Step 3 of Positive Parenting: Use Assertive Discipline
From telling little fibs to pulling their sibling’s hair, addressing challenging behavior is something parents do every day. A common thread in the Positive Parenting Program is how to manage the behavior you don’t want to see in the moment and ways to prevent it in the future.
As parents, we strive to find the most efficient, effective, and healthy ways to discourage undesirable behavior, such as lying, stealing, fighting, whining, or interrupting.
Children crave a predictable, stable environment. Clear rules, boundaries, and follow-through with appropriate consequences will help your child feel safe. When they know what will happen, they can use the thinking part of their brain to make a conscious choice about how they behave.
Family Values and Expectations
Toddlers are known for testing limits. They are just beginning to understand they are separate from you, and their job is to work toward mastering their own autonomy. Sometimes it’s because they want to see what you will do, or they think it’s a funny game. If your reaction to their behavior is inconsistent (say, you laugh the first time they call their brother a “fart face” but then scold them the next time), it’s going to send mixed messages. They won’t know what to expect, so they will continue to experiment with the limits.
As a family, discuss your stance on topics such as potty talk, swearing, physical contact, etc. Be clear with your toddler or older child what the family rules are. Yes, you’ll probably sound like a broken record, but, especially, toddlers need to hear the message over and over consistently before they learn. Other points to consider:
- Repeat your rules calmly and consistently
- Use clear, short, and direct messaging: “Hands to yourself,” “No running in the store.”
- Be inclusive in your message: “We do not hit,” rather than “You do not hit.”
- Say what you want your child to do instead. “We use our walking feet in the store.”
- Use a firm, calm voice when managing consequences.
Consequences for Misbehavior
It happens to even the best of parents: There are going to be times when you have to dish out consequences for misbehavior.
- Choose a consequence that fits the behavior, such as removing a toy that your children are fighting over: “You need to take turns with the race car. To help you learn to take turns, you need to take a break for 5 minutes to think about that. Then, let’s try using a timer.”
- Used planned ignoring for whining and protests.
- Return the toy or activity once the time is up. Set the timer for each turn. When it’s time for the other child’s turn, facilitate the exchange until they can do it independently.
- Don’t feel discouraged if the consequence didn’t prevent your child from pulling the cat’s tail or dumping the contents of her dresser all over the floor. It will take repeated tries before she gets it.
Encourage Desirable Behavior
In between moments of cleaning up toy messes, making snacks, finding the correct episode of Peppa Pig they asked for, find moments in the day to praise your child when you see desirable behavior. Those little moments really help to build a child’s confidence, trust, and self-esteem, so it’s worth taking time out of your day to point out when they are using a nice quiet voice, petting the dog gently, doing a good job of sharing, etc.
Managing challenging behavior can also be a good time to reflect on your own behavior. Are you modeling behavior that you want your child to follow? If not, then look at ways you can make improvements for the betterment of the whole family. Remember, they may not always do what you say, but they will surely do what you do.
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This article is brought to you by Parenting Now Parenting Educators and authors Amanda Bedortha, 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 please visit their website (https://parentingnow.org/) or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org