Help us get the word out! We are promoting the concept, research and implementation of SELF-DIRECTED EDUCATION (both in and out of school). I’ve had to wait until we had our third university graduate. We’ve launched a project on Kickstarter! For as little as $10, (in which you get a copy of the book), you can support the costs of launching the book titled Unschooling To University: How to impassion your disengaged learner. Just go to Kickstarter.com, register as a guest (anonymous), and search for Unschooling To University or Judy Arnall. Thanks!
This is one of my favourite videos that show the brain science behind why Dad’s matter just as much, but differently, in the parenting relationship.
By the time a child reaches the preschool age of three to five, they have changed in so many ways. Many children are ready to expand their world outside of home and interact more with peers, teachers and other parents.
Physically, preschoolers are capable of many tasks. Emotionally, many can control their anger and uncomfortable emotions much better. Socially, they are curious about other children. The element of other people to play with adds fun, creativity, and learning (and sometimes needed conflict resolution) with other children.
The cognitive development of preschoolers puts them squarely in the magical/fantasy element of brain development. Their whole world is constructed of “make-believe” which further enhances play with others. They also have enough brain power and self control to understand a few safety limits and to listen to adults a wee bit more than toddlers.
Many parents wonder what type of education is best for this age. The answer really depends on the child. Factors that affect this are: gender, temperament, personality, and learning style more than age alone.
In terms of gender, preschool boys are still quite active and find it hard to sit, concentrate and participate in circle time. They tend to fidget more when compelled to listen to music, storybook reading or teachers talking. Programs to look for should be active and fun with a high physical component. Preschools with lots of circle time and quiet play should not be the first choice. Girls, tend to love role-playing with toys and make believe play and often can sit longer to listen to stories.
Temperament and Personality
Temperament is another consideration. For spirited children a small group is less sensory stimulating than a large group. An unstructured type of play environment such as Waldorf, Montessori, or PACT play program would be more suitable. Children decide where and when they would like to explore in these programs, instead of having definite centre times. An easygoing child would adapt more to structured settings such as conventional preschools that have set times for snack, music, and creative play.
Introverted children who prefer the company of a parent, home and his own toys may not benefit from structured learning environments. Research shows that some types of preschool help disadvantaged children catch up to what they need to know for grade one. However, for children with a stimulating home environment (homes that have books and toys), early schooling doesn’t make any difference in grade three test scores. If your child is an extravert and his boisterousness is wearing you thin, the excitement of preschool may be what your child is craving.
Learning styles also play a key factor. Your child’s learning style emerges by the preschool years. A good preschool should mix up their program delivery to accommodate learning styles. If your child is auditory, then circle time, oral instruction and story listening are their preferred ways to take in information. If your child is visual, then videos, picture books, and painting/ art should be high on their list. If your child is kinesthetic, then again, a high physical game content is needed with lots of building materials, art supplies, board games etc. as well as a good chunk of playground time.
It’s important for parents to keep in mind the developmental tasks of preschoolers. Their job is to explore with all their senses. Touch, hear, see, taste, smell and move! Worksheets have no place in preschool or Kindergarten. Those are the times for learning how to play, get along and have fun.
What to Consider
New options include all day preschool. If you child tolerates daycare well, then they should be happy to ease into all day preschool. There is not much difference in the level of activities offered to children, but to be funded as a preschool, there may be pressure to add more “academic” looking activities. Parents should be warned though that grade one entrance has no expectations that children should know more than to write their name and use the bathroom independently.
Kindergarten is still optional and voluntary in Alberta. It is assumed that in grade one, children are coming with no academic advantage. The grade one curriculum starts at knowledge level zero. Many children who have spent three years in an “academic” preschool may be bored in grade one if they already have covered colours, letters and numbers and have attended all the typical field trips already. In addition, children that have not attended preschool or Kindergarten catch up pretty quickly on the social rules of learning to take turns, line-up and raise their hand to speak.
Look for preschools with lots of unstructured toys that are open-ended play value. Sand tables, paint, playdough, blocks, people, houses, cars, trains, building toys, dress-up, puppets, art supplies, are very good toys in addition to a playground. So many families have computers, video consoles and hand held gaming systems at home, that children have ample opportunity to use them at home. Preschools away from home should have more physically interactive toys. At this age, it’s better to paint on paper and build with Lego than to do it on a computer screen. Children need the tactile experience.
