys simply too over-stimulating?  Have your child choose a special place to put the toy and just give that toy a rest for a while.  Find a quiet activity (puzzles, drawing, and play doh are always good choices) to help de-stress your child.  Regulating emotions is difficult work.

6.    Natural Consequences:  Believe it or not, often your children are so upset by the natural consequences of their actions that no further intervention is necessary (aside from maybe a little empathy).  In a calm voice, help your child understand that throwing toys might cause those toys to break, refusing to share will cause others to refuse to share, and yelling will cause people to walk away.  Be quick to help them choose a positive replacement behavior instead.  They know when their choices have negative results.  Repeatedly stating this in an angry voice will only cause children to feel worthless or “bad”.  Help them problem-solve ways to fix the situation (toys can be glued, apologies can be made, etc.) to relieve that feeling of helplessness.

7.    Rewards:  Kids like to earn stuff.  They take pride in reaching their goals.  Consider using a simple reward chart to increase positive behaviors such as sharing, completing chores, using kind words, being friendly (versus teasing), etc.  Intermittent rewards work best.  Give your child a sticker when you catch them working on that goal, and a small prize after 3 to 5 stickers (based on age).  Parents often tell me that this is bribery and they don’t want to reward their kids for things they should just have to do.  It’s hard being a kid.  It’s fun to earn rewards and it’s nice to hear praise.

8.    Parent the Personality:  All children respond well to structure and limits.  That’s a fact.  But all children are different.  You might have to tailor your intervention style to each child. Figure out what works best for each child.  While positive reinforcement tends to work across the board, time ins might work better for one while relaxation breaks work for another.  Choose what works for each child.

What strategies work for you?

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Positive Messages

“I’ve been reading a lot about praise lately.  More specifically, I’ve been reading a lot of opinions from people who seem to think that praise is a crutch.  Children should not be praised, they say, in order to avoid the trap of performing simply for more praise.  Children, they say, should do things just because and not to get a pat on the back.

I’m not judging.  I’m trying not to, anyway.

But this kind of negativity is hard to process.

I’ve spent my adult life working with children of all ages.  Children who lacked self-esteem.  Children who never felt validated.  Children who felt they could do no right.  I’ve spent countless hours building them back up, helping them find their strengths.

Imagine if someone had done that for them all along?…”

Please stop by Mommy Moment to continue reading “Positive Messages”.

Positive Discipline: Long Term Goals

This is part four of a four part series on Positive Discipline (or positive parenting).  For the past few weeks we have focused on a few key areas of positive discipline.  So far we have discussed the importance of conducting self-evaluationsproviding structure and limits, and praise and rewards.  Please feel free to send questions in the comment form if you are looking for more specific information.

We’ve covered a lot of positive parenting strategies over the past few weeks.  We’ve talked about evaluating our own reactions, providing adequate structure and establishing limits, offering frequent praise for positive behaviors, and using rewards to help with specific behaviors.  Now it’s time to put it all together by focusing on long-term goals…”

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Positive Discipline: Praise, Encouragement, & Rewards

“This is part three of a four part series on Positive Discipline (or positive parenting).  For the past few weeks we have focused on a few key areas of positive discipline.  So far we have discussed the importance of conducting self-evaluations and providing structure and limits.  Please feel free to send questions in the comment form if you are looking for more specific information.

Although there are many different ways to parent children, there are three distinct parenting styles:

Authoritative parents are firm, loving, and kind.  They provide structure and set rules, but are not overly strict.  They have reasonable expectations.

Authoritarian parents are strict, controlling, and inflexible.  They expect obedience without questioning and are often insensitive to their child’s emotional needs.  They don’t often explain or even establish rules, but always apply consequences when a rule is broken.

Permissive parents are indulgent and fear imposing their will on their child’s developing personality.  They do not set rules and do not use consequences.  They even attempt to avoid any natural consequences for fear that their child might have hurt feelings.  Although they avoid structure and limits, they often become frustrated with negative or defiant behavior.”

Please stop by Mommy Moment to continue reading…

 

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Positive Discipline: Structure and Limits

“This is part two of a four part series on Positive Discipline (or positive parenting).  Over the next four weeks I will focus on four key areas of positive discipline.  Last week I discussed the importance of conducting self-evaluations.  Please feel free to send questions in the comment form if you are looking for more specific information.

Providing structure and setting clear limits are essential to positive parenting…”

Please stop by Mommy Moment to continue reading.

 

Mommy Moment