Sunday, April 20, 2014

Agreements - A Positive Discipline Tool Card

Why don’t children keep their agreements? Could it be that sometimes parents say, “This is what we are going to do? Do you agree?” When the question is asked in an authoritarian manner that doesn’t leave room for argument, children often shrug in agreement, which really means, “Sure, I’ll agree to get you off my back, but I don’t really agree.”


Children will usually keep their agreements when they have been respectfully involved in creating the agreements, which requires several steps. The reason for the word “usually” will be discussed later.

1. Sit down together during a calm time (not at the time of conflict) and have a respectful discussion about the issue that requires an agreement. It is important to wait until everyone has calmed down before a rational discussion can be achieved.

2. During the discussion time, be sure that everyone has an opportunity to share his or her thoughts and feelings about the issue. Interruptions are not allowed when someone is sharing. Some families use a three minute sand flow timer. The person who is sharing can have the whole three minutes, or can stop before his or her time is up by saying so. The person or people listening are not allowed to defend, explain, or give their opinion until it is their turn.

3. Brainstorming comes only after everyone has had a chance to share. Make brainstorming fun where any suggestion is written down—no matter how wild or crazy. Do not give opinions about brainstorm ideas. This is not the time for discussion. Just get lots of ideas written down on paper. It is a good idea to focus on solutions.

4. During agreement time, it is okay to discuss the pros and cons of each brainstormed idea. You might start by asking:
  • Is there anything that should be eliminated because it is not practical? (Perhaps you can’t afford it, or you don’t have other resources available to accomplish the idea.)
  • Is there anything that should be eliminated because it is disrespectful to anyone involved?
  • Is there anything that should be eliminated because it wouldn’t really solve the problem?

5. Hopefully there will be some suggestions left. Choose one that everyone can agree to.

6. If appropriate, choose an exact time for completion of the agreement. For example, if your daughter agreed to mow the lawn, negotiate for a time that works for both of you.

7. When an agreement isn’t kept, respectfully ask, “What was our agreement?” Read on to discover why this may be necessary.

The reason children “usually” keep their agreements when they have been respectfully involved. Children are children. Even when they really do intend to keep their agreements, they don’t have the same priorities as adults. They may intend to mow the lawn, but since it is not high on their priority list, it may be “forgotten.” How often do you get to the items you should do, but that are not high on your list of priorities? Since having the lawn mowed is high on your priority list, and since you have respectfully involved your child in creating an agreement, which included a specific deadline; it is okay to respectfully ask your child, “What was our agreement?”

If these steps don’t promote successful agreement, start again from the top. During step two you may discover the reasons—and you will be giving everyone an opportunity to keep learning from mistakes.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Follow Through With Children

Julie complained that her four-year-old son, Chad, is very responsive and cooperative with his father about going to bed, but when she puts him to bed and tries to leave, Chad yells for her to come back and wants her to lay down with him. Every time she tries to leave, he cries for her to come back. Julie feels exhausted and resentful that she can’t have the evening to herself or enjoy time with her husband. She wonders why she can't get the same cooperation from Chad as Dad does.

Why is it that children behave one way with one parent and differently with another? Because, parents behave differently and children quickly learn what “works” with one parent and not the other.  They learn which parent they can manipulate and which one they can’t. So, what is the difference between what these parents do when they both want to use Positive Discipline? (Children who “cooperate” out of fear of punishment are not being cooperative, they are being compliant.)

Follow Through

Parents sometimes believe that giving children what they want and not burdening them with rules will show them that they are loved. We want to stress that permissiveness is not the way to help children develop initiative—or any other valuable social or life skill. If you say it, mean it, and if you mean it, follow through.

Children know when you mean what you say and when you don’t. It is really that simple.  Say it; mean it; and follow-through.

Parents who say what they mean and mean what they say do not have to use a lot of words. In fact, the fewer words used, the better. When you use a lot of words you are lecturing and children tune out lectures.

One reason you may use a lot of words is that you are trying to convince yourself, as well as your child, that what you want is okay. If what you are asking is reasonable, have confidence in your request.

Some parents lack confidence because they feel guilty. They are afraid their poor little darling will suffer trauma for the rest of his life if his every desire is not met. Children will suffer much more throughout their lives if they develop the belief that love means others should take care of them and give them whatever they want. They will suffer when they don’t learn they can survive disappointments in life—and discover how capable they are in the process.

