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Our parenting style is a mix of several different techniques based on age and maturity. All of our tools are founded upon respect for our children, and we do not spank or use vindictive punishments.
We want our kids to obey because they respect us and understand we are trying to protect them, not out of fear for their physical safety. And of course, at the base of all of this is also teaching our kids to recognize and deal with their emotions. But that is another blog post.
Let’s be real: There are sometimes when immediate control of a child is required of parents. We absolutely cannot let our children bite each other or stick a fork in a socket. You can teach kids to be gentle with each other protect themselves without using coercion. You just need patience and the right tools.
Kids can understand, even if they don’t have brain structure for self control yet. I completely believe, although I have no empirical evidence, that teaching kids why they should not do something will help them learn not to do it.
So with my young children, we do not spank or do times outs, though we do certainly pull them out of play if need be. We do not call them time ins, but it certainly mimics the idea. I will sit with the child and explain that they must be gentle and talk about how they feel.
1.) We frame as much of our discipline as possible through the lens of safety; talk to our kids in very specific ways to teach them what it means to be safe.
2.) Always give them choices so they don’t feel coerced.
If they are biting, I say, “Biting hurts. I have to keep everyone safe. You must stop playing because you are hurting them by biting them.”
If they are throwing, I say, “Since you are throwing toys, you are being dangerous. The toys you throw could break a window or hit someone; that would hurt them. I am going to take this toy away since you are throwing it. This will keep everyone safe.”
When we are in the grocery store, I make them hold on the cart. Whenever they let go of the cart, I remind them, “You must hold on to the cart because I must keep you close to me to keep you safe. If you let go of the cart again, I am going to have to put you in the cart to ride.”
Notice anything about the way I talk to my kids?
I avoid “not” and it’s contractions at all costs.
Not is a word that means “do the opposite”. So by using “not”, your child hears what you do not want them to do with one short sound that they probably don’t have the brain architecture to understand for several years.
“DON’T eat the chips.” -> “eat the chips” is easily understood. The N’T sound, not even a whole syllable, means “do the opposite”. That’s a pretty rich understanding, based on a single sound, that’s easily overlooked by someone whose brain is severely underdeveloped. That’s why I tell my children in easily understandable terms what they are doing, why they can’t, and how I am going to put a stop to the unacceptable behavior. My kids know with as much understanding as possible why they must stop.
Now, I am going to add the last facet of my communication style for my kids: How I give warnings. I believe that kids should get 2 chances in every appropriate situation to change their behavior, but I also practice a very specific way of warning my kids.
For example, let’s say a child is pouring water on my (concrete, thankfully) floor. I would tell them, “You are pouring your water on it floor. Water should stay in the cup. You need to keep water in the cup with self control. Either keep water in your cup or go pour it in the bathtub so the floor stays dry. If you keep pouring water on the floor, I will take it away.”
I have given my child 3 potential actions, keep it in the cup, pour it in the bathtub, or I take it away. They get their autonomy, and I get my dry floor. This is particularly effective with my kids. Although, they rarely choose the self control option, I am happy with them choosing the option where they still to explore the pouring the water out while containing the mess in the bath tub!
UPDATE: It has been 8 months since I wrote this post. AJ is almost 3, and Cayden is alost 4. Both are choosing the self control option and are able to practice self control, Well, most of the time.
Kids can learn self control with practice, and using games to practice add situational interest, a tool that helps children learn and retain new skills.