Too often discipline is about punishment or controlling your child. Rather, conscious discipline should be emotional education -- a way of teaching your child to handle his feelings and reminding him how to behave. The ultimate goal is to help your child gain self-control. It is making life predictable for your toddler. Your approach to discipline teaches conflict resolution and teaches your child how to get his needs met for the rest of his life.
What you focus on, you get more of
The power of our attention can be a powerful foundation for change. Too often, we impose upon our children everything we DON’T want them to do (“No hitting” “Stop whining” “Don’t bother me right now.”) Instead, we should change our language to reflect what we DO want (“Please sit down” “Use a calm voice” “I will help you when I finish this”) This is a key concept. Focus on what you DO want, and change your language to reflect this.
Look at your own behavior to see what you’re teaching your child
The way we handle situations- set limits without anger, act instead of react, and deal calmly with stressful situations- is the way we show children how it looks to be in control of our emotions. Children are like sponges. Be careful.
Whenever possible, plan ahead; avoid difficult settings or circumstances
With very young children who can’t understand why something is off-limits, it’s best to steer clear of more challenging situations. Whenever possible avoid anything too loud, too frantic, too demanding, too cognitively advanced, too scary, or too physically taxing.
See the situation through your toddler’s eyes
Sometimes what appears to be aggression in a toddler is simple curiosity. Or your child may be overtired. Also, if you’ve been inconsistent about setting boundaries, you can’t expect your toddler to guess your standards. Try to understand what is motivating your child instead of punishing. Also, showing empathy helps your child to process disappointment and validates his feelings.
Pick your battles
It’s important to know when it’s absolutely necessary to enforce your boundaries and when it’s okay to relax them a bit. If it’s cleanup time and your child is overtired, help him put away the toys. Sometimes you need a quick solution- use your judgment and ingenuity, but don’t make excuses or go into long explanations
Offer closed-end choices
Toddlers are often more cooperative when offered a choice, because it gives them a sense of control. Example: If your child is whining and you want him to calm down you can say, "Joe, you're whining and need to calm down so you can either go to your room or sit on that chair to calm yourself. You pick." This way he feels like he can make the choice, but either way he's going to do what you want. Example 2: If your child is jumping on the couch you say, "Joe, you can either sit on the couch or jump on the floor. You pick." Offering choices helps you focus on behaviors that you DO want, and builds your child’s self esteem by allow them to have some responsibility.
Don’t be afraid to say “no”
There are some times when you’ll have to deny your child’s requests. We set children up for a rude awakening if we never teach them to accept “no” for an answer. If you allow your child to ignore your limits, you teach them to infringe on others. Being assertive lets you set boundaries and teaches the value of respect. Remember to empathize: “I know you’re disappointed” or “It looks like you’re really angry about that” to let him know it’s normal to be unhappy sometimes.
Praise good behavior and correct or ignore bad
Sometimes we are so busy disciplining and saying “no” we forget to notice when our child does something right. It’s even more important to notice good behavior than to reprimand bad. Praise your child often. Whenever he whines, either ignore him or correct the behavior by saying “I can’t answer you unless you talk in your best voice.” Model what a best voice sounds like: “Say it like this: ‘Help me, Mommy.’” Be aware of what you “reward” with your attention.
Don’t rely on corporal punishment
Physical punishment is a short-term solution that teaches nothing positive. Instead, it teaches children that we hit when we are frustrated; we hit when we don’t know what else to do; we hit when we lose control. If you do hit your child by accident from fear or knee-jerk reaction or end up losing control you should apologize “I’m sorry. It was wrong for Mommy to hit you.” Every parent makes mistakes.
With these ingredients, you can create an atmosphere of loving guidance in which you teach your child to meet his needs in an acceptable way without dominating or demeaning him. “Teaching is about giving, while control is about getting.” As parents, we have the responsibility to guide and teach our children to be more likely to choose appropriate behaviors. Conscious Discipline allows us to raise our children to be both free and responsible.
Excerpts and ideas for Conscious Discipline come from Dr. Becky Bailey’s “Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline.” An excellent read! Thank you to Mary Koon for these notes!
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