By Justin Coulson
Picture this: you’re at dinner with friends when their two year old son decides he doesn’t want any chicken satay, so he picks up his fork and stabs his big brother in the face with it
How do you deal with that challenging behaviour?
The most common methods are the least effective.
- There’s the old school “give your kids a kick up the bum and that’ll teach ‘em” kind of thinking. But most parents don’t like hitting their kids, and research clearly shows that it’s about the worst way we can discipline.
- There’s time-out, but all that does is isolate your kids, depriving them of you when they need you the most.
So if these behaviour management strategies don’t work what do we do instead? We can’t have our kids stabbing their siblings in the face with their fork!
In my book I recommend strategies that take a little longer but work a lot better, and the results are much longer lasting.
By working with our kids, rather than doing things to them we can be far better teachers who guide them to better ways of acting.
The problem with a “doing to” approach (where we spank, use time-out, or some other punishment) is that it relies on our power to coerce our children to do what we ask. If we want their behaviour to change, it will. But only while we’re there. If we focus more on helping them recognise the reasons for their behaviour to change, it will be longer lasting, and it won’t rely on our continued presence.
So it’s faster in the short-term but slower in the long term when we rely on power. (And incidentally, the same thing goes for rewards, bribes, and goodies. It still relies on our power.)
Here are three simple ways we can work with our children, rather than doing things to the
When we start a new task at work, we get inducted, or trained in how it is to be done. Sometimes we don’t recall all of the information, so we rely on support from HR or IT or whoever is in charge of the relevant induction. Our kids need induction too. Everything from brushing teeth, packing a bag, making a bed, tidying a room, and so on, requires patient training and re-training.
Induction is important, but it only goes so far. Sometimes we need our children to understand someone’s perspective beyond their own if they’re to do what’s right. Asking questions about why we do something (or don’t do it), who is affected, and how they are affected can be powerful training – and the best part about questions is that our children are doing the talking! Not us! They remember the answer far better when they’re self-generated.
When our children don’t ‘hear’ us, I recommend gentle reminders. This means we quietly walk to them, crouch down and make eye contact, and then softly say three words: their name, and the required task. For example, “Tim, your schoolbag.” Or “Amy, your bedroom.” They’ll get the message.
A couple of other handy hints about discipline:
First, it means teaching good ways to act. Our children follow us, which is what discipline is really all about. Guide them carefully and by setting a good example.
Second, be mindful of what matters to them. Trying to discipline when their favourite tv show is on, or when their emotions are high, will not be effective. Be aware and choose times appropriately.
Third, a soft approach has a surprisingly counter-intuitive outcome.
Research shows that over the long-term, a working with approach can lead to positive outcomes including children with high levels of empathy, social skills, and connectedness to their family.
Activities for this week:
- Look for ways that you can use gentle reminders. Instead of shouting, walk quietly to your child, kneel down and stare into his/her eyes. Then in a few short words remind them of your previous request.
- If your child does something “wrong”, ask yourself if it is morally wrong, or just inconvenient. More often than not it will simply be inconvenient, so teach him/her by asking questions about what they see as the best way to do something. Fill in the gaps so they understand more clearly.
- If one of your children does something that has a negative impact on you or another person, have them try and take the perspective of the other person. Have them describe how that person might have felt, and how that action might impact on their relationship. Then invite them to think of ways that the relationship may be repaired, or ways that they can avoid such situations in the future.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this short and simple parenting boot camp! There is so much more I’d love to tell you about. It’s all in my book “What Your Child Needs From You: Creating a Connected Family.”
Please email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) and tell me how you went over the past three weeks, and let me know of any questions you may have. I’d love to hear of your successes.
To find out more about these ideas visit my blog at happyfamilies.com.au, see my advice column “Ask Dr Justin” at kidspot.com.au, and grab a copy of my book, What Your Child Needs From you: Creating a Connected Family.
Dr Justin Coulson is a parenting expert and the author of What Your Child Needs From You: Creating a Connected Family available from ACER press. He blogs at www.happyfamilies.com.au. Justin and his wife Kylie are the parents of 5 children.