Christine shares what happened when she learned to mean what she said and to follow-through.

“Not too long ago, my daughter knew she could get away with very little with her father. She went to bed for him like a Saint. When it came to me, she knew she could push me to the ends of the earth, and get whatever she wanted, even if the whole experience was negative. We spent hours, at night with her making requests such as, rub my back, put cream on my leg, fix my blankets—all just part of a power trip she was taking me on. I felt guilty and so I continued the long and drawn-out bed times that left me exhausted and unable to finish my nightly duties.

Since reading the Positive Discipline books, I learned that much of her self-worth comes from doing things for herself, and feeling accomplished.  That opened my eyes. I cut out all the special services knowing she can do things herself, and it was my job to encourage her to do so.

We follow the same bedtime routine every night. I read her a book and then I remind her that she is a big girl and she can put herself to sleep. If she gets out of the bed, without saying a word, I walk her back to her bed. If it happens more than once, I remind her that I will no longer put her blankets back on nor will I refill her water. She knows I mean what I say. After two nights of doing this, bedtime has changed all the way around. I am so thankful for what I learned in Positive Discipline. What was once a dreaded time, is now a nice, quiet time to wind down from the day.”

Monday, April 7, 2014

Problem Solving

We can use daily challenges as opportunities to practice problem solving WITH our children. Children are great problem solvers when we give them the opportunity to brainstorm and come up with solutions. What a great life skill—to teach kids to focus on solutions when there is a problem.

One summer we went backpacking with several friends. Our ten-year-old son, Mark, was a very good sport and carried his pack the long six miles into the canyon. When we were getting ready for the long, steep trek back out, Mark complained about how uncomfortable his pack was. His dad jokingly remarked, "You can take it. You’re the son of a Marine." Mark was in too much pain to think this was very funny, but he started the climb anyway. He hadn’t gone very far ahead of us when we heard his pack come crashing down the hill toward us. I thought he had fallen and asked, with concern, what had happened.

Mark angrily cried, "Nothing! It hurts!" He continued climbing without his pack.

Everyone else observed this with interest. One adult offered to carry the pack for him. I was feeling very embarrassed—and had the additional social pressure of having written a book on Positive Discipline!

I quickly overcame my ego and remembered that the most important thing was to solve the problem in a way that would help Mark feel encouraged and responsible. I first asked the rest of the party to please hike on ahead so that we could handle the problem in private.

I said to Mark, "I’ll bet you feel really angry that we wouldn’t pay serious attention when you tried to tell us your pack hurt before we even started."

Mark said, "Yeah, and I’m not carrying it."

I told him I didn’t blame him and would feel exactly the same way under the circumstances.
His dad said he was sorry and asked for another chance to solve the problem.
Mark visibly dropped his anger. He was now ready to cooperate. He and his dad figured out a way to stuff his coat over the sore part to cushion the pack. Mark carried the pack the rest of the way with very few, minor complaints.

Monday, March 31, 2014


It is much easier to take responsibility for a mistake when it is seen as a learning opportunity rather than something to be ashamed of. If we see mistakes as bad we tend to feel inadequate and discouraged and may become defensive, evasive, judgmental, or critical of others or ourselves. On the other hand, when mistakes are seen as opportunities to learn, recognizing them will seem like an exciting venture. "I wonder what I will learn from this one?" Self forgiveness is an important element of the first R of Recovery.

Have you ever said you were sorry to a child? If so, how did that child respond? I ask this question during lectures all over the world, and the response is universal. When adults sincerely apologize, children usually say, "That’s okay, Mom" (or Dad, or Teacher.) Children can be feeling angry and resentful in response to disrespectful behavior one minute (and adults probably deserve it) and switch to total forgiveness when the adult says, "I am sorry."

The first two Rs of Recovery—(recognize and reconcile)—create a connection before the third R, working on solutions. Trying to work on solutions before creating a connection is totally nonproductive.

None of us are perfect parents, so not only do we need to teach our children that mistakes are wonderful opportunities to learn, we need to practice this skill ourselves. As human beings it is common for us to become emotionally hooked and lose our common sense (revert to our reptilian brains). We then thoughtlessly react instead of acting thoughtfully. One thing I love about the Positive Discipline principles is that no matter how many mistakes I make, and no matter how many messes I create with my mistakes; I can always go back to the principles, learn from my mistakes, clean up the mess I made—and make things better than they had been before the mistakes.

