Every few months I like to reflect on how I am approaching discipline moments, to evaluate what is working and what is not. Here are a few discipline strategies you might like to prune from your repertoire. To remember these tips, think of putting the P.A.S.T. behind you – meaning Punishments, Assumptions, Shame and Telling instead of asking.

PUNISHMENTS

As Jane Nelson says (from Positivediscipline.com), “Where did we ever get the crazy idea that we need to make kids feel worse, so they will behave better?” It’s upside down, really. In reality, children who are put in the corner to “stay there until they realize they were bad” are often just thinking about how to sneak out of time out, or get back at their “mean” parents. One of my parent-coaching clients experienced this clearly when, after many failed time-out attempts, his four-year-old daughter screamed, “I’m being mean, Daddy, because you were mean first!” Instead of the punitive approach, why not try a “Positive time out.” If at first this sounds like an oxymoron, believe me, it’s not. The positive time out means you talk to your child before a behavior issue might flare up, to plan a place where they can relax and help themselves calm down until they are ready to be their wise wonderful selves again.

ASSUMING

“They should know better” – Once children can walk and talk more like adults, some parents slip into believing they have fully developed adult brains. When it comes to the rules of how to behave, this is definitely not the case. Children need repetition and consistent reinforcement such as “Oh! You forgot, we pet the dog like this (then show)” or “When you touch the TV, you don’t get to play in this room for a while.” These clarifications of the “rules” are needed until age 25. Okay…that’s an exaggeration, but we know the human brain doesn’t reach its full development in the regions that direct impulse-control and wise decision making until age 25. So, expecting your three-year-old to “know better” is definitely not developmentally realistic. 

SHAMING

Kids when they lie, cheat, or fail. Shame is a fear tactic to make children feel worse in order to behave better. The unfortunate truth, however, is that shame usually causes children to just try not to get caught. Instead, try “seeing mistakes as wonderful opportunities to learn” (Jane Nelson). When your child lies, say “well, this gives us a chance to talk about the importance of trust,” or when your child fails a test because he doesn’t study, say “What a great chance to learn from this situation. What things do you think will help you do better in the future?” With less shame, there’s time for so much more learning.

TELLING instead of asking

One of the activities that we do in my parenting workshops includes a chance to hear some examples of “Telling Parents” vs. “Asking Parents” (Jane Nelson). “Telling parents” say, “Pick up your toys…Get your coat…Brush your teeth…Stop fighting with your brother.” Asking parents say “What do we do with our toys when we’re done…What can cover your arms with for going outside…What do you need to do so your teeth won’t feel skuzzy…How do we play with each other in our family?” Telling usually engages the “no” or “why” response in the listener. Did you notice the impulse even in yourself as you were reading? Using creative ways to ask instead of telling, usually engages your child to listen more, and to feel a sense of mastery each time they are able to create the answer for themselves.

Good luck with your Spring pruning, both outdoors and in your discipline strategies.

Flora McCormick, LCPC is a professional counselor and parenting coach in Bozeman.

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