The following is a guest post from Sara Au and Peter L. Stavinoha, Ph.D., authors of Stress-Free Discipline: Simple Strategies for Handling Common Behavior Problems.
Despite what super-nannies say, there is no “right” way to parent a “problem” child. However, there are strategies that will work with most children in most situations. Why? Because these strategies reflect a firm understanding of normal childhood behavior and reinforce underlying principles of good parenting. Here are six of our Universal Strategies for stressed-out parents to try at home:
- Cultivate a positive relationship with Time-In. For any Time-Out to work as a negative consequence, your child must experience meaningful Time-In. By spending time together, your child will react more positively to your directions and feel comfortable opening up his or her feelings to you. This foundation can be extremely powerful both for averting a difficult situation and in dealing with one.
- Role-model good behavior. Children learn by watching. That’s why showing is more powerful than telling. If you stop at a crosswalk and wait for the signal before crossing, your children will learn to do the same. If you clean up messes without complaining, that’s what they’ll do…eventually. Good behavior sometimes takes a while to seep into a child’s consciousness.
- Prioritize your Absolutes. As parents, you will have Absolutes—behaviors you absolutely expect and behaviors you will absolutely not tolerate. Absolute means absolutely consistent: Every time your child crosses that line, you take action. Keep your family’s list of Absolutes very short. These are things you’re going to go to the mat for, and if you choose too many, you’ll be on the mat too often.
- Give good directions. Learning to give children simple, clear, and specific directions reduces miscommunication, frustration, and problem situations. To give good directions, start by ensuring you have your child’s attention. Break your directions down step by step. Explain the positive outcomes that result from a behavior. For example: “When you finishing picking up your toys, then we will go to the park.”
- Enforce limits and rules. Children must be aware of boundaries and expectations. Enforcing limits is an extension of the rules you’ve set, and clearly explained, to teach good behavior. When children have reached their limit, tell them—firmly, but politely. Remind them what they need to do at this point (i.e. turn off the TV). Give them a chance to follow your direction. Praise them if they do. If they do not follow your direction, step in and enforce the limit yourself (i.e. turn off the TV).
- Redirect your child’s focus. Redirection can defuse a situation before it explodes. When you see a problem coming—for instance, when a game of tag gets out of balance in favor of the biggest, fastest kid—redirect your child to another activity. Using this strategy with younger children provides a valuable lesson. If your child can begin redirecting himself as he gets older, he will be more prepared to avoid adolescent problems such as peer pressure, school cliques, and even fights.
- Yell (yes, you read that right). Yelling absolutely has a place in the positive parenting toolbox. You need to have something that tells your child this is a Code Red situation and they need to stop right now. But for it to be effective, it must be used very, very sparingly. While so many of us go straight to yelling as a first reaction, what that does is devalues the yell as an attention-grabber, so that eventually your child doesn’t even pay attention to it.
Sara Au is a mom and a journalist specializing in parenting and health issues.
Peter L. Stavinoha, Ph.D., is a dad and a pediatric neuropsychologist in the Center for Pediatric Psychiatry at Children’s Medical Center of Dallas and Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center.
Together, they are the authors of the popular book Stress-Free Potty Training.