How to Decrease Negative Behaviors Using the 3 “P”s: Prevention, Positive Discipline, and Patience
If you have a preschooler, you probably hear the word “no” (or some version of it) pretty regularly. You may even be surprised to hear that your child is delightfully cooperative and always says yes in preschool! Be proud that your child has learned about cooperation and is showing that at school. Know the “no’s” you hear at home are often your child testing limits with someone – you – who will love them no matter what.
As your child tests your limits (and sometimes your patience) with their “no’s,” a positive approach that teaches, rather than punishes is often the most effective. Kind and firm responses will help your child build self-confidence as they learn skills that help them problem solve and have respectful and caring social relationships.
Prevention is the Best Medicine
Creating positive structures can prevent a “meltdown” or unwelcome behavior that can develop into something bigger. Consider:
Routines and Expectations
- Create a few simple routines to help your child know what’s expected of them.
- Consider your child’s age and their developmental stage to avoid expecting more tasks than they can handle.
- In the morning we brush teeth, get dressed and eat breakfast.
- In the evening, we have a bath after dinner, put on pajamas and read a story before bed.
- Be consistent, so your child can rely on what’s going to happen.
- Be patient. Just as it takes adults a while to create a habit, so will it be for your child.
- Praise your child for following through on their routines. They are learning responsibility!
- Do It With Music. Maybe you like to clean house while you listen to Beyonce or The Black Keys. Your child might be more cooperative about putting away their clothes or toys if they get to have it accompanied by a few rounds of The Wheels on the Bus (or maybe you both enjoy Beyonce).
- Give advance notice of a transition coming up. Picking up your child at his friend’s house? Go ten minutes early so you can give your child a warning that they have ten more minutes to play.
- Let your child use a timer so they can see that the time is going down.
- If your child can’t understand time or a timer, saying “ten more minutes” won’t be effective. Be creative – use a sand timer from a board game, for instance, so they can see the time passing with the crystals emptying.
Praise and Rewards
- Praise your child when she meets expectations. Be specific so she knows exactly what she’s done well and can easily repeat it.
- Reward, but cautiously.
- Sticker charts or other rewards can be useful for an occasional motivation.
- If you overuse stickers or rewards your child might have a hard time understanding why it’s important to brush teeth even without a reward. Avoid stickers/rewards for daily tasks.
- If your child is in preschool, they may spend a lot of their day in a structured environment.
- “Structured” home routines are important, but so is unstructured playtime. Having enough open playtime can prevent lots of misplaced energy later. Unstructured time also helps develop creativity and problem-solving skills.
- Let your child work out simple problems or conflicts on their own.
- Watch for when they might be getting too frustrated.
- Name feelings and ask questions: “I see you are feeling frustrated with that toy? What other toy can you play with?”
- When they solve problems or conflicts on their own, they build self- confidence and learn about dealing with challenges.
Patience: It’s Not “If,” It’s “When”
No matter how many successful preventive tactics we use, there, of course, will always be times when that meltdown occurs or getting ready for bed is a struggle. When disciplining:
- Consider HALT when kids are having a hard time. Is your child:
Attend to basic needs. Everyone is cranky when their basics aren’t met.
- If They Are Part of the Problem, Let Them Be Part of the Solution
- A great way for your child to learn the consequences of their behavior is to have them help “right their wrongs.”
- Dumped cups of water out of the bathtub and got the floor wet? Have him help mop it up.
- Jumped on her brother’s bed and knocked off all the blankets? Have her remake the bed.
- Get your child into the habit of apologizing when needed. Let them use their own words and ideas.
- Clarify and Clarify
- Be clear and specific when rules are broken. Say specifically what wasn’t done and what needs to be done.
- Consider natural consequences:
- Didn’t get ready in time to go to the park before dinner? No park today.
- Timing is Everything
- If your child didn’t get ready in time to go to the park today, don’t cancel next week’s trip to the park. They may get confused and upset by what feels to be an unfair action. Likely your child won’t recall what happened last week. The discipline will feel like a punishment, and the lesson will be lost — positive discipline is about teaching, not punishing.
Teaching Your Independent Child
It’s great to see your preschooler becoming more independent. With that independence will also come a lot of testing out about what’s okay or not. With preventive strategies, positive discipline, and patience, the preschool years will be exciting ones of growth for both your child and you.
This article is brought to you by Parenting Now! Parenting Educators and authors, Tova Stabin, Claire Davis and Lynne Swartz and consultant Jay Thompson (andupdatemywebsite.com). Parenting Now! is passionate about happy, healthy families. For more information about Parenting Now! contact us here.
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