As always, parents who try out a preschool program should watch their child for signs of discontent. Anxiety, sleeplessness, increased temper tantrums and sibling fighting, moodiness, and eating jags are signs of stress. Give a program two weeks and if signs do not subside, it may not be the right time for a formal play environment for your child. That’s okay, because they have plenty of time for outside the home experiences when they are older.
Part 2 – Problem-solving with young children
In the last issue, we talked about toddler behaviour and the importance of child-proofing and distraction. For older children’s behaviour, problem-solving is now the first go-to discipline tool. But don’t forget, problem-solving still works for toddlers and preschoolers. Problem-solving is effective for maintaining open communication, and understanding development as well as formulating creative solutions for solving everyday problems of living together as a family. Mostly, problem-solving with young children is comprised of the parent doing most of the “solving” but when children reach ages 3-4, they can help brainstorm ideas too!
Punishment is “me against you.” Problem-solving is “you and me working together against the problem.” Problem-solving teaches creativity, empathy, communication and accountability.
Your child is about to run into the road.
- Grab and carry the child to safety.
- Keep enclosed in the yard or house.
- Discuss car safety and road safety rules.
- Supervise constantly around vehicles and roads.
Development Tip: Children do not develop the visual acuity to judge distance and timing of vehicles on a road until aged 9. Children younger than age 9 cannot be trusted to control the impulse to run into a road to retrieve an item of interest.
Your child is about to touch a hot stove.
- Remove the child from the stove.
- Supervise closely in the kitchen and keep the child occupied.
- Explain in simple words that stoves are dangerous.
Development Tip: Children must be supervised around cooking appliances until age 12, when they can comprehend the cause and effect of safety rules.
- Your child runs away in the supermarket.
- This could be a fun game for the child, but not for you. Corner and grasp the child, explain that this is not a game, and that you will not play chase in a store. If necessary, head home.
- Distract with a toy or snack.
- A shopping cart is harder to escape from than a stroller.
- Re-think grocery shopping. Could someone mind your child while you shop? Could you shop at night while your partner is home?
Development Tip: This is a temporary phase. Your child will stop running away from you by about age 5.
- Your child is in a whining stage.
- Ignore the whining.
- Request their “normal” voice.
- Model the “normal voice.”
- Give the desired item instantly when the normal voice is used.
- When in a peaceful moment, ask for “inside, outside, whining, church, and
- normal” voices so they can tell the difference in voice tone, pitch, and variety.
- Pat your head and pretend you can’t “receive” when the tone is whiny. Pretend that the reception improves when the request is less whiny.
Developmental Tip: Most children stop whining around age 8.
- Your child draws on the wall.
- Provide paper, and explain that drawings happen on paper, not walls.
- Get two cloths and a bucket of soapy water. Wash the wall together.
- Collect pens and crayons until you have time to supervise drawing.
Development Tip: Childproofing is necessary until about age 4 when children understand the “why” reason behind the behaviour they are not allowed to do.
- It’s time to go, and your child is unwilling to leave.
- Catch and carry them out.
- Acknowledge feelings of unhappiness. Say “Are you sad to leave because you are having fun?”
Developmental Tip: Children learn to accept leaving a place of fun by around age 7.
- Two children are fighting over a toy.
- Offer a substitute.
- Redirect to snacks.
- Encourage sharing, or taking turns, or flipping a coin, or picking names from a jar, or playing Rock, Paper, Scissors. Warn that there will be a winner and a loser, and confirm that they understand and accept that.
- Offer the first player a shorter time, and the second player a longer time.
- Hold the toy until an agreement is worked out that both children are okay with.
Developmental Tip: Siblings will have conflicts over many issues. Teach siblings to resolve conflicts respectfully, to help them to resolve conflicts in their future family and employment relationships.
- Your child throws food onto the floor.
- Say “NO! We don’t throw!”
- Stay calm. Breathe deeply.
- Calmly, get a bucket of soapy water and cloth, and clean up the mess together.
- If your child is too upset to clean up the mess, postpone the cleanup until the child has calmed down.
Developmental Tip: Children are better able to manage their frustration around age 4.
- Your toddler has toilet accidents.
- Keep up encouragement. Praise any tiny success.
- Show the child how to help you clean it up.
- Don’t punish.
