Archive for the Parenting Skills Category
By Stephanie Watson
How many parents have found themselves in deep negotiation with their 2-year-old over whether she can wear her princess costume to preschool for the fifth day in a row? What parent has not, at one time or another, taken a “walk of shame” out of the local supermarket after their toddler threw a temper tantrum on the floor?
Toddlerhood is a particularly vexing time for parents because this is the age at which children start to become more independent and discover themselves as individuals. Yet they still have a limited ability to communicate and reason.
“They understand that their actions matter — they can make things happen,” says Claire Lerner, LCSW-C, child development specialist and director of parenting resources for the organization Zero to Three. “This leads them to want to make their imprint on the world and assert themselves in a way they didn’t when they were a baby. The problem is they have very little self-control and they’re not rational thinkers. It’s a very challenging combination.”
So how do you deal with a child who screams every time you try to give him or her a bath, and whose vocabulary seems to consist of just one word — “no”?
Here are a few simple toddler discipline strategies to help make life easier for both you and your child.
Toddler Discipline Secret No. 1: Be Consistent
Order and routine give young children a safe haven from what they view as an overwhelming and unpredictable world, says Lerner. “When there’s some predictability and routine, it makes children feel much more safe and secure, and they tend to be much more behaved and calm because they know what to expect.”
Try to keep to the same schedule every day. That means having consistent nap times, mealtimes, and bedtimes, as well as times when your toddler is free to just run around and have fun.
When you do have to make a change, it helps to warn your child in advance. Telling your child, “Aunt Jean is going to watch you tonight while Mommy and Daddy go out for a little bit” will prepare her for a slightly different routine and may prevent a scene at bedtime.
Consistency is also important when it comes to discipline. When you say “no hitting” the first time your child smacks another child on the playground, you also need to say “no hitting” the second, third, and fourth times your child does it.
Toddler Discipline Secret No. 2: Avoid Stressful Situations
By the time children reach the toddler stage, you’ve spent enough time with them to know their triggers. The most common ones are hunger, sleepiness, and quick changes of venue. With a little advance planning, you can avoid these potential meltdown scenarios and keep things relatively calm.
“You have to anticipate, which means you don’t go to the grocery store when your child needs a nap,” says Lisa Asta, MD, a pediatrician in Walnut Creek, Calif., and associate clinical professor of pediatrics at the University of California, San Francisco.
Try to make sure your child is home at naptimes, bedtimes, and mealtimes. If you are out, always keep food on hand in case of a sudden hunger attack. Keep excursions short (that means finding another restaurant if the one you’ve chosen has an hour-long wait, or doing your grocery shopping at times when the lines are shortest). Finally, plan ahead so you don’t have to rush (particularly when you need to get your child to preschool and yourself to work in the mornings).
You can ease transitions by involving your child in the process. That can be as simple as setting an egg timer for five minutes, and saying that when it rings it’s time to take a bath or get dressed, or giving your child a choice of whether to wear the red shirt or the blue shirt to school.
Remember to think out loud and update your son or daughter about what is next on the schedule. Toddlers can understand much more than they can express.
Toddler Discipline Secret No. 3: Think Like a Toddler
Toddlers aren’t mini-adults. They have trouble understanding many of the things we take for granted, like how to follow directions and behave appropriately. Seeing the scenario from a toddler’s perspective can help prevent a tantrum.
“You might say, ‘I know, Derek, you don’t like getting into the car seat… but it’s what we have to do,'” Lerner explains. “So you’re not coddling, but you’re validating their feelings. You have to set the limit, but you do it in a way that respects the child and you use it as an opportunity to help them learn to cope with life’s frustrations and rules and regulations.”
Giving choices also shows that you respect your toddler and recognize the child’s feelings. Asking your child if he or she wants to bring a favorite book in the car, or take along a snack, can make the child feel as though he or she has some control over the situation while you remain in charge, Lerner says.
