When Do Children Understand “Consequences?”

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Why is it so difficult to teach children that actions have consequences?  The question might be, “Why do children not choose the best course of action?”

It is difficult because of caregiver/parent’s unrealistic expectations of children’s brain development. Honestly, I think every parent should take an online course about brain biology when they have a child! Brain growth occurs at different ages, and when parents understand the appropriate ages, they will learn when it is best to expect that children can base decisions on understanding consequences. Most parents give children “consequences” as a punishment much too young an age, when they can’t yet understand them.

The prefrontal cortex is the last section of the brain to fully develop and is responsible for behaviour control and critical thinking. Before age 6, children are pre-operational in their thinking, which means they do not have the ability to think out plans and imagine consequences of those decisions. They do not have all the information in order to make the right decision. When they reach school-aged, from ages 6–13, they get better at understanding consequences and can make decisions. However, they do not have abstract thinking skills yet. School-aged children are still operational in their thinking which means they understand what is tangible and what is in their immediate environment – things they can readily see, hear, touch, smell and taste. They can’t think conceptually until the teen years, so they don’t understand the “gray” areas of decisions, or theory or ideology. Consequences demand that the chooser understands all aspects of the decision in order to make an informed choice.

Children are able to begin understanding consequences around age 6 and are much better at it around age 13. Parents and caregivers need to adjust their expectations accordingly. And consequences should never be given to punish children for their decisions. They need an adult/caregivers help to problem solve a solution instead of “pay” for their behaviour with a “consequence.”

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Are Consequences Punitive?

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In groups, I get asked all the time if consequences are punitive.  It depends.  Consequences are natural outcomes that occur if a parent intervenes or not.  Yes, consequences happen to kids all the time when they are out and about in the world.  The rest of the world will issue consequences to your child, but only you, as the parent, will take the time and effort to problem-solve with them. Children will get consequences from teachers, coaches, police, and other adults.  That’s okay.  Those people are not building a life-long relationship with your child.  You are. When you take the time and effort to problem-solve, you are giving your child valuable life and relationship skills – negotiation.  Your communication lines will remain open and you will enjoy a wonderful relationship with your child.  Here are the differences between consequences issued by a parent in the name of punishment, and problem-solving which is a form of non-punitive discipline.

Consequences or Problem-Solving?

In parenting classes, I often get asked the following question:

When I give my 11 year-old daughter a consequence, she insists that I am being mean to her. I believe that it is respectful discipline. What is the difference between consequences and a punishment?

Brain development stage: Between the ages of 5 and 12, most children figure out that they are not choosing the consequence, and it is the parents imposing the order on them in the name of discipline. If the child doesn’t see the point, she may experience it as a punishment.

Here are the differences:

  • Consequences are parent imposed. The conflict is now between the parent and child. Problem-solving is the parent and child working together to come up with a solution to fix the problem. The conflict is now between the parent-child team against the problem (even if the child caused it.)
  • Problem-solving is a more real-world skill. It teaches kids how to fix things, make restitution, repair relationships and make things right.
  • Consequences are focused on the child, where problem-solving is focused on the end result; a common goal.
  • Consequences tend to be one solution. Problem-solving can be many solutions that would take care of the problem. The goal is repair, whereas the goal of consequences is to teach the child a lesson, which is punitive.
  • Consequences are almost always designed to hurt a child – either financially (pay for a broken item), socially (grounding or taking away cell phone), emotionally (time-out) or physically (hard physical labor). Problem-solving is designed to be pain-neutral. The goal is not to hurt the child, but help the situation. The goal is to fix the problem. Sometimes that is financial or physical, but the payoff is that the child feels good that they are now owning the solution and not just the problem. Children are very fair and more likely to dive into helping fix the problem when they know they caused it, because the focus is no longer on what they did, but what they can do to make it right. When they can put effort into fixing the problem, they feel better about themselves, learn real-world solutions and will make better decisions in the future.

Parents argue, “Yes, but it works!  Consequences change my child behaviour!” That may be correct, but the price is impaired communication.  Parents wonder why they don’t enjoy the open, caring, free communication that they once had with their child. They wonder why they are receiving attitude and silence. Pushback of imposed consequences comes in many forms. Ditch the consequences and use the adult method of problem-solving.

 

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Consequences Versus Problem-solving

Unschooling To University Book is Ready to Launch – Help us Kickstarter It!

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!

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Dads Matter!

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.

Why Dads Matter – Same love, different approach

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Education Options for Preschool Children Ages 3-5

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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.

 

Gender Differences

 

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

 

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.

 

 

Is It A Discipline Issue or Development Issue? Part 2 Problem-solving with Young Children

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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.

 EXAMPLE PROBLEM-SOLVING

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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.
  1. 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.

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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