Monday, May 26, 2014

Teach Children What to Do

An excerpt from the book Positive Discipline The First Three Years.

Children under the age of three do not understand "no" in the way most parents think they do. (And, a full understanding of "no" doesn't occur magically when the child turns three. It is a developmental process.) "No" is an abstract concept that is in direct opposition to the developmental need of young children to explore their world and to develop their sense of autonomy.

Oh, your child may "know" you don't want her to do something. She may even know she will get an angry reaction from you if she does it. However, she cannot understand "why" in the way an adult thinks she can. Why else would a child look at you before doing what she "knows" she shouldn't do, grin, and do it anyway?

Around the age of one, children enter the "me do it" stage. This is when they develop a sense of autonomy vs. doubt and shame. Two through six heralds the development of a sense of initiative vs. guilt. This means it is their developmental job to explore and experiment. Can you imagine how confusing it is to children to be punished for what they are developmentally programmed to do? They are faced with a real dilemma (at a subconscious level). "Do I obey my parent or my biological drive to develop autonomy and initiative by exploring and experimenting in my world?"

These stages of development do not mean children should be allowed to do anything they want. It does explain why all methods to gain cooperation should be kind and firm at the same time instead of controlling and/or punitive. This is a time of life when your child's personality is being formed, and you want your child to make decisions about him or herself that say, "I am competent. I can try and make mistakes and learn. I am loved. I am a good person." If you are tempted to help your child learn by guilt and shame and punishment, you will be creating a discouraging situation that is difficult to reverse in adulthood.

To help a toddler develop autonomy instead of doubt and shame, and to help a two to seven-year-old develop initiative instead of guilt, try some of the following methods that invite cooperation:

  1. If you are screaming, yelling, or lecturing...stop. All of these methods are disrespectful and encourage doubt, shame, and guilt in the future.
  2. Instead of telling your child what to do, find ways to involve him/her in the decision so he/she gets a sense of personal power and autonomy. "What are we supposed to do next?" (For pre-verbal children say, "Next, we _____," while kindly and firmly showing them instead of telling them.)
  3. Be respectful when you make requests. Don't expect children to do something "right now" when you are interrupting something they are doing. Ask, "Will it work for you to do this in five minutes or in ten minutes?" Even if you don't think a younger child understands completely what you are saying, you are training yourself to be respectful to the child by giving choices instead of commands. Another possibility is to give him/her some warning. "We need to leave in a minute. What is the last thing you want to do on the jungle gym?"
  4. Carry a small timer around with you. Let your child help you set it to one or two minutes. Then let him/her put the timer in his/her pocket so he/she can be ready to go when the timer goes off.
  5. Give him/her a choice that requires his/her help. "It will be time to go when I count to 20. Do you want to carry my purse to the car, or do you want to carry the car keys?" "What is the first thing we should do when we get home, put the groceries away, or read a story?"
  6. Pre-verbal children might need plain ol' supervision, distraction, and redirection. In other words, as Dreikurs used to say, "Shut your mouth, and act." Quietly take your child by the hand and lead him/her to where he/she needs to go. Show him/her what he/she can do instead of what he/she can't do.
  7. Use your sense of humor: "Here comes the tickle monster to get children who don't listen."
  8. Be empathetic when your child cries (or has a temper tantrum) out of frustration with his/her lack of abilities. Empathy does not mean rescuing. It does mean understanding. Give your child a hug and say, "You're really upset right now. I know you want to stay, but it's time to leave." Then hold your child and let the child cry and have his/her feelings before you move on to the next activity.
  9. Children usually sense when you mean it and when you don't. Don't say anything unless you mean it and can say it respectfully. Then follow through with dignity and respect—and usually without words. Again, this means redirecting or "showing" them what they can do instead of punishing them for what they can't do.
  10. Create routines for every event that happens over and over: morning, bedtime, dinner, shopping, etc. Then ask your child, "What do we need to do next on our routine chart?" For children who are younger, say, "Now it's time for us to _____."
  11. Understand that you may need to teach your child many things over and over before he/she is developmentally ready to understand. Be patient. Minimize your words and maximize your actions. Don't take your child's behavior personally and think your child is mad at you or bad or defiant. Remain the adult in the situation and do what needs to be done without guilt and shame.
  12. Understand that your attitude determines whether or not you will create a battle ground or a kind and firm atmosphere for your child to explore and develop within appropriate boundaries.