Toddler Discipline Secret No. 4: Practice the Art of Distraction
Make your toddler’s short attention span work for you. When your child throws the ball against the dining room wall for the 10th time after you’ve said to stop, it’s pretty easy to redirect your child to a more productive activity, like trading the ball for a favorite book or moving the game outside.
“[Parents] need to create an environment that is most conducive to good toddler behavior,” advises Rex Forehand, PhD, the Heinz and Rowena Ansbacher Professor of Psychology at the University of Vermont and author of Parenting the Strong-Willed Child. “If they’re into something they’re not supposed to do, the idea is not to punish them but to get another activity going or pick them up and put them in another room.”
Toddler Discipline Secret No. 5: Give Your Child a Break
Time-outs are one of the foundations of child discipline, but they may not be the best approach for the toddler stage. The negative implication of being sent away can teach kids that they’re bad, rather than promote good behavior.
If you do give your child a time-out, limit it to just a minute or two at this age. Instead of calling it a time-out, which can be confusing to children under 3, refer to it as something more positive.
Lerner suggests creating a “cozy corner,” a safe place, free from distractions and stimulation, where your child can just chill out for a few minutes until he or she can get back in control. That time away can help you regroup, as well.
Correct bad behaviors, but also take the time to praise good behaviors. “If you don’t tell your child when they’re doing the right thing, sometimes they’ll do the wrong thing just to get attention,” Asta says. When you tell your toddler he or she has done something good, there’s a good chance your child will want to do it again.
Toddler Discipline Secret No. 6: Stay Calm
When you’re standing in the middle of the mall, looking down at your child who’s screaming on the floor, and trying to ignore the stares of the shoppers around you, it’s easy for your blood pressure to reach the boiling point. It’s hard to stay calm, but losing control will quickly escalate an already stressful situation. Give yourself some time to cool off, advises Forehand. “Otherwise, you’re venting your own anger. In the end that’s going to make you as a parent feel worse and guilty, and it’s not going to do your child any good.”
“I call it the “Stepford Wife” approach,” Lerner says. As your child screams, say, ‘I know, I know,’ but stay completely calm as you pick him up. Don’t show any emotion.
Sometimes the best tactic is to ignore the behavior entirely. “You just literally act like they’re not doing what they’re doing. You ignore the behavior you want to stop,” Lerner says. When your child realizes that his screaming fit is not going to get him a second lollipop or your attention, eventually he’ll get tired of yelling.
Your child may drive you so close to the breaking point that you’re tempted to spank him, but most experts warn against the practice. “When we spank, kids learn that physical punishment is acceptable. And so we are modeling exactly what we don’t want our kids to do,” says Forehand. At the toddler stage, redirection and brief breaks are far more effective discipline tactics, Forehand says.
Toddler Discipline Secret No. 7: Know When to Give In
Certain things in a toddler’s life are nonnegotiable. She has to eat, brush her teeth, and ride in a car seat. She also has to take baths once in a while. Hitting and biting are never OK. But many other issues aren’t worth the headache of an argument. Pick your battles.
“You have to decide whether it’s worth fighting about, and about half the time it’s not worth fighting about,” Asta says. That means it’s OK to let your son wear his superhero costume to the grocery store, or read The Giving Tree 10 times in a row. Once he gets what he wants, you can gradually get him to shift in another direction — like wearing another outfit or picking out a different book to read.
Finally, know that it’s OK to feel stressed out by your toddler sometimes. “Realize that none of us as parents is perfect — we do the best we can. There are going to be days that we’re better at this than other days,” Forehand says. “But if we parent consistently and have consistent rules, then we’re going to see more good days than bad days.”
I think it’s important for parents of acting-out teens to ask themselves this question: If your teenager is abusing you verbally, calling you disgusting names and punching holes in the walls, what kind of husband or father do you think he’s going to make? Unless something dramatic happens, people stay on the course of the lives they set in motion in childhood and adolescence. And if the course of your child’s life is petty criminal behavior (starting with stealing from you), using drugs and alcohol, and intimidating everybody at home, know that this is not going to change on its own. Make no mistake, this is not a phase-rather, it’s a sign that your child is developing unhealthy behaviors that may stay with him his entire life.