Development Tip: Toilet training involves lots of misses. Most children train by age 4.
- Your child denies eating cookies – but his lips are smeared with crumbs.
- Don’t ask, “Did you eat the cookies?” Ask, “I see that some cookies are missing. Do you know what happened?” In the event of denial, say “I don’t like it when people don’t tell the truth. It breaks my trust.”
- Reward your child for the truth.
- Promise that you will never punish if your child tells the truth.
Developmental Tip: Denial at the toddler age is not serious, since toddlers are in the developmental stage of “wishful” and “magical” thinking. Most children understand the abstract concept of lying by the age of 6.
- Your toddler rips pages from a valued book.
- Substitute a magazine that you don’t value. Get the child’s attention on the substitute and then gently pry away the valued book.
- Childproof – don’t leave books lying around.
- Work with your toddler to repair the book together.
Developmental Tip: Children are more respectful to items around age 4.
- Your toddler hits, pushes or bites a sibling or another child.
- Provide attention, cuddles and comfort to the other child.
- When the other child has calmed, say to the toddler: “No! We don’t hit people!”
- When the toddler has calmed, take the toddler to the child, and demonstrate how to make up – give a kiss, hug, say “Sorry”, or offer a toy.
- Acknowledge toddler’s feelings and say “You seem to be angry. We love you both, and you will always be with us.”
- Give the toddler a teething ring and say, “We don’t bite our friends. Here, bite this.”
- Give the toddler extra attention every day, though not right after the “hit”. Take her out on “dates” and lavish special attention on her so she can acquire attention in positive ways.
- Notice and praise when you see the toddler doing something nice for the other child.
- Don’t leave siblings together unsupervised until the youngest child is 6.
Developmental Tip: Biting, pushing and hitting are typical impulses up to about age 4. As children grow up, they become less inclined to use violence upon each other. By age 7, hitting becomes rare, and by age 12 should end, as verbal skills improve.
- Your toddler runs away when you try to change diapers.
- Catch and scoop up your child.
- Provide an entrancing toy.
- Don’t waste time – be fast!
- Change with a movie.
- Talk, sing, tickle and make diaper-changing a fun time.
- Keep a box of interesting toys by the change station, to keep his hands busy.
Developmental Tip: Some toddlers are patient, and some are not. Children become more cooperative around age 4.
Your child smashes another child’s sand castle.
- Say “No! We don’t break other people’s things!”
- Ask your child to apologize to the other child. If your child refuses, say to the other child or parent: “I’m very sorry, but my child doesn’t have the words right now to say sorry”. Model an apology that you give to the parent.
- Take your toddler away to calm down.
- When your toddler is calm, offer to re-build the castle together. Encourage an apology, but don’t force it.
Developmental Tip: Children handle anger more effectively around age 4, especially if encouraged with positive alternatives for expressing frustration and anger.
- Your preschooler ignores your requests to pick up toys.
- Make pick-up a game in which you both participate.
- Assign one task instead of the entire clean-up: “You collect the blocks, and I’ll collect the crayons.”
Developmental Tip: Until about age 12, most children require some direction, instruction, encouragement and help for most tasks.
- You are trying to work, and your toddler pesters you to play.
- Play with your toddler for 15 minutes of your full attention.
- Interest the toddler in a toy, movie or activity, and get back to work.
- Join or build a network of parents of similar-aged children. Arrange play-dates.
- Rotate and pack away toys. Bring out a “new” toy box for each day.
- Postpone your work until naptime.
Developmental Tip: By age 3, children can play well with other children on play-dates, which can free up your time.
- Your toddler says “NO!” to your requests.
- Offer choices between two or three acceptable options.
- Reduce your use of the word “No”. Alternatives include “later”, “not now, but you can have…”, “Let me think about it”.
- Acknowledge feelings. “You seem angry and don’t want to try this?”
- Don’t expect a child under age 3e to share possessions.
- Childproof your surroundings for safe exploration and discovery.
Development Tip: The “no” stage lasts from about age 1.5 to 4 years. This is a normal developmental stage for healthy children. Children naturally become more cooperative during the preschool stage.
- Your toddler is upset that you are leaving.
- Acknowledge feelings: “You are sad that Mommy is leaving?”
- Leave a special item for your child to take care of while you are away.
- Develop a leaving routine: a special hug, wave.