Monday, March 24, 2014


Close your eyes and remember the messages you received from parents and teachers about mistakes when you were a child.  When you made a mistake, did you receive the message that you were stupid, inadequate, bad, a disappointment, a klutz?  When hearing these messages, what did you decide about yourself and about what to do in the future?

Remember, you were not aware that you were making a decision at the time; but when you look back it is usually obvious what decisions you made based on what you now believe and what you now do. Some people decided they were bad or inadequate.  Others decided they should not take risks for fear of humiliation if their efforts fell short of perfection. Many decided to become approval junkies and try to please adults at great cost to their self-esteem. Some are obsessed with the need to prove their worth. And some decided they would be sneaky about their mistakes and do everything they could to avoid getting caught.

When parents and teachers give children negative messages about mistakes, they usually mean well.  They are trying to motivate children to do better for their own good.  They haven’t taken time to think about the long-term results of their methods and how the decisions children make stay with them for the rest of their lives.

So much parenting and teaching is based on fear. Adults fear they aren’t doing a good job if they don’t make children do better. Too many are more concerned about what the neighbors will think than about what their children are learning.  Others are afraid that children will never learn to do better if they don’t instill them with fear and humiliation.  Most are afraid because they don’t know what else to do—and fear that if they don’t inflict blame, shame and pain, they will be acting permissively.

There is another way.  It is not permissive, and it truly motivates children to do better without paying the price of a lowered sense of self-worth. Teach children to be excited about mistakes as opportunities to learn.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to hear an adult say to a child, “You made a mistake. That is fantastic. What can we learn from it?” And I do mean “we.” Many mistakes are made because we haven’t taken time for training and encouragement. We often provoke rebellion instead of inspiring improvement.

Children need daily exposure to the value of mistakes—and learning from them in a safe environment. Many families have found it helpful to invite everyone to share a mistake of the day and what they learned from it during dinnertime. Children can truly learn the courage to be imperfect when they can laugh and learn from mistakes.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Jobs: Why Teenagers Don't Do Chores And How To Use Follow-Through

By Jane Nelsen and Lynn Lott (Adapted from Positive Discipline for Teenagers)

How many times has your teenager broken a promise to mow the lawn, clean the kitchen, pick up towels on the bathroom floor before leaving for school, or to rinse his bowl before the cereal becomes glued to the surface?  If you didn't answer, "Many times!" you don't have a normal teenager.

Teenagers do not break promises to do chores because they are premeditating con artists.  We believe teens fully intend to keep their promises when they are made. So what happens?

They forget!  Why do they forget?  Because they are busy being teenagers, and chores are not priorities for them.  Their priorities are friends, cars, zits, clothes, music, texting, trying to figure out what to do about grades, sex, drugs, individuating (finding out who they are separate from their parents) and getting a date for the Prom six months in advance.

Chores are not even in the top 100 of their concerns.  Does this mean they should be excused from doing chores?  Absolutely not.  Kids need to participate in chores to learn responsibility, cooperation, give and take, and many other life skills. It does mean that parents can be much more effective in achieving the goal of teen participation in chores with dignity and respect when they "get into the teens world" and understand the life tasks and priorities of teenagers. Then use follow-through.


Follow-through is an excellent tool for parents who understand the world of teenagers, and the importance of their participation in chores. There are four steps to follow-through, four traps that defeat follow-through, and four hints for effective follow-through.

Four Steps for Effective Follow-Through 

  1. Have a friendly discussion where everyone voices his/her feelings and thoughts.
  2. Brainstorm for possible solutions and choose one that is mutually agreeable.
  3. Agree on a specific time deadline (to the minute.)
  4. Understand children well enough to know that the deadline probably won’t be met and simply follow through with your part of the agreement by holding the child accountable.

The concept of follow-through is simple unless you make the mistake of falling into one or all of the:

Four Traps That Defeat Effective Follow-Through

  1. Wanting kids to have the same priorities as adults.
  2. Getting into judgments and criticisms instead of sticking to the issue.
  3. Not getting agreements in advance, which include specific time deadline.
  4. Not maintaining dignity and respect for child and self.

