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conscious discipline  

~ Tips from Conscious Discipline ~

The core skill that will help you through a temper tantrum is keeping your cool. Your upset will only fuel your child’s fire. Instead, use active calming techniques such as deep breathing to help manage these difficult, but developmentally normal fits.

As in any conflict situation, focus on what you want your child to do, model this behavior or state yourself, and notice any hint of success. In terms of tantrums, the behavior or state of being that you want from your child is “calm.” Your job is to focus on “calm” and model calmness yourself. This may sound particularly difficult in the face of a screaming 3-year-old, but can we really expect a 3-year-old to keep his cool if we can’t stay cool ourselves? Here’s an example:

Your toddler wants a bag of candy he’s spied in the grocery aisle. You say, “No.” He crashes to the floor, screaming. You’re feeling angry, embarrassed, exhausted and at your wits end. You feel like everyone’s looking at you.

First, take three deep breaths to help calm the stress response in your body. Then, discipline yourself with the affirmation “I’m safe. Keep breathing. I can handle this.” Way to go! You’ve just set the internal foundation needed to teach your child how to handle frustration and become calm! Now you can address your upset child.

Be encouraging. Get down at eye level with him and say, “You can handle this. Breathe with me. You’re safe.” Scoop him up, hold him in your arms and breathe deeply with him. When his body relaxes a little, say, “There you go, you’re calming down.” Then tell him he has a choice, “You can sit in the cart and hold the list, or you can sit in the cart and hold your truck.” Once he makes his choice, celebrate your success together, “You did it! You calmed yourself down and that’s hard to do.”

People create power struggles when they feel powerless. With young children, power struggles often occur after giving the child a command or when the child is tired, hungry or otherwise stressed. Knowledge of child development, connection and active calming will help you to lessen power struggles.

Child Development: Before age six, children process information 12 times slower than adults. We must slow down our speech and give only one or two commands at a time. If we speak at a normal pace and say, “Finish your snack, get your crayons and go color in the TV room.” The child may only process bits of information, hearing “crayons color the TV.”

Young children cannot conjugate the word “don’t.” When we say, “Don’t touch the lamp,” they hear, “Touch the lamp!” They look at you with a smile and touch the lamp. We think, “You naughty child, you deliberately defied me,” and enter power struggle territory. Instead of using “don’t,” pivot and tell the child what to do. “Don’t touch the lamp,” becomes, “Hold my hand (offer your hand) so you can learn how to touch delicate things softly.” “Don’t run,” becomes, “Walk slowly like this.”

Children under age seven also lack mature inner speech. Adults use inner speech to rehearse choices and outcomes before we act. Instead of inner speech, children encode information in pictures. So, we can use pictures to guide children’s behavior and avoid power struggles. Use your body as a picture by modeling what you want, use your words to help paint pictures of what you want, and put up actual pictures that show what to do. Instead of, “Walk in the house,” say, “Walk carefully with each foot going like this through the house.” Not only do you get better compliance (fewer power struggles), you also build language and literacy.

Finally, the brain is a pattern-seeking device. The more consistent your routines, the easier it is for the brain to pick up the pattern. If there is a consistent routine, the brain picks up the pattern, the child feels safe, and his neurological resources can be used for learning and exploration rather than for protection, and power struggles lessen.

Connection: Research indicates that the motivation to behave comes from being in relationship. Research also indicates that five minutes a day of focused play with children ages five and under reduces power struggles by 50%.

Active Calming: Finally, the absolute key for staying in control of yourself and helping to avoid power struggles is active calming. In Conscious Discipline, I call it “being a S.T.A.R.,” which stands for Stop, Take a deep breath, And Relax. Three deep breaths will turn the stress response off in the body. Once you are able to regulate your inner state through deep breathing, you obtain access to the highest centers of your brain. While you are taking these deep breaths, affirm to yourself, “I’m safe. I feel calm. I can handle this.” These words are chosen based on research: They unhook you from the survival center of your brain and plug you into the rational part of your brain. Now you can respond calmly in the face of a power struggle, and access your inner wisdom to come up with solutions rather than entering into the fray. Practice active calming in your life and teach it to your children. Demonstrate being a S.T.A.R. when you’re having a difficult time, and help your child learn to do the same!

Focus on What To Do: When you are upset, you are always focused on what you don’t want. Use active calming techniques to regain your composure as necessary, and then shift your focus away from what’s wrong. Instead, focus on what you want to have happen. Have you ever heard an Olympic athlete visualize “not losing?” No! They focus on diving their cleanest dive or running their fastest race in order to achieve their goal. You must do the same with your goal is to paint a picture with your words and gestures of exactly what you want the child to do.

“Don’t you dare touch anything in this store” focuses on what you don’t want (don’t touch). Pivot and reframe it in the positive, “Keep your hands in your pockets.” All assertive commands give usable information. “Don’t ____” is not usable information because it doesn’t tell what to do. “Don’t hit your brother” becomes: “When you want your brother to move say, “move please.”

Give the Command Assertively: There are three tones of voice we use when we communicate: passive, aggressive and assertive.

A passive approach says, “Approve of me, love me, is it okay with you if___.” A passive approach does not engender respect or compliance, so a passive person often resorts to manipulation or ‘going through the back door’ to get their needs met. Passive communication is not effective communication.

An aggressive approach says, “I am right and you are wrong, no matter what.” It often includes threats, blame, severe consequences or “you” statements that are focused solely on the other person. An aggressive approach invites a defensive response and engenders fear. Aggressive communication is not effective communication.

An assertive approach says, “Do this,” in a clear and respectful manner with a voice of no doubt. With children, follow these steps to deliver an assertive command:

  1. Establish eye contact by approaching the child, getting down on his/her level and moving closer until he/she notices you. For easily distracted children, you may need to get as close as six inches.

  2. Verbally tell the child what you want him/her to do. State your expectations clearly and simply. Be certain that the statement is formulated in the positive… focus on what you want them to do and paint a clear picture with your words. “Hold my hand so you are safe when we cross the street.” “Give me the scissors. They are sharp and could cut you.” “Use a quiet voice while we are in the museum.” “Pick up the markers and put them in the shoe box.”

  3. Give visual, auditory and tactile cues as often as possible. Demonstrate a gentle touch, gesture in the direction you wish the child to move, practice what a soft voice sounds like, etc.

  4. Send the nonverbal message “just do it” with the tone of your voice and with your nonverbal stance as you give the command. If your nonverbal cues are passive, your child may easily refuse. If your nonverbal cues are aggressive, your child will resist in self-defense. When nonverbal and verbal communication both say, “Just do it,” you let the child know your command has meaning.

  5. Celebrate your child’s success. The minute the child begins to show any degree of compliance, jump in with praise. Even if s/he wasn’t really going to comply, s/he likely will comply once you begin to praise him/her. “Good for you,” “You did it,” and “way to go” followed by a description of the child’s action are great ways to celebrate them without judging. “Way to go! You’re reaching for my hand so we can cross the street safely!”

  6. If your child chooses not to comply, repeat the request and say, “I’m going to show you what to do.” Lead the child gently and instructively in completing the request. Say, “I’m going to show you how to cross the street safely” and take the child’s hand in yours.