- Kiss goodbye, and leave your child in the arms of the caregiver. Don’t sneak out! If you sneak out, your child will feel insecure, and will become clingy.
- See if your caregiver can come to your house.
- Try to establish a routine: the same time, same place, same caregiver.
- Choose childcare arrangements with consistent caregivers, for development of attachment (and don’t worry, you will never be replaced!).
Developmental Tip: Separation anxiety begins around age 1, peaks at age 2 and fades by age 4.
- Your toddler won’t try new foods
- Provide healthy foods from the four groups. Offer three meals and three snacks per day, about two hours apart. Leave the food out for twenty minutes and then clean up. Do not punish for not eating.
- Offer water \between meals and snacks. Serve milk at meals.
- Allow toddlers to explore food with their fingers. If your toddler starts throwing food, meal time is over.
- Food jags are normal, in which the child eats only peanut butter and jam sandwiches for three weeks. That’s okay. As long as it’s a healthy food, don’t worry about nutritional intake.
- It takes 15 tries to accept a new food. Have a one-bite routine. If the child spits it out, don’t worry, and don’t make it a power struggle. Children have sensitive taste buds, and their preferences will change as they develop.
- Your toddler won’t stay in bed.
- Develop a routine – snack, bath, pyjamas, teeth, book, prayers, bedtime snuggle.
- If your child keeps getting up, consider two “bedtime excuse” tickets. Two tickets can be used for requests such as a drink, extra kiss, a cuddly toy.
- Each time, lead the toddler back to bed without talking, and close the door.
- Spend extra time to talk, read, cuddle and listen as part of the bedtime routine.
- When you find a routine that works, keep it up.
Developmental Tip: Most children under age 12 try to put off bedtime, because they don’t want to separate from their parents, or to end their day. Parents find that a regular bedtime routine develops cooperation. Some families choose co-sleeping – however the safety of children under the age of one might be a concern.
For more ideas on non-punitive discipline for all stages of childhood, check-out Discipline Without Distress.
For more information on Judy Arnall’s suggestions for effective discipline, click Webinars at http://www.professionalparenting.ca to register.
Next Free Webinar on Discipline is Thursday January 21, 2016 8 pm Register Here for the Discipline Webinar
When considering homeschooling a child who has reached school age or when the decision is made for children to leave a school they attended last year, parents who are homeschooling their children for the first time have a lot of questions, worries and fears. These concerns are very common and as a home educator for the past 17 years, I would like to address them.
1. Can I balance home and school? I am worried that my mother duties would suffer when I would be spending a lot of my time teaching.
More and more you will blend parenting and teaching so that there is not much distinction between the two. You have been a teacher since your child was born and that loving style won’t change. Let your passions loose and share them with your child. Let your children share their passions with you. Many parents find the roles of teacher and student reverse because the parents learn too. Think of teaching your child not as a person with a brain that you have to fill with facts, but as a journey in which you and your child will travel and learn together.
2. I’m worried that his education will not be recognized later down the road in order to be accepted into a good post secondary institution, so he can have all the same opportunities as traditionally schooled kids.
First, there are many studies that show that home-schooled children meet grade level achievement and often exceed it. Secondly, in Alberta, all children write the grade 12 diploma exams in the core subjects if they want to go on to post-secondary education. By high school age, many kids actively seek out courses to pass the exams and move forward with their goals. Many kids don’t even start formal coursework until grade 10 and do just fine on the exams – so don’t worry – you can’t possibly mess them up.
3. My kids didn’t listen to me when I nagged them about homework last year. How will it be when their whole education is in my hands?
Homeschooling takes much less time than school. In many cases, it is even less time than children spend on homework! In elementary studies, home schooling might take less than 30 minutes a day not including reading and field trips. In junior high, it might be two hours a day and high school would be 2-3 hours per day. That’s it. And no homework to fight over. Children will have a lot of time to pursue their passions.
Kids are born to learn and will continue to seek out knowledge. It’s natural that humans, from infants to seniors, want to know about their world and how it works. However, they just might at times have a different learning agenda than you. If you have a bad day (and you will) just give up on teaching, go with the flow and go have some fun- build your relationship and try your agenda again in a few days or weeks.
