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Finding a strategy on how to discipline a child in a positive and gentle way is not easy! It took me some time to discover a strategy that really works and I’m so grateful that I did. And I’m glad to be able to share it with you.
Disciplining my child is one of the most challenging jobs that I have as a parent. I want my son to understand why some behaviors are wrong and I want him to learn to make good choices. But I also want to do this in a positive way.
The most powerful way to discipline a child is to get them to truly listen to what you have to say and to support them to learn from their mistakes.
This is what I’ve tried to do ever since my son was a toddler. And in time, I’ve found a strategy that works!
The best thing about it is that it allows me to be the gentle parent that I want to be. And it helps my son communicate better and learn how to do better the next time.
4 strategies that are NOT effective and why
Before sharing with you this strategy, I want to quickly discuss the reasons why some popular disciplining strategies are not effective.
For me, understanding why these strategies don’t work helped me find better ways to handle difficult parenting moments.
Also, this allowed me to control my emotions and reactions a lot better because I understood that some of my behaviors are just making things a lot worse.
My first instinct when something bad happened was to lecture my son about it. And it took me some work to keep this under control. But using a lot of words and repeating the same thing over and over again is just overwhelming the child. After a while, the child stops listening to you.
This method is not promoting communication and problem-solving. It only brings additional disconnection between you and your child.
This method is ineffective because it focuses on repeating the same thing over and over again although it didn’t have any results in the first place. When your child is not listening to something you say, repeating the request in exactly the same way will bring exactly the same effect.
In time, the child will just “filter” these requests and ignore them. This is not something that the child does to annoy you, but more of a natural response to nagging. (If you ever had someone nagging you, then you probably understand this reaction.)
Yelling is not making your message more powerful. It only scares the child and makes it harder for you to connect with them and find a positive way to solve the problem.
Stopping my impulse of raising my voice is something that I constantly need to work on. Because it doesn’t come naturally for me to be calm in any situation. But I understood that raising my voice only shows my child that I’m not able to control my emotions. And this is not a lesson that I want him to learn from me!
Punishments don’t solve the problem. They only make the child feel worse. But they don’t offer any meaningful lessons, they don’t promote communication, and they certainly don’t help us build a strong relationship with the child.
photo credit: Yuganov Konstantin / shutterstock.com
One effective strategy that gets kids to listen and teaches them to do better
I’ve discovered this strategy after I started to read more about positive discipline. Discovering this way of disciplining has been one of the best things that ever happened to me as a parent.
If you want to discover powerful tips and ideas for implementing positive discipline, here are two books that helped me a lot and offered me the tools that I needed as a mom:
- Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: How to Stop Yelling and Start Connecting
- No-Drama Discipline: The Whole-Brain Way to Calm the Chaos and Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind.
Learning about this helped me find a strategy that works great for us. Here are the 5 steps that I follow every time my son does something wrong and I want him to listen to me and behave in a better way.
1. I make sure that my child is ready to listen to what I’m saying.
Trying to communicate with a child who is in a middle of a tantrum is totally ineffective. Also, trying to communicate with a child who is very angry and throws things all around is not going to work.
So the first step I take is to create a safe space that encourages communication. If my son does something bothering I gently stop his behavior. Or I remove him from the situation. Then I stay with him and I offer my support until he calms down.
Sometimes this means just sitting next to him. Other times, he wants to stay in my arms and tell me about his frustrations.
photo credit: Evgeny Bakharev / shutterstock.com
I name the problem and the feelings. Once he is calmer and able to listen to what I say, I name the problem without judging or shaming.
Here are some examples:
“I saw that you were very angry and this made you throw toys at another child.”
“You were very frustrated and you told me some mean words when I asked you to clean up your toys.”
“You wanted to have that toy from the store and you started to yell so loud when I told you that we cannot buy it. I think that you were very angry about this.”
Then, I ask him to confirm that this was the situation and that I understood well what was happening. Sometimes there are reasons or details that I don’t notice and it’s helpful to have him tell his opinion too.
2. I ask an open-ended question that shows him that I am committed to helping him find a better way to handle the situation.
Here are some example of questions that I often use:
“How can I help?” (especially when I see that he is overwhelmed by the situation)
“What could you do to make things better?” (especially when the situation involves other persons affected by his behavior)
“What good solution did we find the last time when this happened?” (when he faces a situation that we discussed in the past)
An open-ended question encourages communication. The child understands that the parent is on their side. And this helps them open up and learn better choices.
photo credit: Yulia YasPe / shutterstock.com
Important: The question “How can I help you?” is very powerful because it builds connection. But this doesn’t mean that I do whatever he wants me to do.
If his request is reasonable, I’m glad to put it into practice. When not, I explain him the reasons and alternatives.
e.g. If he acts out because I didn’t buy him a toy from the store, sometimes his answer to this question is “I want you do buy me that toy”. But buying him the toy doesn’t solve the problem. It only makes it worse.
Instead of teaching him to find better alternatives and deal with frustration, I would only teach him that screaming can get him things. So if he answers that he wants me to buy the toy, I tell him that I cannot do that, I explain him my reasons, and I offer him some alternatives.
These can be putting the toy on his wish list for the next time when he receives a present, helping him save money to buy it later, and so on.
Using gentle discipline doesn’t mean being permissive! It doesn’t mean giving up to any requests the child might have. It just means that we help the child deal with their feelings and support him in finding good solutions.
3. I involve my child in problem-solving.
Sometimes the answer to the open-ended question already brings us some good solutions.
When this doesn’t happen, I ask him if he would like to come up with some solutions or if he wants me to come up with some suggestions. We discuss every idea and agree on a solution that is good for both of us.
If the same situation happened in the past, we discuss the solution that we found last time. Then, we see if we need to find another solution or if we just need to make some adjustments to make the previous solution work better.
photo credit: Yuganov Konstantin / shutterstock.com
4. I end up the discussion by repeating the solution that we found.
After we find a solution that is good for both of us, I repeat it to make sure that we remember it next time. I try to express it in just a few words.
Here are some examples of the situations named above:
“If another child makes you feel very angry, you can take some time to calm down before doing something about it. Or you can come to me to find together a solution that doesn’t involve hitting.”
“If something I ask you to do makes you feel frustrated, you can use kind words to tell me this and we will find a solution together.”
“If you want a toy from the store and we cannot buy it, we can add it to your wish list or find a way to save money and buy it some other time.”
At the end of this kind of discussion, we both feel better. I have the chance to discipline him in a positive way and teach him to do better next time. And he has the chance to feel understood and to improve his problem-solving skills.
Most important, our relationship has the chance to become stronger instead of being affected by the disciplining moments.
Of course, things don’t go smoothly every single time. But I’m convinced that this happens with every disciplining method.
There are moments when communication between us doesn’t work well. Or when I make mistakes in approaching the situation (like raising my voice or beginning to lecture my son). But the good news is that connection is helping us overcome these moments!
I’m very grateful that I’ve discovered this way of handling disciplining moments. And I truly believe that it can help you too, in case you’re looking for a positive way to discipline your kids.
photo credit preview photo: Evgeny Atamanenko / shutterstock.com