Many parents confuse the terms “discipline” and “punishment.” Discipline comes from words like the Greek “disciplos,” which means “to teach” or Latin “disciplina,” which means “instruction.” Child discipline means teaching your child correct behavior. Sometimes punishment or consequences will be a part of discipline. But if discipline includes only punishment or only negative techniques, a parent will fail to teach a child correct behavior and will end up punishing a child for things the child has not yet had a chance to learn.
The ultimate goal of discipline is “self discipline” or to eventually be at a point where you child is able to discipline him-/herself. It is not just KNOWING right from wrong or correct behavior from incorrect behavior. It is CHOOSING the correct behavior when mom and dad aren’t there, when the teacher walks out of the room, or when the police are not on the street corner. Parents should stop and think about whether their methods of guidance and discipline are teaching the child to discipline him or herself.
Over the next few weeks we will be sharing some techniques parents can use to guide their children in a positive way. Today we are going to talk about positive discipline and communication.
Teach Yourself How to Communicate Positively
Many adults grew up in a “no” environment where they often heard “don’t,” “stop it,” “no-no,” “knock it off,” “naughty,” etc. However, research tells us that children learn better if we tell them what they SHOULD do, rather than what they shouldn’t do.
- Saying, “you need to walk,” is better than, “don’t run.”
- Saying, “you need to color on the paper,” is better than, “don’t color on that.”
- Saying, “talk quietly,” is better than, “stop yelling.”
For toddlers, the action word in a sentence is the most important word and the word they understand best. If you say, “now don’t you dare run” the word “run” will register first and that is what the toddler will do. And sometimes, a child knows what NOT to do, but he or she needs a better idea about what IS right to do.
For example, a three-year-old big sister knows what not to do with her baby brother after hearing her parents repeatedly say, “don’t pick him up,” or, “don’t try to carry him.” But now her brother is able to sit up on his own and she is playing with him. Their mom who is on the phone suddenly realizes that her children are no longer in the room. She finds them playing happily in her daughter’s room and when she asks her daughter how they got there, the big sister, who knows she isn’t supposed to carry her brother, proudly says, “I rolled him!”
The big sister knew what NOT to do, but she had to figure out for herself what she COULD do because no one had ever told her. Pretty creative, right?! A positive direction such as, “If you want to move your brother, come and tell me and I’ll help you,” would have remedied this situation.
Elements of a Positive Statement
- Tell the child what he or she should do.
- Use a Clarifying Statement. As your child gets older, you can add the “no” part to your positive statement to clarify acceptable and non acceptable behavior.
- You need to walk, not run.
- Color on the paper, not on the wall.
- Talk quietly; no yelling inside.
- You need to touch your friend gently; I won’t let you hit.
- Give an Explanatory Statement, or the “why.” When you feel your child is ready to hear the reason for your positive request, you can add it.
- You need to walk, not run. You might run into someone here.
- Color on the paper, not on the wall. It’s very hard to scrub crayon off the wall.
- Talk quietly; there is no yelling inside. If everyone yells, we can’t hear.
- You need to touch your friend gently; I won’t let you hit. Hitting hurts
Benefits of Positive Communication
Will using positive communication work immediately or all the time? No. Does this mean you should never say “no” to your child? No to that, too. We should try to make 75 percent of our communication with children positive. Positive directions are more effective, are less likely to be met with resistance, and they build your child’s self esteem.
Think before you say “no,” and reduce the negative directions. Replace the negative directions with positive when possible. Learning this technique is not easy and it will take practice; however, the benefits for your child will be worth it, and you will be laying the groundwork for effective child guidance.