I do service work at a prison and I talk to the guys there each week. You know what they were doing as teenagers? They were stealing from their parents, staying out all night, getting high and drinking. If anybody gave them a hard time at home, they acted out. They intimidated everybody in their family and at school so everybody left them alone. On visiting day in prison, you can see all the parents going in to visit their kids-but now they’re in their twenties and thirties. That is the harsh reality of ignoring or not dealing with a child’s out-of-control behavior. So as a parent, I think you always have to ask yourself, “Where is this behavior headed? Where does this go?”
Picture a frog who goes out to a rock in the middle of a pond every day. He sits on the rock and a fly comes by, so he eats it. Now he’s full and he goes back into the reeds. That frog will do that until the day he dies, because it works. He’s happy, he’s done. I think we’re all kind of like that frog. People don’t change if something is working for them and they’re getting away with it-especially adolescents.
How to Hold Your Child Accountable: 8 Practical Steps for Change
1. Stop Blaming Yourself for Your Child’s Behavior:
I very directly tell parents who blame themselves to cut it out. Remember, it’s not whose fault it is-it’s who’s willing to take responsibility. So if you’re looking for answers in Empowering Parents, and otherwise trying to improve your parenting skills, then you’re taking responsibility. Maybe you messed up in the past, but let’s start here, today, with what you are willing to do for your child now.
The next step is to try to get your child in a position where he becomes willing to take responsibility for his behavior.
2. Avoid Confrontations:
I always tell parents that they don’t have to attend every fight they’re invited to. Don’t let children suck you into an argument when they slam their bedroom door loudly or roll their eyes at you. I think the best thing to do is say, “Hey, don’t slam the door,” and then leave the room. Give your child a verbal reprimand right there on the spot, and then leave.
3. Use “Pull-ups”:
I think it’s also a good idea to be very specific with instructions in order to avoid a fight later. You can say, “Hey listen, when you put the dishes in the dishwasher, rinse them off first.” That’s called a “pull-up,” because you’re actually just giving your child a boost. It’s like taking them by the hand and helping them get on their feet. You may need to do ten pull-ups a night, but that’s okay. There are no hard feelings there. You don’t hold a grudge, you don’t cut him off when he’s talking, you’re not saying, “I told you so; I warned you about this.” These responses-blaming, speeches, criticism-all cut off communication. And I think if you can have a relationship with your adolescent where you’re still communicating 60 or 70 percent of the time, you’re doing pretty well.
4. Don’t Personalize It:
If you get angry when your child stomps off to his room or doesn’t want to spend time with you, you’re personalizing his behavior. That gives him power over you. I understand that this is easy for parents to do, especially if your teen used to enjoy spending time with you and was fairly compliant when he or she was younger. But I think if you take your child’s behavior as a personal attack upon you or your values, you’re overreacting. Your child is in adolescence; it’s his problem and it’s not an attack on you, it’s where he is in his developmental cycle. Your teen is not striking out at you-believe me, teenagers will strike out at anybody who’s there. Put a cardboard cut-out of yourself in the kitchen, and most teenagers will yell at that. I’m joking, but my point is that there is so much going on in your adolescent’s head-he’s also so self-involved at this stage in his life-that he doesn’t see things clearly. Adolescence distorts perception.
So if your teenage daughter comes home late, don’t take that personally. If she told you she wasn’t going to do something and then she did it, don’t personalize that. It’s not, “You let me down.” It’s, “You broke the rules and here are the consequences.” Just reinforce what the rules are and let your child know she’ll be held accountable.
The only time I think you should take something personally is when a child is being verbally or physically abusive. If your teenager calls you foul names and is destructive to others or to property, you need to respond very strongly.