Once you have the four steps for effective follow-though and the four traps that defeat effective follow-through under your belt, you will still run into trouble if you don’t follow the four hints for effective follow through:

Four Hints for Effective Follow-Through

  1. Keep comments simple and concise. (“I notice you didn’t mow the lawn. Would you please do that now.”)
  2. In response to objections, ask: “What was our agreement?”
  3. In response to further objections, shut your mouth and use nonverbal communication (point to your watch, smile knowingly, give a hug and point to your watch again).
  4. When the child concedes to keep the agreement (sometimes with seeming annoyance), say, “Thank you for keeping our agreement.”
Some have objected that if follow-through doesn’t work, the teen should experience a consequence. What they really mean by a consequence is some kind of punishment such as extra chores or missing time with friends.
Those who are familiar with Positive Discipline know that we don’t advocate any form of punishment. Some believe the only alternative is permissiveness—which is another “no, no” in Positive Discipline. We advocate kindness AND firmness, connection before correction, and focusing on solutions “with” your teen. There are many Positive Discipline tools that meet these criteria. Follow-through is just one tool that is very effective when parent and child have a good relationship and are not engaged in a power struggle or revenge cycle. If follow-through doesn’t work, it might be your clue to stop all “discipline tools” and focus on making sure you have a good connection with your teen.
One way to do this is to acknowledge what might be going on. “I’m getting the feeling that we are engaged in a power struggle, and I can see what I’m doing to create that. I apologize. You mean too much to me to let that hurt our relationship. Let’s take some time out and then start again.”

Monday, March 10, 2014

Positive Time-Out

A Positive Discipline Tool Card

Imagine you are an employee who has made a mistake, and your boss comes to you and says, “You go to time-out and think about what you have done. And don’t come out until I say you can.” Or, if you are married, imagine your spouse coming to you and saying, “I don’t like your behavior. You are grounded for a week.” In either of these scenario’s what would you be thinking, feeling, and deciding. Is there any chance that you would say, “Oh, thank you so much. This is so helpful. I’m feeling so encouraged and empowered and can hardly wait to do better.”  Not likely.

Where did we ever get the crazy idea that we have to make children feel bad before they will do better? This crazy idea is the basis for punitive time-out. It doesn’t work for children any more than it would work for adults.

Children are always making decisions about themselves (am I good or bad, capable or not capable, etc.), decisions about others, (are they supportive, friendly, etc. or not), and then decisions about what they will do in the future. These decisions help create a child's personality (even though many are made at a subconscious level).

When children are sent to punitive time-out, they are likely to be thinking, "I won't get caught next time." "I'll get even." Or, worst of all, "I'm bad." This is why the NAEYC (National Association for the Education of Young Children) is very much against time-out.

Positive Time-Out

Positive time-out is totally different. A child (or students in a classroom) designs a "positive time-out area" filled with pleasant things to help him calm down until he can access his rational brain and "do better."

After he has designed his "positive time-out area." he gives it another name such as "my space," or my "my cool off spot." Giving positive time-out another name helps eliminate the negative feelings of punitive time-out.”

Then allow your child to "choose" to go to his positive time-out instead of being sent.  During a conflict you might say, “Would it help you to go to your ‘feel good place?” If your child says, “No,” ask, “Would you like me to go with you?” (Often this is encouraging to a child and helps increase a connection, as well as calming down.) If your child still says, “No,” (or is having such a temper tantrum, she can’t even hear you,) say, “Okay, I’m going to my time-out place.” What a great model for your children.

Go to your own Positive Time-Out

Of course it is a good idea for you to have your own positive time-out area so you can model this self-regulation skill. Going to your own positive time-out may be the best place to start during a conflict. Instead of asking your child if it would help her to go to her feel good place, just go to your own. Your time-out could be a physical place. It could also take place by taking deep breaths, counting to ten (or 100), meditating on how much you love your child, etc.

Not for Children under the age of Three to Four

If a child isn't old enough to design his own positive-time-out area, he is not old enough to understand any kind of time-out—even positive time-out.

Choose another Positive Discipline Tool Card

Remember that even positive-time-out is not always the most effective parenting tool to help children learn self-discipline, responsibility, problem-solving skills, and other valuable social and life skills.  That is why there are 52 tool cards.

Listen below to an excerpt from Building Self-Esteem Through Positive Discipline.

Positive Time-Out

Introducing Jared's Cool-Out Space (Children's Picture Book)

Children, parents, and teachers will enjoy this beautifully illustrated book that teaches the value of "positive time-out" to help children learn self-soothing skills. Co-authored by Jane Nelsen and Ashlee Wilkin, and illustrated by political cartoonist, Bill Schorr. Click Here for More Information.