Your job at this age is to think of yourself as a coach and help your child succeed and learn how to do things. You're also an observer, working on learning who your child is as a unique human being. Never underestimate the ability of a young child, but on the other hand, watch carefully as you introduce new opportunities and activities and see what your child is interested in, what your child can do, and what your child needs help learning from you.

Safety is a big issue at this age, and your job is to keep your child safe without letting your fears discourage him/her. For this reason, supervision is an important parenting tool, along with kindness and firmness while redirecting or teaching your child. For example, parents can "teach" a two-year-old child not to run into the street, but still would not let him/her play near a busy street unsupervised because they know they can't expect him/her to "understand" what he/she has learned well enough to have that responsibility. So why is it these same parents expect their children to "understand" when they say, "No!"

Monday, May 19, 2014


A natural consequence is anything that happens naturally, with no adult interference. When you stand in the rain, you get wet. When you don’t eat, you get hungry. When you forget your coat, you get cold. No piggy backing allowed. Adults piggy back when they lecture, scold, say, "I told you so," or do anything that adds more blame, shame, or pain than the child might experience naturally from the experience.

Children usually feel bad or guilty when they make a mistake. Piggy backing lessens the learning that can occur from experiencing a natural consequence because the child stops processing the experience and focuses on absorbing or defending against the blame, shame, and pain. Instead of piggy backing, show empathy and understanding for what the child is experiencing: "I’ll bet it was hard to go hungry (get wet, get that bad grade, lose your bicycle)." When it seems appropriate, you could add, "I love you and have faith in you to handle this." It can be difficult for parents to be supportive without rescuing or overprotecting, but it is one of the most encouraging things you can do to help your children develop a sense of capability. Let’s look at an example of how natural consequences work.

Billy, a first grader, forgot his lunch every day. Mother would interrupt her busy schedule to drive to school with his lunch. After learning about natural consequences, she decided that Billy might learn to remember his lunch if he experienced the natural consequence of forgetting. She first discussed this with Billy, letting him know she was confident that he could be responsible for remembering his lunch. She also told him she would no longer bring his lunch to school if he forgot it. It is very important and respectful to discuss, in advance, when you plan to change your behavior.

Her intentions were sabotaged for a while because Billy’s teacher took over and loaned him money for lunch when he forgot. It was not until Mother and Billy’s teacher got together on a plan to allow Billy to learn from the natural consequences of his choices that his behavior changed.

Billy tested the plan. The next time he forgot his lunch, he asked his teacher if he could borrow some lunch money. She said, "I’m sorry, Billy, but we agreed that you could handle your lunch problem by yourself." Billy then phoned his mother and demanded that she bring his lunch. Mom also kindly but firmly reminded him that he could handle the problem. Billy pouted for a while, even though one of his friends gave him half a sandwich.

After that, Billy seldom forgot his lunch. When he did forget it, he managed to find someone who would share some food with him. By the time Billy reached the second grade, he added the responsibility of making his own lunch, as well as remembering to take it.

Many adults don’t have much tolerance for the whining, pouting and disappointment. Billy’s mother did not find it easy to listen to her child be demanding, and it was difficult for her to allow him to experience being upset. She noticed some guilty feelings because he was hungry, but reminded herself that forgetting his lunch was really just a small mistake, one of many Billy would make in his lifetime. If she did not follow through on her plan, he would not be learning the life skill of getting a little more organized in the morning, and the good feelings of handling a problem himself. Instead he would be learning that whenever things didn’t work out for him, he could whine or complain and get someone else to take care of his problems. Looking at it that way, Mother was able to stay calmer.