4. I’m worried that I will burn out trying to entertain my kids all day.
Don’t even try to occupy your kids all day. I’m not sure where the notion came that parents must be constant entertainers, but it’s a habit you don’t want to start. Leave things out like a board game today, craft supplies tomorrow and a costume trunk the next day – they will learn to occupy themselves. You will be amazed at their creativity if you are not directing everything. If you don’t get into the habit of occupying them, they will not get into the habit of looking to you to fill their day and you will have free time to yourself. Many homeschoolers use this time to run a home-business, write, or work part-time. The bonus is that children will develop their creativity, decision-making, and problem-solving skills. Be sure to insist that they clean up messes though.
5. I’m only homeschooling one sibling. How will the children get along?
Kids readily accept that their siblings have different education situations. That’s okay. They may want to homeschool too or they might not. If you give each child the choice each year, it takes the power struggles out of the inevitable complaints resulting from their choice.
You might want to consider drawing up a contract with two of your non-negotiable stipulations of what you want done this year and get their input of their non-negotiables as well. Each of you sign your name and post it on the wall. That helps when the whining starts. You can point to what the children signed and agreed to.
You will have bad days when the kids are fighting non-stop and you wonder if they won’t be better off in school. But, they would have those days even if they were in school. Most homeschoolers report that their older kids have much better relations because of learning to get along with each other in the early years. For example, my university kids love to still play board games with their 12 year-old brother.
6. How can I teach them things that I don’t know very much about, such as fractions?
Your kids are going to learn fractions whether you teach them or not. You can’t force a child to learn and you can’t stop them from learning. Math concepts are learned from life – baking, money, shopping etc. Language is learned from avid reading. When they get to later grades, they have to start learning fractions on paper rather than in their heads. As kids get into junior and senior high school, there are online teachers that can teach your kids what you don’t know or want to. And developmentally, they are mature enough to listen more to an outside teacher than you!
7. What if I made the wrong choices this year? Programs? Curriculum? Classes?
It’s only a year! Nothing is written in stone. Your education plan (the worksheet you submit to your facilitator of your year’s plan) is a work-in-progress document and you can change anything you wish at any time. Dump curriculum if it doesn’t work for you, or change programs or the timing of topics. Most homeschoolers don’t finish their goals for the year (we are human and humans procrastinate, or life just gets in the way of our best intentions)and the kids move on to the next grade and do just fine! Enjoy the time you have with your children.
8. I worry about what my kids will miss out from not attending school; School portraits, holiday parties, riding the school bus, Christmas pageants, field trips, etc.
The homeschooling community will provide all those experiences too. In school, the logistics of organizing field trips for a large group only allow for one or two field trips per year. With a family, you can go anywhere, anytime! Join a support group or facebook group (search for “city name” and “homeschool” and lots of groups will pop up) that organizes a lot of outings and you could be on a field trip every day. The artists, writers, presenters and special guests that do programs in schools will also provide them to a group of homeschoolers. It just requires someone to organize it. In our earlier years, the homeschooling community provided school photos, year-end talent concerts (that anyone can perform in, regardless of talent) field trips every week, parent organized holiday parties, music lessons and group discounts on plays, etc. The possibilities are endless.
Some parents love to organize and if you are one of them, pick something your child wants to do, pick a date and advertise it and you will have a group to go with you in no time. It’s not homeschooling as much as community schooling!
The only thing missing is the school bus experience and perhaps children will get that in high school!
9. When I tell relatives what we are going to do, I am met with skepticism, silence and negative comments. How do I handle being judged? It is undermining my confidence.
Unfortunately, until homeschooling becomes more widely understood, you will be judged! Most people hold stereotypes of the “social” and “academic” aspect, and are misinformed by homeschooling portrayals in the media. Many homeschoolers just smile and say, “It’s the best choice for our family.” Grow a thick skin and let comments bounce off of you.
10. My child is so social. How will I provide friends for her?
Friends are everywhere, not just at school. Some kids love being with other kids. Some kids love being home without a lot of people around. You can provide both in homeschooling where you set the pace for social activities. There is enough going on in your city for homeschooling clubs, events, classes and outings that there is something organized for everyone – the outdoor enthusiasts, the sports crowd, writing groups and even the Friday afternoon Minecraft club at my house! Not to mention the usual community organizations such as Boy Scouts, church groups, community classes, and more.
Relax, seek out a mentor for the bad days, and most of all, enjoy your children and learning. It really is a great ride you and your children won’t regret!
