Positive Discipline: Effective Strategies for Redirecting Misbehavior (Part 1)

by Dr. Mom®
Although preventive strategies go a long way toward decreasing problem behavior, even the most cooperative children sometimes misbehave. By choosing a suitable response from a wide variety of options, you can help your child correct his behavior without dealing a blow to his self-esteem or your relationship. Depending on your child’s temperament and age, the circumstances, and the particular misdeed, you may decide to do nothing, impose a penalty, call a time-out, have him make amends, or take other action. Remember, the purpose of discipline is to help your child handle difficult feelings, gain self-control, solve problems, learn right from wrong, experience consequences, and make better choices.
Warnings. A brief, well-timed warning can prevent misbehavior before it starts, or cut it short, by reminding children about rules. Don’t use empty threats or exaggerated dire consequences that children quickly learn to tune out and ignore: “This is the last time I’m warning you! You’re really going to get it this time!” Warnings need to be specific and carried out as promised: “Robbie, I’m warning you; if you throw food again, we’re leaving the restaurant.” Then add, “You choose’ or “You decide,” to remind your child of his personal power – the actions he chooses cause the consequence he experiences.

1-2-3- or Counting Method. This popular technique is a specific warning method used to stop undesirable behavior, such as arguing, whining, or interrupting. When the offensive behavior begins, you hold up one finger and calmly announce: “That’s 1.” If your child persists with the negative behavior, you hold up two fingers and say: “That’s 2.” If your child still doesn’t stop the problem behavior, you hold up three fingers and say firmly, but without getting emotional: “That’s 3. You’re going to time-out.” After a few times, your child will probably correct her behavior on the count of 1 or 2. The technique is not appropriate for aggressive behavior that must be interrupted immediately.

Scoldings and Reprimands. An effective verbal scolding may be all that is needed to redirect misbehavior. Do not deliver a long tirade, link your child’s character with his misbehavior, or inflict excessive guilt by saying: “Shame on you. You’re a bad boy.” Instead, begin by briefly expressing your command to stop the undesired behavior: “Stop throwing dirt.” Offer an explanation for the limit: “People don’t like dirt on their clothes or their body.” State the consequence of the misbehavior: “You know the rule; if you throw dirt again, we’ll have to leave the park.” Provide an acceptable alternative: “Dirt belongs on the ground.” Be sure to end the reprimand on a positive note, by giving a compliment, hug, smile, or affirmation: “Good listening, Joey. Thanks for cooperating.”

Natural Consequences. Children over three can start to grasp the concept of cause and effect and can learn from the natural consequences of their actions. Because natural consequences are impersonal and unemotional, they are especially effective in modifying behavior. For example, a child soon learns that he gets hungry mid-afternoon if he doesn’t eat lunch or that a toy that has been misused and breaks is not fun to play with anymore.

Logical Consequences. Most of the consequences adults experience for breaking society’s rules are logical. Similarly, consequences for children are more instructive when they are logically related to the specific offense. When two siblings fight over which TV program to watch, turn the TV off until they can agree. If your 5 year-old rides her bike in the street, the bike can’t be ridden for the rest of the day. Toys that aren’t put away get placed in an “off limits” box the next day.

Loss of a Privilege. Temporarily taking away something a child values, like a favorite activity or toy, can teach the lesson that, if you break a rule, you must pay with something you like. For example, if your child hasn’t completed his homework as promised, he is not allowed to watch TV. Never withhold your affection as a punishment, as a parent’s love is unconditional. Withholding food (“no dessert for you”) is also not advised, as chronic eating disorders can result when food is given strong emotional connotations.

Making Restitution. When a child’s misbehavior causes another person to suffer hurt feelings, damages property, or causes inconvenience, you can require your child to make restitution—similar to court-ordered community service. Restitution can be asking your preschooler to apologize for her rude remark or return a sibling’s toys “borrowed” without permission. Or, it can involve helping rebuild her brother’s tower of blocks that she knocked over, gently patting the “owie” she caused by hitting him, or helping clean up after creating a spill or mess. Making amends teaches children about the rights and feelings of others, correcting their mistakes, and taking responsibility for their actions.

Time-Out. A highly effective way to deal with misbehavior in young children is to briefly remove the child from activity to sit in a quiet, subdued location. This brief social isolation- – known as time-out – quickly helps a frustrated or angry child cope with difficult feelings and regain self-control. It is most effective when used sparingly and promptly to interrupt aggressive or other antisocial behaviors (i.e. biting, hurting others, emotional outbursts). A good rule of thumb for time-out is one minute for each year of age. Longer periods do no good and may actually backfire. Set a timer nearby. You may need to physically assist your child in going to time-out or escort him back if he gets up.

It Is Preferable NOT to Spank Your Child. Corporal punishment has limited effectiveness in shaping desired behavior, compared to the various strategies described above. Repeated spanking promotes aggression as a way to handle conflict and may increase aggressive behavior in children. Worse yet, even well-meaning parents can lose control and unintentionally hit too hard. The majority of parents who spank say they would rather not if they had an effective alternative discipline method. Spanking is losing popularity in our society, and is discouraged by the American Academy of Pediatrics. For those parents who choose to use spanking:

• Do not spank a child under 18 months of age or over 6 years.
• Do not spank for physically aggressive behavior, as this sends a mixed message.
• Use only your open hand – not a belt, switch, or paddle.
• Swat only the child’s bottom or give a hand slap.
• Hit only one time and leave no marks.
• Never shake a child – shaking can cause severe brain injury!
• Never spank in anger or if you have been drinking.

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