Even though natural consequences often help children learn responsibility, there are times when natural consequences are not practical:

1. When a child is in danger. Adults cannot allow a child to experience the natural consequences of playing in the street, for example.

2. When natural consequences interfere with the rights of others. Adults cannot allow the natural con- sequences of allowing a child to throw rocks at another person, for example. This is one reason why supervision is especially important with children under the age of four. The only way you can prevent potential dangerous situations for children this age is to supervise so you can rush in and prevent a dangerous occurrence.

3. When the results of children’s behavior do not seem like a problem to them and the natural consequences will adversely affect their health and well being. For example, it does not seem like a problem to some children if they don’t take a bath, don’t brush their teeth, don’t do their homework, or eat tons of junk food.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Logical Consequences

Logical consequences are different from natural consequences in that they require the intervention of an adult—or other children in a family or a class meeting. It is important to decide what kind of consequence would create a helpful learning experience that might encourage children to choose responsible cooperation.

For example, Linda liked to tap her pencil while doing deskwork. This disturbed the other children. Her teacher gave her the choice to stop tapping or to give up her pencil and complete the work later. (It is usually a good idea to give children a choice either to stop their misbehavior or to experience a logical consequence.) Of course there are other solutions. Often a child is not aware that his or her behavior is disturbing others. The teacher could simply ask Linda to please stop tapping her pencil. Or the teacher could work out a solution with Linda, or they could agree to ask the class for help during a class meeting. If a consequence feels even close to punishment, choose another Positive Discipline tool.

Dan brought a toy car to school. His teacher called him aside and asked him if he would like to leave it with her or with the principal until after school. Dan chose to leave it with his teacher. (It is a good idea to speak to children about a consequence in private, when possible, so they don’t lose face with their peers.)

Giving children a choice and speaking to them in private about the consequences are not the only guidelines for effectively applying logical consequences. If this were so, it would be reasonable to give a child a choice either to stop his misbehavior or to have a spanking. The Three Rs and an H for Logical Consequences is a formula that identifies the criteria to help ensure that logical consequences are solutions, rather than punishment.

The Three Rs and an H of Logical Consequences

  1. Related

  2. Respectful

  3. Reasonable
  4. Helpful

Related means the consequence must be related to the behavior. Respectful means the consequence must not involve blame, shame or pain; and should be kindly and firmly enforced. It is also respectful to everyone involved. Reasonable means the consequence must not include piggy backing and is reasonable from the child’s point of view as well as the adult’s. Helpful means it will encourage change for everyone involved. If any of the Three Rs and an H is missing, it can no longer be called a logical consequence. These could also be renamed as the Three Rs and an H for Focusing on Solutions.

When a child writes on a desk, it is easy to conclude that the related consequence would be to have the child clean up the desk. But what happens if any of the other four Rs is missing?

If a teacher is not respectful and adds humiliation to his request that the desk be cleaned, it is no longer a logical consequence. Mr. Martin thought he was using a logical consequence when he said to Mary in front of the whole class, "Mary, I’m surprised that you would do such a stupid thing. Now clean up that desk or I’ll have to let your parents know how disappointed I am in you." In this example, respect has been eliminated and the teacher did some piggy backing with humiliation.

If a teacher is not reasonable and requests that a student clean every desk in the room to make sure she has learned her lesson, it is no longer a logical consequence. Reasonableness has been eliminated in favor of the power to insure suffering. This is usually because of the mistaken belief that children learn only if they suffer.

If the consequence is not helpful it is easier to be construed as punishment. When both parties agree that the consequence would be helpful, it is more likely to encourage change.

When a child spills milk, the related consequence is to have him clean up the spill. It is not respectful if you say, "How can you be so clumsy? That is the last time I’ll let you pour milk." A more respectful comment would be, "Whoops. What do you need to do now?" (It is amazing how often the child knows what a solution would be, and how willing he is to do it, when asked respectfully.) If the child doesn’t know what to do, it could be because you haven’t taken time for training—thus making your expectation or request unreasonable. Handling it respectfully also demonstrates that mistakes are wonderful opportunities to learn. It would not be reasonable to ensure that he suffers for his mistake by saying, "To make sure you learn, I want you to scrub the whole floor."

