A few years back, I was conducting a training session on behavior management techniques. One of the participants said it would be so easy to keep children in check if they came with remote controls. I wonder if there are other parents out there who wish for the same. If so, I have good news for them: there is a remote control of sorts, and it is called “positive discipline.” With its help, you can teach your children to suppress their undesirable or inappropriate behaviors, exercise effective self-control, and build social skills.
Before I share different strategies, let’s discuss what behavior and discipline mean from the perspective of positive discipline.
What is behavior?
In the context of wishing for remote controls, it means childrens’ behavior ought to be simply a response to an environmental stimulus. To clarify, if behavior was an automatic response, then every child would respond similarly to a specific stimulus. For example, all would start eating when food is served, cry aloud when they fall down, or (in the case of older children) feel depressed about failing a test.
Does it really happen that way, though? No, because every child has different experiences, personality type, home environment, and outlook on life. The reaction is a manifestation of what is going on inside the child’s head. We can’t change or control anything by addressing the overt behavior alone—we have to provide an environment conducive to addressing both overt and covert behaviors. Eventually, the child will learn to react in a socially appropriate, positive way.
What is discipline?
At times parents fail to differentiate between punishment and positive discipline. Positive discipline doesn’t mean being harsh or punitive; it means being kind and firm.
What mostly shapes and controls young children’s behavior are external feedback and response. The locus of control is externalized. Through positive discipline, you can help your child connect to the right kind of feedback and response. At the same time, you can help them develop valuable life skills and social abilities.
Positive discipline techniques
1. Understand the child’s developmental requirements
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, it is important for parents to have a good developmental IQ. Every developmental period has different requirements. For example, toddlers learn by exploring their surroundings. By understanding this need, you can set realistic boundaries for their safe interaction with the environment.
2. Model good behavior
Believe me, you can’t teach your children to stop screaming if they see you yell at others. If you want them to speak politely, practice what you preach in front of them. At the same time, explain why being polite is important.
Another version of this modeling technique is illustrating desirable behavior through a favorite TV show character, a puppet, or a favorite toy by using role-play.
3. Offer choices
I’m sure many of you have engaged in power struggles with your children, perhaps when they refuse to eat something you deem healthy or wear clothes you pick for them. To avoid a stalemate, consider offering options, for example, 2 healthy meals or 2 outfits to choose from.
4. Reinforce the behavior
The basic principle behind the concept of reinforcement is that positive consequences can increase the probability of a behavior in the future. Simply put, when you find your children engaged in a desirable behavior—such as helping a sibling, cleaning their room, or following your instructions—reward them promptly and generously.
5. Divert attention
It is easy to divert the attention of young children from one activity to another. Simply introduce a favorite toy, play a favorite cartoon show on TV, or go out for a walk.
6. Set limits and be consistent
Children get confused or don’t take you seriously if you are not consistent in your rules and schedules. If your rules say no playing outside after 7 pm or bedtime at 9 pm, make sure you enforce them consistently.
7. Talk to the child
The overt behavior is a physical manifestation of a child’s thoughts, ideas, unmet needs, stress, or anxiety. Find the time to talk to your child. Listen to their thoughts and ideas and try to understand their feelings. This will give you insight into the underlying reasons for a specific behavior, making it easier to manage it if it’s inappropriate or disruptive.
8. Encourage physical activities
Children have a lot of energy that needs positive channeling. Making physical activities part of the daily routine not only improves general health but also helps reduce inappropriate and disruptive behaviors.
9. Give reminders
Even adults set reminders so they don’t miss important events or activities. Children need reminders, too. If you see your toddler inching towards the wall with a crayon in their hand, remind them writing on the wall is a no-no. However, I suggest that you avoid using a reminder with a “no” word in it. So, instead of saying “No writing on the wall,” you can go with “Here’s a piece of paper to write on.”
10. Don’t give positive attention to undesirable behavior
Sometimes we unintentionally reinforce a negative behavior by giving it attention. Consider this scenario: you are busy in the kitchen, but when your child starts screaming without a reason, you rush out and try to calm them down. If this happens a few times, the behavior is strengthened because the child gets your attention.
If you are sure that this screaming is without any physical or environmental reason and the child is in a safe place, avoid going to the child. When the child fails to get your attention, this behavior will gradually fade away.
11. Look for the triggers
If you notice that your child has meltdowns mostly when hungry or sleepy, modify his eating and sleeping schedule to avoid this trigger.
One of my friends has a child with autism, and she observed that her son has a meltdown when there is an abrupt change in his schedule. She was able to reduce the number of his meltdowns by sitting down with him in the morning and discussing the schedule for the day.
12. Instill a sense of self-worth
You can help your child build self-esteem by encouraging them to help others at home and in the community. Children who feel a sense of belonging are less likely to exhibit socially inappropriate behaviors.
Final words on positive discipline
In order to exercise positive discipline, you have to be kind, empathetic, and firm. Positive discipline can be rewarding when applied properly. Through it, you can help your children build essential life and social skills, develop empathy, and learn self-control.