Many parents have such great hearts, are well educated, and genuinely desire to direct their children by using positive words and affirmation instead of negative directives and punishment. That is to be commended, and everyone agrees that this is in the child’s best interest. It is always best to treat human beings with respect, regardless of their age, 100% of the time.
There seems to be some confusion about what IS positive. One of the most common mistakes, that I see, in parenting among good parents is a good parent refusing to impose logical consequences of a child’s behavior/actions on that child because it might be negative, inconvenient, or cause the child to be unhappy. This is a tragic mistake and will ultimately cause a child much more harm than good. Let me give an example to illustrate and my suggestions:
Mom and Elle are out shopping and Elle wants to walk beside the stroller. Mom decides to give Elle a break and let her out. Mom gets on eye level, makes sure Elle understands the rules of holding onto the stroller, staying with her, etc…and she also makes sure Elle understands the consequences of not following the rules. If Elle runs away from mom, mom will give Elle a verbal warning and return her to the side of the stroller reminding her of the rules. This is accomplished by getting back on the child’s eye level. Children tend to forget, and the parent’s role is to help them control their impulses when they are lost in the moment. If Elle runs away again after one warning and follow-through, Mom simply buckles Eller back in the stroller. There should be no bargaining, no bribery, no guilt, just the logical consequence. Elle might be unhappy, and mom might think she just forgot again…but mom has to be consistent, and mom has to follow through. As mom does this each time, Elle will learn that every action she takes has a consequence.
Mom should compliment Elle at how well she listened if she IS holding on and walking with her. The two should even stop for a healthy snack or something to break up the walk. It is equally important to reward appropriate and good behavior with praise, acknowledgement, and fun activities so that each child understands that good behavior gets your attention. Again, you are working to teach your child that there are logical consequences for behavior. It works in both ways, so it’s important that the logical consequences are not just for negative behavior. It must be for ALL behavior.
Understand, that to help your child take responsibility for her actions, you must start early teaching her that she controls herself and that there are consequences for the choices SHE makes. One of the most important things we strive to instill in our children in the first five years of life is healthy self-esteem—feeling good about themselves. I read a quote the other day by Joan Didion that said, “The willingness to accept responsibility for one’s own life is the source from which self-respect springs.” It is so important that we are consistent in this area with our small children.
I suggest you choose your battles wisely and have only rules that are necessary to the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual development of the child, the family, and the community. However, once you have explained the appropriate rules for the very young child and that child clearly decides to violate the rule, you must lovingly impose the consequence if you are going to teach your child personal responsibility. It is a very important step in building their self-esteem. It is also your responsibility to “catch” your children following the rules and make sure that there are great consequences for those actions and that THOSE actions get more attention than the negative behavior. “Reward what you want to see repeated.” Make life fun. Give your children specific praise, such as “I saw you stop when you got to the edge of the sidewalk and wait for me. I am SO proud of you for remembering our safety rules.” “You made my heart smile.” Keep letting them KNOW when they get it right. That’s how you keep it as positive as possible.
by Donna McClintock, COO Children’s Choice Learning Centers