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Hayley Williams, Waterloo Region, ON
What happens when your 3 year old pitches a fit and throws his toys all over the room and refuses to pick them up? What about when your 8 year old refuses to do her homework? Often, we jump straight to punishment. We want to make sure that the child understands what they’ve done wrong. That they’ve faced some sort of consequence to deter them from doing the same thing next time. This is something we are doing to our child. But what if there was another way?
When I started working with the Parenting Now program, I hadn’t given much dedicated thought to the difference between punishment and discipline.
Then, as part of my training, I took part in the “Positive Discipline, Cooperative Kids” course. This is offered through KW Counselling’s Parenting with Passion program. That course started to get my wheels turning and changed the way that I parent my own kids (aged 4 and 7). Recently, I was given the opportunity to co-facilitate the program and it further instilled in me the subtle differences in handling poor behaviour and what a positive impact a gentler parental reaction can have. Discipline is a process through which we work with our children to problem solve and achieve self-discipline.
Diffuse strong reactions with ‘calm, comfort, and connection’
Include time for love and play everyday – loving relationships are the foundation for positive behaviour
Set limits and rules that make sense
Connect before correct
I messages are the key to effective communication
Plan ahead for how to handle difficult situations
Listen to your child’s ideas for solutions
Incorporate natural and logical consequences, as possible
Notice and comment when your child follows thought with a plan or make a positive decision
Engage active problem solving skills and strategies
Punishment is a way of making someone ‘pay for their actions’. Discipline is a way to allow the person to come to the correct decision themselves through empathy and an inherent understanding of what is right and wrong based on the values of their household.
One of the biggest challenges for me in using positive discipline in place of punishment is that I feel like I’m letting my kids off the hook when they’ve done something wrong. Sometimes the overwhelming feeling of frustration that we have in that moment makes it really, really hard to step back and take a different approach rather than being emotionally reactive. What I love about this course is that each time I am a part of it, I learn something new and am reminded about the benefits of this approach. Through implementing the concepts taught in this course into my own life, I’ve found some great success.
These are the 3 that we are currently focusing on in our home:
This important concept of how the brain works and the importance of not freaking out when our kids do, is taught in many of the Parenting with Passion courses. When we ‘flip our lid’, especially if we’re matching our child’s ‘flipped lid’, we’re not going to get anywhere – with punishment OR discipline. It is important to find techniques that work to help you remain composed in those moments of heightened stress and allow you to reconnect with your child. For me, it’s counting to ten or breathing deeply and thoughtfully. It’s okay to let my child have their moment of being upset and then coming back to chat with them once they’ve calmed down.
So, if my 4 year old has a tantrum and throws her toys all over the room and refuses to pick them up, I need to remain calm and find out what she needs in that moment. Is it a hug? Some space? Then, I wait until the tantrum has passed (and comfort her if needed) and then I can talk to her about what happened. I remind her that she is responsible for cleaning up, but that I’m there to help her if she needs me. Just because she is “acting up” does not mean that I withdraw my love and attention – I will be there for her when she needs me. I can explain why it is important that she cleans this mess in terms she can understand. For example, ‘if you leave your toys here, daddy will have a hard time walking through to the kitchen and may trip and hurt himself.’ Once everything is calm, we can make a plan about what to do next time.
Predictability is really important for kids; it allows them to plan and to understand the consequences of their actions, and thereby allow them to make different choices.
When my child was a toddler, she was incredibly unpredictable when we were out in the world. Sometimes she was a perfect angel and sometimes she was a complete wild child – screaming, throwing herself on the floor…you get the picture. I found that I was becoming so anxious before taking her out to certain places that my emotions were already high before we even left. I anticipated what might happen, making me much quicker to anger should any little behavioural issue arise.
What I realize now is that I can predict and plan for these types of behaviours in order to deal with them more easily or to avoid them completely. For example, if your little one doesn’t enjoy going to the grocery store and melts down the entire time you’re there? Try letting her draw out a grocery list and bring it with her to check off the items as you find them. This gives your child something to do that she feels proud of which, oftentimes, will prevent the meltdowns. This works with older children too. Let them in on your grocery budget, give them a calculator, and have them add everything up as you go. Not only are they occupied, but they’re learning about budgeting at the same time – 2 for 1!
Pride plays such an important role in positive discipline. When the younger child feels pride for creating and completing the list and the older child feels a sense of accomplishment in managing the money and also the mathematics involved in tracking, they feel great about themselves and enjoy that feeling!
In a moment of upset it can be really easy to say ‘you’re making me so angry!!’ or ‘you are behaving horribly!’ Instead of that, I’ve been working to switch those thoughts around into ‘I statements’. ‘I feel very frustrated when you don’t listen to me.’ Not only does this take the focus off the child, but it also helps them to learn empathy. Once the child understands how you feel and the situation is calm, you can more easily move into natural consequences.
Parenting with Passion focuses on the parent and our reactions to our child’s behaviours as opposed to the behaviours themselves, and this is a really important distinction. Often times we as parents are looking to ‘fix’ our children’s behaviour. But when we start to acknowledge our own feelings, actions, and reactions and begin to work on them, our child’s behaviour suddenly starts to shift as well and there are less and less instances requiring discipline.
For me, this journey of learning positive discipline will never be over. Each time I participate in this session I am reminded of new and interesting ways to discipline. I am reminded of how important it is for me to keep pursuing this type of parenting relationship, even when it is doesn’t come naturally.
Hayley is the loving mom of two little girls. She is also part of our team at Parenting Now. You can connect with Hayley through our Let’s Talk Parenting online chat. Hayley would love to talk about your parenting challenges with allergies ….or other parenting concerns.
See a clip of our Positive Discipline, Cooperative Kids workshop.