5. Run Your Home Based on Your Belief System:
I believe parents should run their homes based on their own belief system, not on how other people operate, or how it appears families on television do things. It doesn’t matter if “Everybody’s doing it.” You need to tell your teen, “Well, I’m not ‘Everybody’s’ parent, I’m yours. And in our family, this is not allowed.” So if you believe it’s not right for 16-year-olds to drink beer, then that’s what you believe-and you need to run your home accordingly. If you believe that lying and stealing are wrong, then make that a rule in your house and hold your children accountable for that behavior if they break the rules.
6. Be a Role Model:
If you tell your child the rules and then you break them, how do you think your adolescent will react? Do you think he’ll respect what you’ve said, or do you think the message will be, “Dad says that I shouldn’t lie, but he does sometimes, so it’s okay.” It’s imperative to be a good role model and abide by the rules you make yourself-or risk having them be broken over and over again by your children.
7. Try Not to Overreact:
Believe me, I understand that it’s easy to overreact to normal teenage behavior. They can be really annoying, and they are often unaware-and don’t care about-other people’s feelings very much. But I think some objectivity on the part of parents is vital. So if your child makes a mistake, like coming in past curfew, you don’t want to overreact to it. Don’t forget, the idea is not to punish-it’s to teach, through responsibility, accountability and giving appropriate consequences.
I think you should always ask yourself, “What does my child need to learn so he doesn’t make that same mistake next time? What can I do about that?” When a teen fails a test, the question should be, “So what are you going to do differently so you don’t fail the next test?” You may hold your child accountable, there may be a consequence, but you should always try to have a conversation that solves problems, not a conversation that lays blame-because blame is useless.
So let’s say your child went to the mall without your permission. You hold him accountable and give him consequences for that breach of family rules. Then you should say, “What can you do differently the next time the other kids say, ‘Let’s go to the mall’ and you want to be cool and not ask me if it’s okay?” Then help your child look at the range of options. They could say, “No thanks.” Or they could say, “I have to call my mother, she’s a pain in the neck, but I have to check in.” I actually used to tell kids to say this. It’s a great way for teens to follow the rules without looking weak or childish. When they say, “My mom is a pain,” all the other kids nod and shake their heads, because their parents are pains in the neck, too. Sometimes kids just don’t know what to say in a sticky situation. Part of solving that problem with them is coming up with some good responses and even role playing a little, until it feels comfortable coming out of your child’s mouth.
8. Physical Abuse, Substance Abuse and Stealing:
I believe if your child is stealing, being physically abusive or destructive of property or using substances, you have to hold him accountable, even if it means involving the police. The bottom line is that if your child is breaking the law or stealing from you, you need to get more help. I know parents who say, “I can’t do that to my son,” and I respect that-it’s a very difficult thing to do. But in my opinion, you’re doing your child a favor by telling him that what he’s doing is unacceptable. He is not responding to parental authority or to the school’s authority, so you have to go to a higher level. Your child has to learn how to respond to authority if he’s going to go anywhere in life. You may worry about your teen getting a record-but if he’s under 18, I think you should worry more about him not changing his behavior.
I think that all children, but especially adolescents, have to be held accountable for their behavior. Ideally, we teach them how to behave. We model it ourselves and then we hold them accountable through giving consequences and helping them learn problem-solving skills.
Whether your child is a normal adolescent or he’s an out-of-control teenager, you need to hold him accountable. That means you tell him he’s responsible for his behavior; he’s making choices. And I’m going to tell you something: kids who are getting high, stealing, shoplifting and acting out are making very bad choices that may affect them for the rest of their lives.
Accountability creates change. It doesn’t guarantee a complete inner change right away, but it sure forces behavioral change. And here’s the truth: nobody ever changed who wasn’t held accountable.
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As both a pet owner (2 dogs – a 4 year old male Golden Retriever and a 3 year old female Labrador) and a new parent (7 month old little boy) I am really amazed at the similarities between raising a pet and raising a child.
