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Parenting Classes - Discipline. Learning to praise your child will get great results.

Discipline is one of the hardest parts of parenting. If you understand your parenting style (see lesson one), you know the things you need to change in order to provide the best care possible for your children. But knowing what we need to change does not show us how to make that change.

This series of parenting help topics will give you ways to change.

Today’s Parenting topic is Power Struggles Using Praise To Change Behavior. 

Consider five year old Aaron. Aaron is a bully. He bullies his playmates, his siblings, and even his parents. When playing, it’s not unusual to see Aaron grab a toy out of another child’s hands and then hit the child with it before walking away with the toy. His parents have given up trying to discipline him when he acts out. It always escalates to more than they can handle.

I sat down with Aaron's mother to help her change her parenting technique. Here is how it went:

Aaron takes a toy truck from his brother. Mom catches him and says: “Aaron, you give that back right now. He was playing with it.”

Aaron ignores her.

Mom plants herself in front of Aaron. “I said give it back. Now!”

Aaron continues to ignore her and begins playing with the truck.

Mom tries taking the truck away from Aaron. He struggles. He screams. He kicks. He throws a full blown temper tantrum. Mom gives up. Aaron has won.

But, in this parenting situation, everyone has just lost.

Mom has lost because she handed control over to a five year old. Aaron has lost because he is not learning valuable lessons needed to get through life. What can Mom do to discipline this out-of-control child?

Let’s back up to the very moment it happened.

Aaron takes the toy truck from his brother. – Now, mom pretty much knows what will happen here, but she does the same thing that she has always done. She tells him to give it back. This hasn’t worked in the past, it won’t work now.

She has just entered a power struggle. One that she will only win by force. Controlling our kids by force is not a good method. It will create untrusting, unwilling kids with low self esteem. Our goal is to create kids who make good decisions.

Now there are several parenting techniques she can try here. The one I recommended was: - look for a way to praise him.

That makes absolutely no sense right? OK, let’s break it down.

  1. Kids want attention. Any attention will do... good, bad ...

  2. Kids would rather have good attention than bad attention.

So, how can mom praise Aaron and give him good attention for taking the toy away from his brother?

Mom needs to start by doing something different than her usual tactic. Since she normally steps in and demands Aaron give back the toy, what can she do different?

She can stop and think. Think about her words and think about her body language.

I suggested that she take a deep breath and move in slowly. Walk all the way up to Aaron, gently take his hand and say “Come here.”

Now, he may resist. He’s used to mom being angry. He won’t trust her at this point. But mom should encourage him to take at least a few steps away from where he is. If mom can get him all the way to the couch so they can sit together that'll be great, if not, just a few steps will do.

Now, mom needs to get to his level. She needs to be careful that her body language is not aggressive. (She’s trying to avoid conflict.)

Now praise him. Whatever praise she can think of – as long as it is honest. “That’s better. Thank you for joining me.”

Aaron will probably still be a little distrusting, but mom has taken the first step.

And she is not going to insist that Aaron give back the toy. First she will make sure that Aaron understands he has broken the rule. But she will not accuse him of breaking a rule. (Accusations put a person on the defense.)

She will issue an “I” statement (see lesson three). “I don’t like seeing your brother treated badly.” She has not accused Aaron or demanded he return the toy. Keep in mind that Aaron may need some time to process what is going on here. He may or may not jump right in with a way to solve the problem.

The real life Aaron had no solutions. He refused to give the toy back. Mom simply told him that it was his choice. He could give the toy back to his brother, or he could take the toy to his room and play with it for 30 minutes – alone.

When Aaron chose to go play alone in his room, mom praised him for the choice. “That’s a good choice. I will call you in 30 minutes.”

Now, mom needs to be vigilant. She needs to find reasons to praise Aaron before he is bad so that he is the one to start looking for ways to gain her praise.

That evening, she finds one more good reason to praise Aaron. He ate all his vegetables. “I’m proud of you for eating your vegetables.”

And the next day she finds a couple more good reasons to praise him. Aaron soon realizes that he wants the good attention more than he wants the bad attention.

The “real life” Aaron had one more bullying incident before stopping it forever. Mom handled it exactly the way she did the first time.

Your child may change the first time you do it, or it may take several more attempts to get the lesson to sink in.

The two lessons used here are:

"Catch Them Being Good" and "Using I Statements". Both found in Lesson Three of
Focus on Kids Parenting Classes.

The key to this parenting situation is praise. When your child understands that it is possible to get praise from you, he will look for ways to earn praise. Be vigilant. Look for ways to praise your child. But, remember, too much praise and your child may stop believing you. Praise is a balancing act. You need it - but not too much or you risk having your child wonder if you are just saying it to make him feel good.

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