Be sure to visit APCA’s website for homeschooling articles, a sample education plan and a sample parent-child contract.
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Is It a Discipline Issue or a Development Issue?
Part 1 Young Children
Effective discipline of young children requires knowledge about the development of children. Normal toddler behaviour is often viewed as “misbehaviour” by parents who do not understand the physical, cognitive, social and emotional capabilities and limitations of toddlers. Research shows that children under age five comply (“listen”) to parent requests about 40% of the time. This is normal child behaviour for that age, and does not require “teaching”, “discipline” or “punishment”. This normal behavior will change as the child matures.
Children will develop self-control naturally with age. Until then, parents can child-proof the local environment to make it safer and enjoyable, and can redirect the child. Children need adult help to calm down, as they have yet to learn self-soothing, which is a learned skill that comes with age and practice.
Toddlers have poor understanding of rules until they reach about age three. Even the word “no” is counterproductive, in that directing the child NOT to do something tends to inspire the child to actually do it!
Toddlers also have poor impulse control. This is a factor of executive function. Even though they understand the rule, they don’t have the self-control to hold back until about age five. They are going through a necessary developmental stage to explore their surroundings with all their senses, and want to taste, touch, and smell everything. Toddlers may seem to be ignoring or deliberately disobeying you, but in reality they are just doing their normal job of exploring, which stimulates development of their brains.
In summary, normal characteristics include:
Toddlers do not possess abstract thinking skills.
- Rules are abstract, and a “don’t” rule is a double abstract which draws a toddler’s attention to the very action that you are attempting to forbid.
- Toddlers are in the here-and-now.
- Memories of rules known yesterday have been displaced.
- Toddlers cannot multitask.
- They can only hold a few thoughts in their heads at once.
- Toddlers are driven to explore.
- Everything in their being says “touch, taste, smell, look, hear!”
- Toddlers have almost no impulse control.
- Their immature brains do not allow them to restrain themselves.
- Toddlers do not understand cause and effect.
- They can’t relate their action to Mom’s anger. Reflection skills do not develop until age seven.
The best discipline tool for young children is understanding development and redirecting their behaviour. Child-proofing helps too because when a desired item is out of sight for a young child, it is also out of mind.
Temper tantrums occur when your child is overwhelmed and over-stimulated. The child feels frustrated and angry, and expresses those feelings through body language instead of words. Tantrums are part of normal behavior for a child between age 10 months to age 4 years, decreasing in frequency with age.
Prevent tantrums: Provide rest, sleep, food or stimulation as needed. Don’t go shopping with a tired, cranky, hungry child. Watch for and prevent triggers. Change the activity. If your child is getting tired, hungry, or cranky, offer a juice-box (to raise blood sugar) and a protein snack. Try cuddling on your lap with a good book – a great way to calm down, gain literacy skills and enjoy some connecting quiet time together. Try to meet needs as soon as possible. Sometimes, boredom can’t be alleviated. Get creative and invent ways for children to pass the time.
Handle the tantrum: It often helps to just ignore the tantrum, and carry on with your activity as if nothing is happening. If you have denied the child some item, this not the time to hand it over! Other methods are to just hold the child, and move to a safe, quiet place. Encourage feelings and expression of feelings. Say: “You’re angry. I’ll stay with you while you calm down. It’s okay to be angry. I know you are feeling frustrated.” Use a gentle but firm voice. Encourage deep breaths.
After the tantrum: Label your child’s emotions and provide words to develop a vocabulary of feelings. Ask: “Were you angry when you couldn’t have that cookie? How can we express our anger? Here is something to do.” The toddler usually understands the intent of the question and feels understood, and will later learn to use the words of feelings instead of the body language of a tantrum.
In any situation that involves discipline of a child, remember three steps:
Step 1. Calm yourself – Take deep breaths, drop everything, dress your child, take the stroller and go for a walk, or put on a video, to distract you or your child;
Step 2. Calm the child – Redirect to another activity, or sit and breathe deeply together, or hold the child;
Step 3. Solve the problem: childproof, redirect, substitute, distract, comfort, talk, prevent, and model.
You will make much better parenting decisions when you and your children are calm.
Next week: Stay tuned for Part 2 – Problem Solving
For more information on Judy Arnall’s suggestions for effective discipline, click Webinars at http://www.professionalparenting.ca to register.