Many people will say that dogs are dogs and kids are kids but in actual fact, they are both young animals that require exercise, discipline and affection (as Cesar Milan always says) from their parents/owners in order to go grow up as balanced individuals.
Obviously some aspects of raising a pet are different to raising a child (especially when the children get a bit older), but the principles are the same. A child/dog who is allowed free rein of the house will turn into a spoilt brat as they have no boundaries to adhere to. Without boundaries how do they learn what is acceptable behaviour and what is not?
If anyone has watched both the TV shows Supernanny and The Dog Whisperer, you will notice that nearly every problem on both shows is caused by the parent/owner of the kids/animals, rather than the kids/animals themselves. Jo and Cesar spend more time on their shows educating the parents/owners than actually dealing with the child/dog themselves.
For those who don’t believe me, tune into the Dog Whisperer (Nat Geographic channel) and watch how Cesar handles problem animals. He is always calm and assertive, brings a positive energy to every situation and remains calm at all times. Isn’t this something that as parents we should all strive to follow? Sure it’s hard when your little one throws a screaming tantrum at Woolies, but getting angry and upset yourself just makes things worse. The same can be said for any problem situation that may arise with your children. If you are calm assertive it makes the situation much easier to deal with.
Another major factor that Cesar drills into the dog owners is the fact that they have to follow through when they want their dogs to do something. How many times have you asked your child to pack up their toys, only to see them strewn around the room an hour later? Do you follow your child around at mealtimes trying to get them to eat? Why do you think this happening?
Well the simple answer is that you never followed through in getting them to tidy up their toys or sit at the table at mealtimes right from the start. Every time you tell them to do it and they don’t, and you don’t enforce what you want done, it becomes the norm for them to refuse to do it. They get the upper hand. And as well all know getting them to change their ways once they have the upper hand is extremely difficult and will result in a lot of tears and unhappiness before the ultimate goal is achieved. If you had just enforced what you wanted from them the first few times you asked, these problems would be behind you.
One major thing Cesar asks all the dog owners to do is to exercise their pets every day. Do we all do this with our children or do we plonk them in front of the TV when we want to take some time out for ourselves? For dogs it is extremely important to exercise them on a daily basis else they get frustrated and start acting up. Sound familiar? The same is true of your child. Children want to explore the world, play outdoors and just run around like mad things. If we don’t let them do this at least once a day their frustration starts to build, they do not sleep well and they start acting up. Yes it’s tough in this hurly burly world to take time out every day to play/exercise with your child but it needs to be done regardless.
Of course giving affection is a given for both dogs and children, but what’s important is giving it at the right time. Do you pick your child up and cuddle them every time they cry or scream? Every time they throw a tantrum? Giving affection at the wrong times really reinforces bad behaviour, while giving it when it is really needed (like after a fall, or accident) or when your child is calm and happy really reinforces the love you have for your child.
In conclusion then, we could all improve our parenting skills if we stuck to some dog training basics in the early years. Setting boundaries, following through (discipline), giving affection at the right time and staying calm assertive in any situation will have a really positive effect on your child and on you as a parent (and pack leader!).
Try it, it works!
Research confirms what many parents instinctively feel when they don’t like to spank their child, but they don’t know what else to do. The latest research from Dr. Murray Strauss at the Family Research Laboratory affirms that spanking teaches children to use acts of aggression and violence to solve their problems. It only teaches and perpetuates more violence, the very thing our society is so concerned about. This research further shows that children who have been spanked are more prone to low self-esteem, depression and accept lower paying jobs as adults. So, what do you do instead?
1 – Get Calm
First, if you feel angry and out of control and you want to spank or slap your child, leave the situation if you can. Calm down and get quiet. In that quiet time you will often find an alternative or solution to the problem. Sometimes parents lose it because they are under a lot of stress. Dinner is boiling over, the kids are fighting, the phone is ringing and your child drops the can of peas and you lose it. If you can’t leave the situation, then mentally step back and count to ten.
