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Parenting is rewarding, fulfilling and challenging... but it doesn't have to be a battle. Having positive strategies to deal with tantrums, meltdowns and other undesirable behavior can help. Treating discipline as education helps children learn appropriate behaviors and can have lasting benefits.
Below are the top 10 questions from parents around positive parenting and the answers to each of them from our experts in child psychology at Children’s Hospital Colorado.
A: Think of discipline as “teaching” rather than focusing on punishing or controlling behavior. If you keep the focus on what you want your child to learn, it can help shape how you can demonstrate, model and shape more pro-social/positive behavior.
A: Misbehavior and limit-testing is a common occurrence for children and teens. If you find that the misbehavior is frequent enough to interfere with normal family life, social activities or school, you might consider having your child evaluated by your physician and/or a mental health professional. Sometimes the underlying cause of frequent misbehavior is something else is that is going on with your child physically and/or emotionally.
If you think you might need help, please talk with your child’s primary care physician, or find out more about our behavior program.
A: Age appropriate rules and boundaries are essential for practicing positive parenting. Children thrive on consistency and structure within a flexible environment. However, expectations for responsibilities as well as freedom should change as children age and mature. If your child is demonstrating more independence and flexibility it might be time to re-evaluate your house rules. Understand your child's developmental abilities and set expectations accordingly.
A: Tantrums are a natural way to express strong feelings and emotions. Young children do not have the emotion regulation skills to express these feelings in more positive ways. The best way to manage tantrums once they have started is to let the child “ride the wave” of the emotion without intervening or trying to quash the emotion. Eventually the tantrum will subside and that is the point at which children are most receptive to learning new ways to express themselves.
It’s important to keep your cool. Take your own time out and take deep breaths. Our bodies aren’t designed to be stressed and relaxed at the same time. When your child is having a tantrum, they have a need they don’t feel is being fulfilled (they think it’s a need, parents might see it more as a want). Try to figure out what need is not getting met and respond to the emotion and the need, rather the behavior. Let your child know that you understand how they feel and redirect your child’s attention to something else.
See more about meltdowns, discipline and rewards.
Have you ever become so frustrated with the cries of a baby that you didn't know what to do? Us too. Watch and share this video to help us answer the question: In this moment, what will you do?
A: Teach your child right from wrong consistently from a young age. A child’s understanding of right and wrong develops slowly. Be consistent and reward you child for good behavior with smiles, hugs, attention, praise and thanks and limit attention for defiant behavior like tantrums. Teach your child acceptable ways to show that she’s upset. Be clear and consistent when disciplining your child. Explain and show the behavior that you expect from her. Let your child make some decisions on his or her own (for instance with toddlers, you might ask “do you want to wear the yellow shirt, or the red shirt today?” or “Do you want to brush your teeth or put your PJs on first?”)
Let your kids know that everyone makes mistakes and even bad choices something and that you still love them, even when you don't love their behavior. Give your child attention and praise when she follows instructions and shows positive behavior and limit attention for defiant behavior like tantrums. Teach your child acceptable ways to show that she’s upset.
A: Power struggles are a common form of misbehavior. Children need to feel loved, needed, and even powerful. Our instinct might be to engage in the power struggle, but that only leads to arguing more.
It might not seem like the practical thing to do during a power struggle, but think about how you might give her power or make her feel more powerful in that situation. That doesn’t mean give in, but offer choices that will lead to the outcome you are looking for.
Consistency and humor can go a long way. Children are eager to do things on their own, but often want to do it in their own time, and sometimes test their boundaries.
A: One of the most important things is to give your child undivided attention. If you can’t listen completely right now, give them a time frame. If you say you’ll have time in 10 minutes, then REALLY go talk with them in 10 minutes. Build that trust and give them complete, full, undivided attention when you say you’re going to.
That is the first key to quality, which is much more important than quantity. Kids love attention, activities and learning through those very things. It might not always be easy to make time, but your kids deserve the best you have.
Really engage with them when you are with them. If they show you a picture they drew, talk about the colors or ask what their inspiration was, rather than just telling them it looks nice.
Read more about the things kids need and about quality time.
A: Strategies are going to be most effective in context of the relationship with your kids, so you want to try to build a strong, trusting connection. Your home environment should make children feel safe to make mistakes and safe to ask questions. Keep your cool and help them learn from mistakes. Give clear and consistent instructions — but not too many at once. Talk with and listen to your child. It’s important to make eye contact and use gentle touch when communicating with your child. Remember the importance of non-verbal communication, and be sure to hold a child for comfort or to share smiles and hugs.
Be your child’s first source of information. Encouraging your children to ask questions now, makes it easier for them to ask questions when they are older. By answering questions from your child with honesty and openness, you can create a relationship of mutual trust and respect that can prevent your child from developing unsafe habits or taking unnecessary risks.
A: The way a teen behaves and why is actually very similar to a toddler – they are establishing their independence and developing their own identity.
We can't change our child's personality. Their environment – including their peers, what they learn in school and what they see in media - has a large effect on how their character develops. How we parent is critical to how our teen behaves.
Children of all ages learn by example, so if we can manage our own emotions, extend respect, offer appropriate freedom, and maintain honest and open communication, we can be pleasantly surprised by how rewarding the teen years can be.
They may say they hate you, but they are trying to hurt you because they are feeling hurt. Find out why they are hurting rather than jumping to the consequences for their behavior. Postpone discipline and connect with them by working through why they are hurting. Make the hurt better before disciplining them. Teach your child to handle problems directly with the person they are having problems with, whether that’s you, a sibling, a teacher or another teen.
Read more about parenting a teen.
A: Parenting can be very stressful. Learning to recognize when you are about to reach your boiling point, and developing strategies to step away from your child before you boil over is critical. This may mean putting an inconsolable child somewhere safe, like a crib, and taking a brief time-out yourself.
Remember that children learn by example – model the behaviors you want to see in your children.
Take care of yourself. If you are tired, ill or just worn out, you cannot be an effective parent. Eat healthfully, get enough sleep, take occasional breaks from parenting if possible, and enlist the support of family, friends and neighbors when things seem overwhelming.
See more about how to calm yourself down as a parent.
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