CONSEQUENCES AS A DISCIPLINE TOOL
By Judy Arnall
Consequences are the natural outcome from our behaviours. Every action that we humans do has a consequence. For our children, consequences are a powerful learning tool that tells them if their decision was a responsible one or a careless one. Experiencing the consequence from their action helps them to modify their future behaviour to enjoy better outcomes. Natural consequences are those outcomes that happen without the intervention of parents. Sometimes, letting children experience the natural consequence is too dangerous, such as letting a two-year-old experience the traffic in the street, because traffic may hit them. Logical consequences are arranged by the parents to teach a child the probable outcome of their behaviour and how to solve the ensuing problem. For example, a two-year-old is confined to the back yard because he runs out on the road when he’s in the front yard. This solves the safety problem for the parent and the child.
There are several guidelines when using consequences as a respectful and effective discipline tool.
Consequences must be related to the behaviour. For example, a messy room might mean that the floor is too cluttered for Mom to put away the child’s laundry so the child must do it himself. An unrelated consequence would be Nintendo confiscated for a week until the room is cleaned up.
Consequences must be reasonable. If a parenting makes the child pay 10 times the cost of an item that he has broken, it could be seen as unfair by the child. Realistically, the child should only pay for the replacement cost. Often, we issue consequences in anger and they are often unreasonable. To ensure that consequences stay reasonable, calm down first, and then ask yourself if the consequence is something that you would expect from a spouse or friend. If it is, then it probably is reasonable. If a friend breaks your item, an apology and a replacement is something that you would expect. Teach your child the same solution.
Consequences must be realistic and you must be comfortable doing it. Mom telling the child that the play date will end if the child acts up one more time, may not be enforceable, if Mom is enjoying chatting with the other mom on the play date, and unwilling to cut the time short.
Consequences must be consistent. Leaving the store in the middle of grocery shopping because of bad behaviour is very inconvenient, but if done consistently, the child soon learns that if they act up, the shopping trip is over.
Consequences must not be used as a punishment. How to tell? If you threaten a certain outcome to get compliance, then the consequence is probably being used as a punishment, which could invite a power struggle, resentment, rebellion, shutdown of communication, etc. The consequence of parents imposing a consequence on children is that children decide to stop talking to parents. Children know that the consequence arises from the parents imposing it, not from the fact that they may have “chose” the outcome. For this reason, avoid threats. Just impose the consequence matter-of-factly. If you get push back from the child, then go to problem-solving to remedy the situation. The best consequences focus on teaching restitution, solving problems and making amends. If a child spills a drink because she was careless pouring, she wipes up the mess. A child who hits another child needs to be separated, calmed down, and told the rule. The restitution part might be to offer the other child a toy, hug or an apology after the emotions have been dealt with.
Consequences won’t work when the underlying feeling/need of the child is not addressed. In those cases, a consequence is the wrong discipline tool to choose. For example, a child who consistently refuses to wear a bike helmet even after having the bike locked away several times may have a good reason for not wearing it. Perhaps he is being teased because it looks babyish. Locking away a child’s bike for a week for not wearing his helmet might be too severe and the child could perceive it as unfair. A sit down problem solving talk to find out why the child is not wearing his helmet, can help to get buy-in from him to find a solution to the problem. He must wear a helmet, but there are many alternatives available when child and parent get together to brainstorm. Does he find the helmet too nerdy? Does he wish to pay half on a new one? Can he borrow his siblings? Can he buy a cool second hand one? Either solution will mean that the bike still doesn’t get used without a helmet, but brainstorming provides other options.
Listening and mutual parent-child problem-solving are better tools used to uncover and address the underlying need. When used properly, consequences teach children appropriate behaviour in a positive way and should be in every parent’s discipline toolbox.
Judy Arnall, BA, DTM, CCFE is a professional international award-winning Parenting and Teacher Conference Speaker, and Trainer, Mom of five children, and author of the best-selling book, Discipline Without Distress: 135 tools for raising caring, responsible children without time-out, spanking, punishment or bribery and the new DVD, Plugged-In Parenting: Connecting with the digital generation for health, safety and love as well as the new book, The Last Word on Parenting Advice http://www.professionalparenting.ca, firstname.lastname@example.org, 403-714-6766