Several years ago, I became frustrated when conventional discipline strategies not only made my son’s behavior more problematic, but also damaged our relationship. I started seeking alternatives, feeling that neither of us were benefiting from my traditional methods, and that’s when I discovered positive discipline.
Today, I’d like to share with you the 3-step process I have used for nearly 6 years now which I has been effective and truly life-changing for my family.
Step One: Assess the Need
I used to think that every misbehavior was nothing more than defiance – a sign that my child was testing his boundaries. Therefore, I felt the need to punish him for his misbehavior every time. This kept us in a terrible cycle for several months. Once I finally understood that misbehavior wasn’t a push against me but rather a signal of an underlying need, I was able to stop punishing and start listening.
An amazing thing happened. Once he actually felt listened to and understood, and once I started helping him instead of punishing him, his behavior improved dramatically.
It isn’t always obvious what the need behind the behavior is, and with toddlers and preschoolers who can’t verbalize their feelings and intentions well, it can be tricky to figure out what is causing the behavior. Even just understanding that there is a reason for it, that they are not just bent on being defiant, helps us to be compassionate and responsive.
If the need behind the behavior is simply hunger or tiredness, meeting that need resolves the problem. If the need is connection or attention, quality one-on-one time will improve behavior. Sometimes the need is to be taught skills so that they can thrive within the boundaries you’ve set for them. Assessing the need is the first step to resolving any behavior problem.
Step Two: Calm Yourself and Your Child
Undisciplined parents cannot effectively discipline children. Put on your own oxygen mask first. Ensure everyone’s safety, then take a moment to breathe. Move from emotionally reactive to cognitively responsive before you deal with the problem at hand. Once you are calm, help your child become calm. Calm brains take in and process information better than dysregulated brains, so wait until everyone’s rational brains prevail before moving forward to solve the issue.
To calm your child, try utilizing a calm-down area. Don’t worry, this won’t reward her for misbehavior. Instead, it teaches her a valuable and much needed life skill – the same one you just used when you disciplined yourself by calming down first – this teaches her self-discipline.
Step Three: Teach and Problem-Solve
The typical go-to methods, such as time out, spanking, and revocation of privileges, are effective in showing the child what they are not allowed to do, but fall short in teaching the child what they can and should do. That’s really the most important part because without knowing better ways to get their needs met, they will continue to use undesirable methods.