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Some time ago I wrote about our story of raising a child without punishments (or time-outs) and I realized that the most difficult thing for me was to find the way to discipline my son while still being a positive and gentle parent. If you are looking for gentle ways to discipline young kids and to avoid any punishments, I’m sharing here 5 things that worked really well for us! These are some great tools that I’ve discovered while reading about positive discipline and I’m sure they could be useful for you too!
The most important thing about positive discipline
We often tend to associate discipline with punishment because we are used to thinking that the only way to correct a negative behavior is to punish the child. This is not true! In fact, studies show that punishments are inefficient on the long run and have several negative effects on kids. Instead, using gentle discipline methods is a great way to raise happy and confident kids!
When I think about positive parenting, I keep in mind one important thing that I’ve learned from Tina Payne Bryson (the author of “No drama discipline”): a right way to discipline a child is one that doesn’t make the child (or the parent) feel bad at the end. Punishing or spanking certainly don’t have this outcome. Instead, a gentle discipline method will make the child feel understood and learn a lesson in a positive manner. Pam Leo (the author of “Connection parenting”) wrote:
“You can’t teach children to behave better by making them feel worse”.
This should be a precious advice for every parent! The fundamental concept of the positive discipline is that there are no bad kids, just bad behaviors. So we don’t need to punish the child, we just need to teach him to correct the behavior.
Once we acknowledge that punishments and time-out are not the best alternatives for our children, the real challenge is to find those gentle methods that really work. And this is not easy at all! For me, the greatest inspiration for finding these methods was the book “No drama discipline”. It contains a lot of ideas and practical examples and it is a great way to start discovering positive discipline. After reading the book, I’ve started to look for methods that would work for us. In time I’ve managed to discover some powerful positive discipline tools and I’m sharing all of them here. I really hope that this will be a helpful inspiration for other parents too!
1. Prevent the difficult moments
Although this is not really a discipline method, I can’t emphasize more how important this is! A lot of difficult moments with our kids can be prevented. Prevention is far better (and easier) than dealing with a tantrum or a negative behavior.
Here are 3 efficient ways to prevent some of the difficult moments:
– building and maintaining a strong connection with the child by spending quality time together every day. (A child who feels connected with the parent is less likely to misbehave.)
– spending special time with the child for creating a safe place for him to express his emotions and fears. [ Here are more details about special time: Why it’s important to have special time with kids (+ 5 ideas). ]
– identifying the triggers before the situation escalates. (Sometimes children misbehave because they feel tired, hungry or frustrated. If we are able to identify the triggers on time we will be able to prevent a lot of moments when the situation goes out of control.)
2. Use time-in instead of time-out
Parents often use time-outs because they want to punish the negative behaviors and to teach the children to calm down. The problem with time-outs is that they send the wrong message to the kids. They understand that they are not “wanted” when they misbehave and that they have no support in dealing with difficult feelings.
A more gentle approach is to use time-in. This basically means that the parent takes the “time-out” together with the child. If the child is very angry or upset, the parent can just hug him and reassure him that he is not alone. After the child calms down, the parent can explain what was wrong about the behavior and ask the child about possible solutions. This is a great opportunity to teach kids to regulate their emotions and also to find better alternatives to the negative behaviors.
[ You can find a great article about using time-in instead of time-out on the One Time Through blog: TIME-IN: A POSITIVE DISCIPLINE ALTERNATIVE TO TIME-OUTS. ]
3. Set limits with empathy and respect
Gentle parenting doesn’t mean that the child doesn’t have to follow rules or that the parent isn’t in charge of setting the limits. The only difference is the way we set these limits. We must be firm with following the rules, but we also need to be empathetic. It’s normal for kids to protest against some limits that we set, so it’s our job to explain the rules over and over again and make sure that the children follow them. Sometimes kids cry a lot when we forbid them to do something and they really need our support for dealing with the frustration. The child needs to know that the parent will not change his mind even if he throws a tantrum. But, at the same time, he also needs to know that he is entitled to feel upset and that the parent understands his struggle.
An efficient way to reduce the frustration caused by the limits is to offer choices to the child. For example, if the child needs to go to bed, we could say: “It’s bedtime now. Do you want to read a story or two before going to sleep?”. Or if the child is protesting against going out, we could say: “We need to leave now. Do you want to take the teddy or the little dino outside with you?”.
The fact that we offer choices is allowing the kids to feel more in control of their lives. This helps to eliminate a lot of negative feelings.
4. Involve the child in finding a solution
Positive discipline states that negative behaviors are the ways in which the kids tell us that they need our support for dealing with some powerful feelings. The way that we react makes the difference between making them feel worse or teaching them a useful lesson.
It’s always important to discover the reason behind the negative behavior. Once we know what triggers the behavior, we can help the child to deal with it and behave better. Having a discussion with the child about what makes him misbehave is a great starting point. After we establish the real cause, we can also imply the child in the problem-solving process.
We can ask him what solution does he thinks that will help him to act better next time. Sometimes kids come up with amazing ideas and they are more willing to respect a rule if they’ve created it. If the child doesn’t have an idea, we can present him two alternatives and let him choose. Next time when the negative behavior is happening, it’s helpful to remind to the child about the previous discussion. A short reminder of the rule that you set last time can be very useful for stopping the behavior from happening again.
5. Never decide anything out of anger
This is a precious piece of advice! There are moments when we get angry and we are likely to say or do things that we’ll later regret. This is why we should never take any disciplinary decisions while we are still mad. Anger can make us raise our voice or resort to time-outs or punishments. Instead of taking any action out of anger we should take a short time-out to calm down.
I wrote more about this here: What helped me become a calmer mom and be gentle with my child even if I’m angry. If we are able to regain our calm we will not let our emotions interfere with the way we discipline our kids. This will allow us to find gentle methods instead of other less appropriate methods and this is great for our children!
Finding gentle ways to discipline young kids is a difficult mission! For me, it was a real struggle to be able to find these alternatives. If you are also trying to discipline your kids in a positive manner, here are two books that are really useful:
– “No-Drama Discipline: The Whole-Brain Way to Calm the Chaos and Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind” by Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson
– “How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk” by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish.
If you have any other recommendations of positive discipline methods that worked good for you, I would be glad to find them out! I’m sure that any advice is precious for dealing with the difficult moments that will appear in the future!
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