Positive Discipline: Additional Strategies for Redirecting Misbehavior (Part 2)

by Dr. Mom®

Beyond the effective consequences outlined in Part 1, the following supplementary techniques represent additional tools to help ensure that your use of discipline remains a positive learning experience. 

Distractions and Environmental Modifications.    Discipline for babies under a year of age requires vigilant supervision and a baby-proof environment where an infant can safely explore. When a baby/toddler heads toward an off-limits item, such as electronic equipment, redirect his attention to an acceptable activity. Say “no” as you remove him from danger, but don’t expect him to understand rules and consequences. Distraction continues to easily curb problem behavior throughout the toddler and preschool years.

Ignore Minor Transgressions and Nondestructive Misbehavior.    Children often misbehave when they are seeking attention. Even a scolding can be rewarding for a child by gaining her parent’s undivided attention. By ignoring minor, attention-getting offenses, you stop reinforcing this misguided goal that triggers some problem behaviors. Behaviors that are best ignored include whining, pouting, arguing with siblings, dawdling at meals, harmless grumbling, or experimenting with swear words. Give plenty of focused attention for the desired behavior- – listening attentively when your child speaks in a normal tone of voice or giving compliments for getting ready on time. Be aware that ignoring misbehavior might cause it to increase temporarily at first, before it decreases. 

Physical Assistance.    Parents often complain that their child won’t obey simple commands, for example to wash up for dinner or put her toys away. Calling out the same request a dozen times only teaches a youngster to ignore the parent. To increase prompt compliance with your requests, follow the principle of “one request only.” Stand near your child, make eye contact, and state your instructions clearly: “I expect you to get in the car now.” Then, if your child does not begin to carry out your request within about 10 seconds, calmly take her hand and guide her in the completion of the task. You may have to carry your child to the car or pick up most of the toys yourself, but your child will get the message that compliance is expected now, not when, or if, she feels like it. 

When………Then.    This method, known as “Grandma’s Rule” or “Work Before Play,” works well when you want something done (like having a chore completed) and are willing to wait for it to be accomplished. You offer an incentive on the condition that something else is completed first: “When you are finished straightening up your room, then you can go play with Michael.” It’s important to say “when,” which conveys the message that the job will get done, rather than “if,” which implies that it may not get done at all. 

Unhook From Power Struggles.    When your child pushes the limits or challenges your authority, it’s only natural to dig in your heels and use even stronger methods to control her. But power struggles do not promote cooperation, responsibility, or problem-solving skills. Rather, they give your child an inappropriate sense of power that prompts her to look for new battlegrounds. When your child’s anger is mounting, you need to remain in control, thus allowing her to “borrow” some of your calmness.  When you find yourself in an emotional tug-of-war, just drop your end of the rope and withdraw from the conflict, not from your child. Acknowledge your child’s difficult feelings, and let her know that you still love her, even though you disapprove of her behavior.

Use Impersonal Statements and Limits.    To improve cooperation and compliance, avoid the use of controlling and adversarial comments and cite impersonal House Rules instead: “No name calling. We treat everyone with respect.” Similarly, set a neutral timer to tell your child when his “time out” session has ended. Make simple observations instead of accusations, “I see water on the floor” or “I see dirty dishes in the sink.” 
Use I-Messages Instead of You-Messages.    I-messages are less emotionally charged because they focus on your child’s inappropriate behavior and its effect on you. In contrast, You-messages tend to criticize, nag, or blame your child. Say:  “I don’t like to hear fighting because it makes me think someone is getting hurt,” instead of accusing, “Can’t you two ever get along?” 

Separate Your Child from Her Behavior.    When dealing with misbehavior, it is essential that you separate your child’s character from her actions by labeling the behavior, not the child. Never blast your child with judgmental barbs like: “Bad girl,” “Shame on you,” “I’m so disappointed in you.” Your child needs to know that you love her even when you don’t like her actions or words.  Keep your focus on the behavior by saying: “No hitting,” “Stop teasing,” or “Good listening.”  

Express Confidence in Your Child’s Abilities.    Micromanaging your child’s life sends the discouraging message that you lack confidence in him. Jumping in to solve every sibling difference tells your children that you doubt their ability to handle their conflicts successfully on their own. Instead of trying to run your child’s life, express your confidence in his ability to make good decisions and to learn from his poor choices.

Join Forces in Solving the Problem.    Assume that your child wants to cooperate with you and wants you to be pleased with her behavior. Choose a time when both of you are happy. Sit down together and ask for your child’s input regarding the problem – bedtime battles, fighting, talking back. Explain that you don’t like having daily hassles over the problem and that you can’t solve the problem alone. Then, suggest possible solutions to get your child started in the problem-solving process. Ask for her input, and whenever possible, use one or more of her suggestions. 

State What You Will Do.    If you find yourself using repeated accusations and threats that don’t work, stop dwelling on your child’s behavior and focus on what you will do. Use an I-message to state the impact of your child’s behavior on you, and express your feelings. Use additional I-messages to state what action you will take concerning the part of the problem that affects you: “I only will wash clothes that are in the hamper.” “My car will be pulling out of the driveway at 7:30 a.m.” As you focus on your own actions and stop nagging and criticizing your child, both of you will feel more in control. She will be able to focus on the consequences of her behavior, rather than on resisting you.

Recognize and Encourage Your Child’s Efforts.    Children can easily get discouraged when their performance doesn’t measure up to our high expectations. Don’t focus too much attention on the end results. Acknowledge your child’s efforts and any “baby steps” in the right direction, rather than focusing on the fact that he can do better. 

Copyright ©  2011  Marianne Neifert, MD, MTS     May be duplicated if authorship is cited.     www.dr-mom.com