Actually, if adults eliminate one of the Four Rs so that consequences are not related, respectful, reasonable, and helpful, children may experience the Four Rs of Punishment.

  1. Resentment ("This is unfair. I can’t trust adults.")
  2. Revenge ("They are winning now, but I’ll get even.")
  3. Rebellion ("I’ll show them that I can do whatever I want:
  4. Retreat, in the form of sneakiness ("I won’t get caught next time.") or reduced self esteem ("I am a bad person.")

Parents and teachers don’t like to admit that, often, the main reason they like to use punishment is to demonstrate their power to win over the child or to gain revenge by making the child suffer. The subconscious thinking behind this idea is, I am the adult and you are the child. You will do what I say—or else you will pay.

This concept was depicted in a cartoon showing a mother watching her husband chase their child with a stick. In the caption the mother is calling, "Wait! Give him another chance." The father replies, "But he might not ever do it again." Obviously, it is more important for this father to make the child suffer for his misbehavior than to help him change it.

Suffering is not a requirement of logical consequences. For example, a child might enjoy cleaning up his desk. (This is fine, since the purpose of a logical consequence is to change the misbehavior and find a solution, not to get revenge by causing suffering.)

Logical consequences are not the best way to handle most problems. Many parents and teachers get so excited about logical consequences that they try to find a consequence for every misbehavior. I don’t know how many times I have heard people ask, "What would a logical consequence be for this situation?" I tell them, "If a related logical consequence isn’t obvious, then it is probably not appropriate to use a logical consequence in this situation." There are other methods that might be more effective, such as holding a family meeting, focusing on solutions instead of consequences, creating routines, offering limited choices, asking for help, dealing with the belief behind the behavior, deciding what you will do instead of what you will make your child do, following through with dignity and respect, hugging, or another Positive Discipline tool that seems appropriate for the situation.

Monday, May 5, 2014


Many parents and teachers have reported that power struggles are greatly reduced when they focus on solutions. Focusing on solutions creates a very different family and classroom. Your thinking and behavior will change, and so will the thinking and behavior of your children.

The theme for focusing on solutions is: What is the problem and what is the solution? Children are excellent problem solvers and have many creative ideas for helpful solutions when adults provide opportunities for them to use their problem-solving skills.

The Three Rs and an H for Focusing on Solutions are the same as the Three Rs and an H of Logical Consequences. In fact, the first 3 are identical. They are presented again here to help change the tendency toward the use of Logical Consequences in favor of Focusing on solutions.

The Three Rs and an H for Focusing on Solutions:

1. Related

2. Respectful
3. Reasonable
4. Helpful

The following is an excerpt from the book Positive Discipline in the Classroom that illustrates the amazing difference in brainstormed suggestions when students first focus on logical consequences and then focus on solutions:

During a class meeting, students in a fifth-grade class were asked to brainstorm logical consequences for two students who didn’t hear the recess bell and were late for class.

Following is their list of consequences:

1. Make them write their names on the board.
2. Make them stay after school the same number of minutes they were late.
3. Take away from tomorrow’s recess the same number of minutes they were late today.
4. Take away all of tomorrow’s recess.
5. Yell at them.

The students were then asked to forget about consequences and brainstorm for solutions that would help the late students get to class on time.

Following is their list of solutions:

1. Everyone could yell together, "Bell!"

2. The students could play closer to the bell.

3. The students could watch others to see when they are going in.

4. Adjust the bell so it is louder.

5. The students could choose a buddy to remind them that it is time to come in.
6. Someone could tap the students on the shoulder when the bell rings.

The difference between these two lists is profound. The first looks and sounds like punishment. It focuses on the past and on making children pay for their mistakes. The second list looks and sounds like solutions that focus on helping the students do better in the future. The focus is on seeing problems as opportunities for learning. In other words, the first list is designed to hurt; the second is designed to help.