There are several mistakes I see parents making over and over when they respond to their child's big emotions and challenging behaviors. Some of these I have intimate experiences with...meaning yeah - I’ve totally made these mistakes in the past myself...so please know you're not alone :)
These are common practices that are pretty “old school” and are not going to nurture the relationship you want or the cooperation you need from your child. But I will tell you what will…
First, Say “goodbye” to rewards, praise and sticker charts
Yes, I know you have probably spent time creating a cute chart or decorating a marble jar. Well, it's time to give them up. They are actually working against you and not for you.
Based on the work of Alfie Kohn and Carol Dweck, research has found that sticker charts, rewards, praise and bribes actually manipulate kids, create reward/praise junkies, steal a child’s pleasure, decreases motivation or interest, and in regards to academics reduces achievement.
So let me ask you: What are you really trying to teach and what is the message you want to send?
Rewards and praise are short-term solutions to gaining compliance, but not long-term strategies to instilling the traits, characteristics, and qualities that you want to nurture in your children. The research has found that kids who are raised on rewards and sticker charts are more self centered, materialistic, and are more easily influenced by peers, money, and recognition.
So what do you do instead??? Use encouragement.
The message we send in response to our children’s efforts is going to have the highest impact on their likelihood for success. Contrary to popular belief, encouragement is not praise. It is an acknowledgement without judgment.
Praise focuses on what is believed to be their natural talents or traits and can sound like, “ You did so well, you are so smart”, “You are a natural…” or “Wow, your (fill in the blank with an athletic ability) skills are amazing!”
Instead focus on the process or effort, “Wow, it looks like you worked really hard on that picture ”, “I noticed that you zipped your jacket by yourself ” or “Look, you did it!” Focusing your energy and attention on the effort and/or process will lead to determination, grit, taking more risks, greater self-esteem and success.
Time is up for timeouts!
Are you using traditional time outs? Well, it’s time to stop!
What do you think really happens when a child is put in a “time out”?
Let me tell you - most kids sit and steam, think angry thoughts about you and themselves, and they might even plot doing it again to show you that you cannot control them. Kids don’t like to be disrespected just as much as adults don’t.
Time outs also don’t teach children to do something different the next time the situation occurs, how to repair or model healthy ways of dealing with emotions.
Most parents report feeling sad and helpless because timeouts are the one thing they were taught was supposed to work and now they don’t know what to do.
So how can you use time outs in a way that is respectful and gives your child an opportunity to learn and grow from the experience? You can use a Time In or a Positive Time Out.
This approach is different because the child is given the opportunity to choose to go elsewhere or stay with you until they have calmed down.
When you send kids away, they misinterpret it as a love withdrawal. What they really need and deserve is to stay connected to you so that you can model, coach and guide them in finding better ways to express emotion or behave.
Positive timeouts, which we cover in great detail in Childproof Parenting, are opportunities to teach children self-control and self-discipline. It is more respectful than sending them away, to their room, or to sit in the corner because you keep children involved in the process by allowing them to find a space that is soothing and calming to them.
This kind of timeout helps to develop their innate ability to self-soothe and take breaks when emotions get strong or when things turn negative. You can facilitate this process by giving your child the space and time to experience and feel what they are feeling, calm down, and then process and problem solve together different ways to handle the current challenging situation or emotion.
Using Consequences to teach, not punish
Many parents get caught up in trying to find the right consequence that will make their child learn the lesson and never do this terrible thing again. It is important to remember that learning takes time.
Consequences do teach, but only when they work to solve the problem that the child caused and are delivered respectfully. If the consequence is not related, reasonable or delivered respectfully then it is actually a punishment.
Let me be clear, consequences are NOT: painful, physically harmful, disrespectful, or delivered in anger or condescending. Your child may be inconvenienced or uncomfortable, but never harmed, shamed or belittled. Consequences that punish cause children to lose trust in the adults who care for them the most.
The two types of consequences that teach: Natural And Logical
Natural consequences are the type that society or nature imposes on your child. You step OUT of the way and allow the consequence to do the teaching. You are loving and supportive of your child as they deal with the response to their actions. Of course, this is never used in dangerous situations, only when you believe your child can actually handle the consequence to their actions.
Logical consequences are those that a parent imposes on the child in response to the child’s action. The parent reflects the child’s emotion first and is calm when delivering the consequence. Then the parent requests that the child do what is necessary to solve the problem or correct the mistake.
Consequences that are a form of punishment are easy to come up with. However, creating consequences that teach as a form of discipline take more time and practice. Remember, you don’t have to be alone in figuring out how to parent your child.