2 – Take Time for Yourself
Parents are more prone to use spanking when they haven’t had any time to themselves and they feel depleted and hurried. So, it is important for parents to take some time for themselves to exercise, read, take a walk or pray.
3 – Be Kind but Firm
Another frustrating situation where parents tend to spank is when your child hasn’t listened to your repeated requests to behave. Finally, you spank to get your child to act appropriately. Another solution in these situations is to get down on your child’s level, make eye contact, touch him gently and tell him, in a short, kind but firm phrase, what it is you want him to do. For example, “I want you to play quietly.
4 – Give Choices
Giving your child a choice is an effective alternative to spanking. If she is playing with her food at the table ask, Would you like to stop playing with your food or would you like to leave the table?” If the child continues to play with her food, you use kind but firm action by helping her down from the table. Then tell her that she can return to the table when she is ready to eat her food without playing in it.
5 – Use Logical Consequences
Consequences that are logically related to the behavior help teach children responsibility. For example, your child breaks a neighbor’s window and you punish him by spanking him. What does he learn about the situation? He may learn to never do that again, but he also learns that he needs to hide his mistakes, blame it on someone else, lie, or simply not get caught. He may decide that he is bad or feel anger and revenge toward the parent who spanked him. When you spank a child, he may behave because he is afraid to get hit again. However, do you want your child to behave because he is afraid of you or because he respects you?
Compare that situation to a child who breaks a neighbor’s window and his parent says, “I see you’ve broken the window, what will you do to repair it?” using a kind but firm tone of voice. The child decides to mow the neighbor’s lawn and wash his car several times to repay the cost of breaking the window. What does the child learn in this situation? That mistakes are an inevitable part of life and it isn’t so important that he made the mistake but that he takes responsibilty to repair the mistake. The focus is taken off the mistake and put on taking responsibility for repairing it. The child feels no anger or revenge toward his parent. And most importantly the child’s self-esteem is not damaged.
6 – Do Make Ups
When children break agreements, parents tend to want to punish them An alternative is to have your child do a make-up. A make-up is something that people do to put themselves back into integrity with the person they broke the agreement with. For example, several boys were at a sleep-over at Larry’s home. His father requested that they not leave the house after midnight. The boys broke their agreement. The father was angry and punished them by telling them they couldn’t have a sleep-over for two months. Larry and his friends became angry, sullen and uncooperative as a result of the punishment. The father realized what he had done. He apologized for punishing them and told them how betrayed he felt and discussed the importance of keeping their word. He then asked the boys for a make-up. They decided to cut the lumber that the father needed to have cut in their backyard. The boys became excited and enthusiastic about the project and later kept their word on future sleep-overs.
7 – Withdraw from Conflict
Children who sass back at parents may provoke a parent to slap. In this situation, it is best if you withdraw from the situation immediately. Do not leave the room in anger or defeat. Calmly say, “I’ll be in the next room when you want to talk more respectfully.
8 – Use kind but firm action
Instead of smacking an infant’s hand or bottom when she touches something she isn’t supposed to, kindly but firmly pick her up and take her to the next room. Offer her a toy or another item to distract her and say, “You can try again later.” You may have to take her out several times if she is persistent.
9 – Inform Children Ahead of Time
A child’s temper tantrum can easily set a parent off. Children frequently throw tantrums when they feel uninformed or powerless in a situation. Instead of telling your child he has to leave his friend’s house at a moment’s notice, tell him that you will be leaving in five minutes. This allows the child to complete what he was in the process of doing.
Aggression is an obvious form of perpetuating violence in society. A more subtle form of this is spanking because it takes it’s toll on a child’s self-esteem, dampening his enthusiasm and causing him to be rebellious and uncooperative. Consider for a moment the vision of a family that knows how to win cooperation and creatively solve their problems without using force or violence. The alternatives are limitless and the results are calmer parents who feel more supported.